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Black women in America share a unique experience as business owners because of the struggles they face – rooted in both systemic sexism and racism – often resulting in a lack of funding options. In recent years, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that Black entrepreneurs were 10% more likely to apply for financial startup assistance than their white counterparts, yet they were 19% less likely to be approved.
To get a better idea of what these women face as they get their businesses off the ground, we spoke with five successful business owners who shared how they overcame their trials and their advice for other Black women entrepreneurs.
Ongoing issues of racial inequality spanning hundreds of years and flaring up in present-day America have not stifled Black women’s entrepreneurial spirit. According to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, African American women own more than 2 million businesses, making them the leading female minority group of business owners. Statistically, women of color are 4.5 times more likely to start a business than other demographics.
Since 2007, the number of businesses owned by women of color has increased by 58%, according to the same report. In fact, researchers said that if the money earned by those businesses were matched by all women-owned businesses, “they would add 4 million new jobs and $1.2 trillion in revenues to the U.S. economy.”
Part of the reason for that boost, in the belief of some of the business owners we interviewed, is that Black women are a creative and adaptable group of people who aren’t afraid to take risks.
“This makes them incredibly brave and pushes them to take leaps,” said Tiffany Griffin, co-founder of Bright Black.
Education could also play a major role. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black women hold the most associate and bachelor’s degrees overall, making them the most educated demographic. Those advanced degrees can provide the confidence and tools entrepreneurs need to launch and operate businesses of their own. [Read related article: How to Start a Business: A Step-by-Step Guide]
Key takeaway: Black women are leading the charge in entrepreneurship. They own more than 2 million businesses, and women of color are 4.5 times more likely to start a business than other groups.
Learning from other successful business owners is one of the best ways to reach your full potential as an emerging entrepreneur.
Source: Tiffany Griffin
Prior to starting her entrepreneurial journey with her husband, Dariel, as co-founders of their scented candle company, Tiffany Griffin pursued a career in academia and policymaking. With an eye on spreading knowledge and effecting positive change, she was motivated to bring awareness to the Black experience. Today, her company does the same thing by incorporating scents inspired by the African diaspora, naming candles after Black trailblazers and more.
As a “social entrepreneur,” Griffin said she always wanted her products to conjure up both memories and conversation about Black culture. While her mission in business was always to serve others on a cultural and communal level while discussing Black culture, that was the very thing she said was a barrier for securing funding from investors. That the funding was conditional on compromising core values of her race-based product line was something Griffin and her husband found troubling.
While Griffin and her husband were in a place financially where they could dismiss those investors, they acknowledged that many businesses could end up compromising on core beliefs to stay afloat. To avoid finding yourself in that position, Griffin suggests saving up some capital before launching your business.
“With financial stability comes freedom,” she said. “We’ve also learned to plan and plan and plan some more … and stick to your values. For us, we really do believe in our values, and we really are trying to do good work.”
Key takeaway: Griffin advises emerging Black businesswomen to save money before launching their businesses so they aren’t reliant on investors who may require them to make core changes to their businesses.
Source: Janna M. Hall
After working for several years in corporate America, Janna M. Hall decided she wanted to build a creative marketing agency of her own. Being overlooked for a raise and told the company had no budget for a wage increase pushed her to remove herself from company politics and start her own business: Leap Innovative Group. Though she was familiar with the industry, Hall said she found it hard to set her own rates because she struggled to advocate for herself.
After lowballing her rates for a long time, Hall eventually realized that the relationship African Americans have with money on a cultural level differs from white business owners, creating a splintered understanding of worth.
“Our white counterparts are used to having capital, used to pricing themselves higher, and had the confidence to stand behind their prices, even when they were higher than the market rate,” Hall said. “I realized that if they had the confidence to stand behind their prices, why couldn’t I? I am confident in my expertise … so I should also be confident that I’m worth the price I set for it.”
To overcome this insecurity, Hall welcomed the counsel of white mentors whose understanding and confidence with money pushed her to raise her rates. She internalized that she was indeed worth her rates and found comfort in researching the average market rates. To that end, she urges Black women business owners to avoid taking rejection personally. When a client says no to your rates, she said, it’s a reflection of what they’re willing to pay and not what you offer.
“My clientele now consists of businesses who understand the value I bring, and are happy to pay what I’m worth,” said Hall.
Key takeaway: Hall encourages Black female entrepreneurs to avoid underpricing their services by researching the market and knowing their worth.
Source: Britney Winters
When she graduated from Stanford University in 2008 and then completed her MBA from Harvard in 2016, Houston native Britney Winters believed she was on her way to bigger and better things and a life of corporate success. After a handful of years successfully working in both investment banking and the fossil fuel industry, however, she realized she “never could bring my true self to work.” That self-perceived lack of ownership over her career is what led her down the path of entrepreneurship and the creation of her own hair extension and wig company, Upgrade Boutique.
