A student at NMSU is on a mission to make a difference in her community through a startup that targets environmental, social and economic issues in Las Cruces and across the state.
Hannah Hunter, 22, founded Green Employment Experience, a non-profit outreach program aimed at incentivizing recycling and creating jobs in the recycling industry for impoverished communities.
The program aims to boost recycling rates by offering incentives like food and clothing vouchers in exchange for recyclables to those earning below $20,000 a year. The second phase of the program is geared toward getting people qualified to work at local recycling centers through paid training and experience.
Hunter’s idea has already garnered significant attention and support. On May 4, she pitched her idea at the 2023 Pitch Deck Competition in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was named a finalist and awarded a $1,250 prize. The competition was co-hosted by UNM Rainforest Innovations and the UNM Innovation Academy.
Last month, Hunter won the audience choice award and the top prize of $1,000 at the UNM Innovation Academy’s Spring 2023 Rainforest Pitch Competition at Bow and Arrow Brewing Co. in Albuquerque.
Hunter said her motivation to create positive change in her community comes from her passion for supporting groups of people who are often overlooked.
“I volunteered at the shelter and was able to meet people from all walks of life. These people just haven’t had a hand extended out to them,” Hunter said. “They haven’t had anyone who’s believed in them, and I just really believe that a lot of those limitations can be beat.”
Hunter also presented GEE to business professionals, angel investors, and NMSU students at the 2023 Fintech Lab Pitch Competition last month at NMSU’s Domenici Hall alongside her presenting partner, Noah Gallegos. Hannah and Gallegos competed against two other business startups in the traditional business team category.
Bill Smallwood, an angel investor who has invested in over 40 different projects, was one of the judges during the competition. He believes that the program could have a positive impact on the community with further development.
“Everybody here recognizes a problem, and that differentiates them from a lot of people their age,” Smallwood said.
Smallwood praised the determination of the competing entrepreneurs and encouraged future entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas at competitions such as the one hosted by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center.
“They really want to be independent and they really want to try and create something on their own,” Smallwood said. “Eventually, with enough experience, they’ll try [to start their own business], and some of them will eventually succeed. This is where it starts.”
Hunter has already established a strong foundation for her project and is fueled by her lifelong passion for learning about different lifestyles and cultures.
According to her mother, Sandra Marie Moses, it was during a family vacation to Costa Rica when Hannah was just 11 years old that she realized her daughter had an interest in creating change.
“Hannah didn’t really care to go do the stuff that people usually do on vacations. She wanted to know about the people,” Moses said. “She’s fluent in Spanish, and she was more interested in talking to the people that lived there and learning about their lifestyle.”
Hunter’s drive and determination have not gone unnoticed by her mother. With a new project at hand, Moses is confident that her daughter can take it to the next level.
“I think her passion sets her ideas apart from everyone else. When she speaks about it, she is just driven to make something happen,” Moses said. “There’s nothing that is going to get in her way. I’m very proud of her. She’s just got something in her mindset to make something happen. It just happens.”
As part of NMRC’s “Growing Recycling Businesses in New Mexico” project, the goal is to offer technical assistance and training to support the growth of small emerging and expanding private recycling business enterprises such as GEE.
Hunter is already collaborating with NMRC and other local partners such as the South Central Solid Waste Authority, and New Mexico Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, to get the project launched. While GEE is still in its early stages, Hunter is optimistic about its future impact.
“It’s getting really exciting because these other nonprofits in Las Cruces really believe in us just as much as I believe in the program,” Hunter said. “I also hope that when our target market notices that we believe in them, they start to believe in themselves.”