Scholarly Firsts: The Whataburger Scholar Debra Kemp, Entrepreneur

July 10, 2018

Public Information Officer


A small business and entrepreneurship student at St. Philip's College who is also a practicing member of the San Antonio entrepreneurship community is about to attend a banquet with billionaires.

The award of $15,000 received by St. Philip's College student and cosmetology industry entrepreneur Debra Kemp is The Whataburger Scholarship endowed for 2014-2018 through the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation by Tom Dobson, owner of Whataburger.

According to its web page,"The Foundation's mission is to sow seeds of our future by acknowledging and helping underwrite the promise that is being demonstrated by Texas business students. We accomplish this by assisting future business leaders pursuing their degrees in Texas schools by funding a scholarship award program."

In an era when the Texas Business Hall of Fame leadership has ceremonially inducted such icons as Berkshire Hathaway Inc. chairman Warren Buffett (2017), Berkshire Hathaway Inc. vice chairman Charles Munger (2017) and Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly (2017) into its Hall of Fame, Kemp will attend the foundation's scholarship luncheon and its 36th annual induction dinner on the same day Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. in the Marriott Marquis Houston, all in her capacity as the college's fifth recipient of The Whataburger Scholarship. Scholarship recipients are also encouraged to join theTexas Business Hall of Fame Foundation Scholars' Alumni Association. Locally, Kemp might next be seen with Texas Business Hall of Famers during a networking reception featuring the "Portraits of Courage" traveling exhibit of works presented by Zachry Group Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. in The Witte Museum at 3801 Broadway St.

As a current scholar working in the college's Office of Institutional Advancement and Grants, Kemp is accomplishing firsts as a student and a member of the growing San Antonio startup community. She arrived to her Hall of Fame status with an active 10-year history of small cosmetology business startups. Kemp is both the college's first actual student of business entrepreneurship and its first student of African-American ethnicity to become a recipient of The Whataburger Scholarship and all that it offers through the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation.

"I opened my first business during the financial collapse a few years ago, and I will never forget that time," said Kemp. "I was really worried. I was a student and at the end of receiving my cosmetology license. That was something. That was very, very frightening, but I endured," Kemp said in reflection.

After enrolling at East Central High School and receiving her GED through San Antonio's Northeast Independent School District in 2006, Kemp sought additional, college-level education from time to time while she ran a small business. She arrived at St. Philip's College in 2017.

"My mom was a student there. I thought there has to be a connection somewhere. It was more conveniently located  for me than others were, and it was a historically Black college," Kemp said. "Because St. Philip's College has many resources and connections, those things played major parts in making this my home campus. As a child, I would do hair for siblings, friends and my mother's friends---and it grew from there. Once I noticed how it affected someone, it was fun that then became something bigger. A business of my own. People were wearing the hairstyles I was creating to work. It was a big deal for them. I started to be compensated. It all let me know helping someone in their everyday appearance must be something big," said Kemp. 

"I was young and as I grew to a maturing adult knowing that I had my cosmetologist license to do hair, manicures, pedicures, the whole nine yards of the business... I was always the type to put a little money aside while working odd jobs. I opened my own salon for about three-and-a-half years. I had also given birth to my child. And then I had a complete belly-up. I'm still learning where I went wrong financially. I'm in the business and entrepreneurship program at St. Philip's College to see how I can enhance skills that already exist so that I can empower others in a business within the Promise Zone of San Antonio that is a community where I can help. So I work in many different settings. At this point for instance, if there's someone who needs me to come to their residence, I visit, or they can visit me," Kemp said.

Asked if she envisions scaling up to the cosmetology industry success of America's first self-made woman millionaire, the entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker, Kemp is keeping all entrepreneurial options in perspective leading up to her attendance at her first banquet with billionaires.

"Everyone has someone making sure they look good," shared Kemp. "There are ways to maneuver within this field. You get out what you put in. There's a process for everything. Through business, you keep food on your table. Help your children. And pay your rent," concluded Kemp.

Find Kemp's name at the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation online posting 2018 Scholarship Recipients.

For details on The Whataburger Scholarship program at St. Philip's College, contact Gloria P. Hernandez, college scholarship coordinator, at 210-486-2498 (Image by Julysa Sosa courtesy SPC)