Now, with roughly a year of experience as a full-time entrepreneur, Winters said the biggest challenge she faced was getting funding for the business. Though many entrepreneurs can get their initial funding from friends and family, that option isn’t necessarily available to Black entrepreneurs.
According to an article in The New York Times, white entrepreneurs have an edge over their Black counterparts in this category because “for every $100 in white family wealth, Black families hold just $5.04.”
Though she’s had financing help, Winters said she also dealt with the funding issue by selling her products at an early stage of her business. After setting up a pop-up store and selling out of her stock in three hours, she’d earned some capital and an initial customer base. Though it wasn’t at the level she’d imagined for herself, Winters said it was the spark she needed to keep moving forward.
“I think we kind of want the ideas we have to be perfect before bringing it to the market, but I learned that you have to work with what you have,” she said. “Sometimes it is hard to access capital, so just figure out what your most basic prototype of what you can present … to get your foot in the door. Then you can work towards building it out to your ultimate vision.”
Key takeaway: Winters urges business owners to make the most of the capital they have by starting small and selling products at an early stage of the business, which will help them grow their customer base and earn more capital that they can reinvest in the business.
Source: LaTonya Story
Though the world of celebrity and sports public relations and communications has long been dominated by white men, LaTonya Story has carved out a successful career in the industry. As the owner of LPS Consulting PR, a boutique PR and marketing firm that represents some of today’s biggest talent, she has worked with famous athletes like Michael Vick and Dwight Howard and has received several industry accolades, including the Women in PR Trailblazers Award.
Though she’s now known as a successful businesswoman, Story said she started out having to work harder than her white male counterparts to prove herself. When she started working in PR two decades ago, the only Black woman in her field was Marvet Britto, founder of the Britto Agency. To overcome that hurdle, Story used her networking abilities to sign her first clients. Through “word of mouth, social media and traditional pitching,” she was able to bridge the gap between herself and other established PR professionals.
By being assertive and tenacious, Story said most Black female entrepreneurs can seek out both new clients and potential mentors by “not being afraid of reaching out to people.”
“My first opportunity came by way of me calling a radio ad that I heard for the Allen Iverson Celebrity Summer Classic,” she said. “I served as a volunteer for two summers in the public relations department, which allowed me to network and meet professional athletes, one of which took a chance on me and became my first paid client.”
Key takeaway: Story stresses the importance of networking in seeking out new clients and potential mentors. She tells budding Black women entrepreneurs not to be afraid to take chances and reach out to people they want to work with.
Source: Genera Moore
As a Black American woman, Genera Moore becoming an event planner in Dubai was already an out-of-the-box career choice. Yet after years of coordinating large celebrity social events in the “City of Gold,” Moore has found further success in a new venture normally run by white men – auto parts.
As the founder of Motorparts Nation, Moore distributes auto parts to mechanics in Ghana. Having found her interest in international trade from her time in the Middle East, Moore said she got involved in auto parts after conducting market research and finding out where it was needed most. While a huge part of her professional life has brought her to parts of the world where Black women aren’t as common as other ethnicities, she said that she eventually relied on her race as a “superpower.”
“Being a black woman has had a lot of advantages, even living in the Middle East,” she said. “I feel like I’m trustworthy and I have integrity and follow my plan to execute exactly what I said I can do. That’s my advantage.”
The things that made her different proved to be a strength when she realized that she, as a Black woman, can make a difference in communities that need the most help. For Moore, that group is the people of Ghana and, more specifically, the auto mechanics of that country.
“Black women reinvest in the community and we don’t just focus on our household – we focus on how we can collectively do things to empower someone else or connect with someone else,” she said. “It may sound like my company is just auto parts, but if you look at the top 10 healthcare epidemics by death in Africa, road injuries are next to malaria, AIDS and stroke. … My company is out to change it by working to train mechanics on how to make the road safe.”
Key takeaway: Moore recommends finding a business opportunity by conducting market research and identifying communities that need help.
Bias still has an impact on entrepreneurship for Black women. Although they pursue higher education at a higher rate than other female minority groups, they still need mentorship to help navigate the challenges of starting and growing a business, such as being approved for funding.
“Black folks have less access to high-worth networks and information, and access like that is pivotal and, in some cases, becomes mandatory for success,” Griffin said.
Mentorship is vital to the success of budding Black businesses because it helps combat overarching inequalities in the working world. It also gives Black entrepreneurs access to one-on-one advice and an opportunity to learn from others who learned how to successfully manage and overcome these struggles.
“I have the responsibility to share what I know with other women,” Hall said. “My agency hires Black women out of college because I understand how tough it can be. I wanted to provide a safe space where they can learn and grow and not have their mistakes be a bad mark on their career. I wanted to give them a space to be able to say that they don’t know something.”
Key takeaway: Black women entrepreneurs can benefit from mentorship and advice from successful business owners to help them navigate challenges in receiving funding and networking.
Andrew Martins contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.