Every year, thousands of entrepreneurs apply to be on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing privately held companies in the US. In 2020, one of our Inc. 5000 applicants was a woman named Tierra Kavanaugh, who toiled to build a $135 million dollar company in Kentucky managing diversity spend and training and other staffing issues for governments and Fortune 500 companies.
In the spring of 2020, as Tierra was exhausting herself in the unsuccessful fight to secure PPP money for her 250-person company, she passed away at 45 years old of natural causes. Her mom and cofounder, Sheila, stepped in as CEO. After working so hard to achieve the success that she did, as a female entrepreneur and an entrepreneur of color in the south, Tierra died four months before we could tell her that, so far as we can tell, she is the highest ranking Black female founder in the 40 year history of the Inc. 5000. For many reasons, this felt tragically unfair. Being able to assign this story to shine a light on Tierra and her mom was an honor. It’s the kind of story Inc. exists as a brand to tell, and an example of why our Inc. 500 issue is such a meaningful one every year.