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KATHLEEN TSUI

CEO of STARR Resource & Development

Success:

One of fifteen women within the Inaugural Certification Training Cohort with MBDA EWOC Business Center. She is now in the final stages of the certification process.

Kathleen Tsui, the CEO of STARR Resource & Development (STARR RaD), was one of fifteen selected women for the inaugural certification training cohort held by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center. Kathleen is a multi-ethnic woman who identifies as being Filipino, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Cherokee Indian, Irish, and Norwegian.

Her business name honors her Cherokee Indian heritage and the courage of her great grandparents, several generations back, who faced prejudice, discrimination, and misunderstanding as an interracial couple, during the removal and relocation of her native people from 1830 to 1850.

Kathleen is no stranger to struggle. Coming from a broken home and feeling the effects of drug abuse, she had to face a life that often felt hopeless and desperate. But walking into a welding class at Honolulu Community College (HCC) changed all that – it literally “sparked” her interest and eventually led to a passion-driven career as a certified welder in Hawai’i’s coveted Maritime Industry. Now she is the CEO of STARR RaD – a mobile certified welding and fabrication service company with labor capabilities. She is looking to grow a Native Hawaiian and Native American, Disadvantaged Women-Owned small business, HUBZone company right here in her home state. While being a veteran welder for the last 15+ years, she considers herself a new business venture after recently setting out on her own – and on her own terms.

“It’s a big step. There’s a lot of things that need to happen in order to leave your full-time job and take off as a business owner. As well as being able to pay your bills and be self-sustaining from a business. As well as being a woman in a non-traditional trade, I mean being a woman period to be able to be a business owner [is hard]. It took me a little while [to get started]. I went to different types of classes and the things that were offered in order for me to be able to actually do it and start doing business, meet a lot of great people, and have the courage to go for it, regardless of what people have to say. I don’t want to look back and wonder what could have been…” – Kathleen Tsui, CEO, STARR Resource & Development

Upon hearing about the inaugural certification cohort and being recommended by the instructor to participate, she knew this was an opportunity not to pass up! Kathleen knew how much this would change the game for women. Within the welding industry nationwide, only approximately 5% of women are welders. With this industry being a male-dominated field, it makes it a lot more challenging for women to do their job because of the pervasive notion that women aren’t as good as men. “When walking on the waterfront for a welding job next to a man, vendors are immediately confident in the man [to finish the job correctly]. I [as a woman] need to work twice as hard. One small thing they see wrong, and that’s it. The doubt within the trade alone is innate...” Kathleen voices.

Within each fiscal quarter, millions of dollars in federal contracts are given out to welding and fabrication businesses. In the second quarter of 2020 in Hawai’i alone, Navy Federal contracts were awarded in excess of $560 million, which occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kathleen is looking forward to competing for these prime contracts! “Most times, these prime contracts are given to out-of-state businesses that fly in workers to weld [in Hawai’i] ... By receiving a certification, it can show them that I am a nationally and federally recognized business that can do the job” Kathleen says. STARR RaD is in the final process of officially becoming certified. Prior to this opportunity, STARR RaD received two contracts, one with the American Marine Corporation (AMC), and the other with the National Response Corporation (NRC). Kathleen feels that adding a certification to her already vast experience as a welder is just that one step closer to being recognized as competent and able to compete for larger contracts.

“This experience is invaluable. You cannot put a price on these certifications. It’s amazing what you guys are doing for women. I don’t think these women realize how huge this is for women. You guys are opening up the arena for women to play with these guys and show them the ability to run a business not just in the state of Hawai’i, but in the entire nation and world!... Having a certification really allows you to escalate quickly. This [certification cohort opportunity] is going to cause such an amazing ripple for women and women business owners in Hawaii. – Kathleen Tsui

Kathleen is a humble, hard-working, and determined woman. Her passion for not just welding, but also empowering women and assisting Hawai’i’s local youth is very apparent. Kathleen wants to watch women thrive as business owners, as well as provide opportunities to help other young women find their place in the welding field.

“At the end of the day, my dreams, goals, and aspirations are to be able to help others to make a living here in Hawai’i by hiring them… I want to start an apprenticeship program, certify the company so it can get American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) certified, so I can run an ABS certification [myself]. It can allow future students who have a desire to get ABS certified, I can do it myself. I want to be able to give the people an opportunity, and no matter what happens, if they leave the program or what not, they can take that certification with them and always be ABS certified. I feel like that’s the Hawaiian way… This can allow welders to be qualified, as this is a shortfall within the welding industry…”. – Kathleen Tsui

Kathleen’s advice for women aspiring to grow their business:

“You can do anything you can put your mind to. You go for it girl! Don’t you let anyone tell you different! Throughout the journey, there may be some people who will try to knock you and your work down, as long as you put out your best work. Anything is possible!”. – Kathleen Tsui