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Northeastern student starts marketing agency to engage communities of color from the Gen Z perspective

Shirley Wang, a second-year student, came to Northeastern because she has always learned better by doing, she says. She wanted to leverage co-op and entrepreneurial resources that the university has to offer. 

Shirley Wang sitting in a pink chair in ISEC working on her laptop.
Shirley Wang, who studies business, is the founder of Hackrah Media, the first Gen-Z-led impact marketing agency. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Hsiang-Ching “Shirley” Wang, a second-year undergraduate student at Northeastern University, says she has always been ambitious.

She remembers wanting to be a writer at 8 years old. At 13, Wang got a job at a regional magazine in her small hometown in South China that was part of a big media company.

“I knocked on their door until they answered me,” Wang, now 19, says. 

She wrote freelance articles for the magazine for a while, then, by chance, filled the position of its regional manager and later moved to the company’s marketing department.

“I got the opportunity to meet with a lot of business owners and that ignited my passion about talking to businesses and hearing their stories,” she says. “So I became kind of a marketing consultant and content creator for a lot of these businesses.”

In 2022, Wang came to Boston to attend Northeastern and launched a Gen Z-led marketing agency, Hackrah Media, just a few months later.

“Hackrah is a very specific agency,” she says, “We only support mission-driven, impact-first organizations.”

Besides growing the agency, Wang also set a goal to finish her undergraduate degree in three years by the time she is 21. She studies business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurial startups and a minor in global fashion studies. She also plans to complete two co-ops.

Wang came to Northeastern because she has always learned better by doing, she says. She wanted to leverage co-op and entrepreneurial resources that the university has to offer. 

Having done her research, Wang wanted to be a part of WISE — The Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, a student-led organization.

“I’ve always craved a women’s kind of entrepreneurship community,” Wang says, “because I knew from the time I transitioned away from my writing dream to entrepreneurship that that was the route that I was gonna go.” 

After completing WISE’s WeLaunch program, a seven-week business venture launch accelerator for women founders, Wang was able to secure her first grant from the organization and start building the agency’s team. She launched Hackrah Media in November 2022, she says.

Hackrah Media advocates for people of color. Wang is Taiwanese. 

“The core of Hackrah Media is about how representation empowers,” she says.

The marketing agency provides space for young people like herself who want to come together for a “movement for good.”

Hackrah’s target clients are business owners from underrepresented or historically marginalized groups — women, people of color, people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community.

Wang says she’s always wanted to work with other Gen Zers.

“There’s always older people who may doubt us,” she says.  

Wang believes being the same age group, her team members understand each other better, speak the same language and all get along. She wants the agency to be a safe and inclusive environment for everyone, she says.

Wang now has a team of 14 — mostly Northeastern students working remotely on a volunteer basis. 

To get the project off the ground, Wang did a lot of cold outreach, resorting to knocking on doors of different businesses in the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston and in Cambridge between classes.

“It was really a lot of hard work,” she says. “We’re still hustling now, and our sales team is working really hard.”

Frank Poindexter, manager of the Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club, says he gave Wang a chance after she provided a compelling presentation about Hackrah and the kinds of things that could help one of Boston’s longest-operating jazz clubs. 

Hackrah has helped Wally’s gain a considerable number of new followers on Instagram and Facebook, he says, since the agency took over the management of the club’s social media accounts about eight months ago. 

The agency has been creating content by photographing different bands, keeping the public updated about musicians performing at the club and other happenings.

“She’s helping out small businesses, which is pretty amazing for someone [so young]. So I’m super impressed with her work, I’m impressed with the young people that she has worked with,” Poindexter says. “She is providing opportunities for students.”

Wang says all of her clients are returning, long-term customers.

“We’ve had clients that have stuck with us for, I think, a year since we’ve literally begun,” she says.

Michelle Calderon, who earned her MBA from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, is founder and owner of Addition Beauty, a startup that produces nontoxic everyday lipsticks. She says it’s very important to her that Hackrah is Gen Z-led and impact-focused.

“The younger generation tends to be more tech savvy and up to date with social media and everything,” she says. “I would want people who understand the latest trends and are on top of social [media] in terms of work experience.”

The agency mostly takes care of the company’s social media management and email campaigns. It also has done other projects, such as redoing the website.

“Whether it’s a social campaign, whether it’s a promotion, or a show that we’re attending or something, if we need any artwork or additional assistance, they have enough people on the team and usually they have different skills, so then they [can] assist us with our asks,” Calderon says.

The agency also started a partnership program for more established organizations that can help Hackrah grow its connections and relationships in exchange for marketing consultancy. 

Wang is currently mulling how to scale her business, while maximizing her resources.

“And, obviously, sales,” Wang says. “Getting more clients and partners and building up our presence and network here in Boston is extremely essential.”