The time is now for Black female entrepreneurs. From 2014 to 2019, the number of Black women-owned businesses leaped by 50 percent — far outpacing the 21 percent growth for women overall. Getting a business off the ground, of course, is only the start. So what does it take to succeed? OZY and Ally are teaming up to share these inspiring tales of success. Just as OZY breaks the media mold in bringing readers diverse and surprising perspectives, Ally was built to serve customers digitally as a relentless financial ally. We hope you’ll be as inspired as we are by these stories.
leading the way
1. It Takes a Pioneer
When Kay Cola, a Los Angeles-based, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, started her natural hair care company, The OrganiBrands, in 2016, she says she “didn’t have any Black mentors or anybody to look to or ask questions of.” At the time, she found that in the Black hair industry, “Everything from the beauty supplies to the products, even African pride products, [were] white-owned.” So she launched a business selling organic alternatives, generated more than $1 million in her first year, and now looks around and sees far more Black women in hair care. “I get people DM’ing me every day, telling me they’ve been inspired to start their own company.” In order to pay it forward, Cola offers business and investment advice via Instagram.
2. Support Is Critical
In 2015, Gwen Jimmere, another successful hair care company founder, joined a support group for Black businesses named Traffic Sales & Profit. The businesses in the collective, which support one another, boast tens of millions in annual revenue, and being a part of that group helped Jimmere get the support she lacked when she launched her Detroit-based company,Naturalicious. When she launched in 2013, Jimmere, a single mother to a son who’s now 9 years old, had just $32 to her name and had recently ended an abusive relationship. This year, she expects her company will generate nearly $3 million in revenue. When she got started, finding a Black female mentor in the beauty industry “wasn’t an option,” she says. “Nowadays, there are more Black women stepping up who are actually saying, ‘I can help you.’” She points to outfits for underrepresented founders like the venture capital firm Backstage Capital. “They weren’t around in 2013 when I was trying to figure it all out,” Jimmere says. “We need capital. Black women are the least-funded demographic, even though we are creating companies at a faster rate than any other demographic.”
Cheryl Contee, a Bay Area blogger and tech entrepreneur who employs around 40 people as the CEO and co-founder of Do Big Things, sold her second company, Attentive.ly, in 2016. She points to research showing Black women in tech have received less than 1 percent of the more than $400 billion investors have doled out in the past decade as evidence of an ongoing opportunity gap. “Even though I have been successful as an entrepreneur, in multiple ways I still run up against the occasional condescending attitude or dismissiveness,” says Contee, author of Mechanical Bull: How You Can Achieve Startup Success. Contee, mother to a 4-year-old son, is a member of Visible Figures, a support network for Black women in tech. She believes self-care and a healthy network of supportive colleagues are vital. She also sees the pandemic as an unfortunate but real opportunity for small business owners, who will be able to take advantage of government-backed loans. “In some ways,” she says, “when there is crisis, there is opportunity.”
This series, sponsored by Ally, offers advice on the tools and mindset needed for budding entrepreneurs to succeed in business.
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