First, the good news: Black women are starting up at higher rates than any other demographic group.
The 2012 Survey of Business Owners published by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that black women ran 1.5 million firms in the 5-year stretch it monitored. This accounted for 60 percent of all black-owned ventures and 29 percent of women-run firms in existence during that time. Additional research also revealed the reason: These entrepreneurs sought to forge professional pathways free of discrimination — to open doors not only for themselves, but others as well.
But systemic bigotry still harms them, making it difficult for them to grow their ventures. Indeed, black women (and men) have a harder time accessing economic, educational and health resources than their white counterparts, according to the National Urban League’s 2017 “State of Black America” report. Sexism and racism, unfortunately, still play a role in creating that gap — especially when it comes to accessing capital, which many business owners need to expand.
In the spirit of Black History Month, we’ve put together a list of black women entrepreneurs we know and love, whose businesses and nonprofits are showing signs of sustainability and growth — despite the statistics. Many of the women featured below have taken chances and picked themselves up after a fall, becoming true examples of resilience for others to follow.
These black women entrepreneurs inspire us. Learn more about them now.
1. Dominique Reighard-Brooks: E.E. Ward
She took the leap from being a successful top model — literally, as she was a finalist on the popular reality competition “America’s Next Top Model” — to co-owning E.E. Ward, the oldest consistently black-owned business in America. Her fresh perspective and branding savvy are taking the moving company to new places — also literally, as it recently opened a new location in North Carolina.
2. Lisa Price: Carol’s Daughter
A beauty entrepreneur, Price built her multimillion-dollar hair and skincare product line, Carol’s Daughter, out of nothing but a dream in a kitchen. And she got there in part by refusing to strive for impossible perfection, and instead embracing the good times and bad. “We think we have to be perfect. We think we have to get it all done — but we don’t,” she told us.
3. Noëlle Santos: The Lit. Bar
Santos pushed hard to bring reading opportunities to fellow residents of the Bronx, an especially underserved New York City borough. Between successful crowdfunding campaigns, a media blitz, pitch competitions and networking events, Santos of The Lit.Bar did everything she could think of to make sure her neighbors had a bookstore to call their own.
4. Yve-Car Momperousse: Kreyol Essence
The founder of Kreyol Essence lifts up others by partnering with farmers and other workers in Haiti to source her products’ key ingredients. For her, the success and stability of the company is about much more than personal profit. “Social businesses have to be real businesses in order to have an impact,” she asserts.
5. Funlayo Alabi: Shea Radiance
Alabi’s venture, Shea Radiance, suffered a huge setback a few years ago when she landed on the shelves of a major store — and couldn’t keep up with demand. But purpose and passion gave her the strength to weather the storm. Today, she’s back on her feet, and back in with major retailers.
6. Kimberly Peeler-Allen and Glynda C. Carr: Higher Heights
They are the co-founders of Brooklyn nonprofit Higher Heights. Through both virtual and real-world outreach efforts, they are leading the charge to get more black women into office — and the voting booth — where they can effect long-lasting change.
7. Amber Williams: Punkyflair
Williams launched her branding consultancy, Punkyflair, with the idea that stories, not sales pitches, are the best way to reach customers. Her strategies have helped other people of color find voices for their brands — and embrace their true selves. She encourages black women entrepreneurs in particular to authentically include themselves in their businesses’ narratives.
8. The Network of Women in Agribusiness and Development
This collaboration between seven Ugandan women farmers was formed in 2015. Nearly four years on, they’re already giving hundreds of poor women in rural communities the skills and confidence needed to improve their lives, making real change for people who need it most.
9. Takia Ross: Accessmatized
Ross, who is the owner of Baltimore makeup studio Accessmatized, is bringing positivity to everyone from blushing brides and struggling students to stressed-out mothers — with help from the perfect shade of lipstick. Her business is all about heart and convenience for the women she aims to empower.
10. Rita Robert Otu: Beau Haven Farms
Otu, of Beau Haven Farms, is helping rural women grow and sell vitamin A-rich cassava — and changing their lives in the process. “Our goal is to encourage and support a new generation of entrepreneurial farmers,” she says. By teaching women these skills, she provides a way to for them to support themselves and their families.
11. Lovern Gordon: Love Life Now
A former pageant winner, Gordon launched Love Life Now to unite communities against domestic violence and break down the isolation that survivors like her have experienced, and that allows abuse to persist. She also raises money to help survivors start their lives anew.
12. Brittany Rose: More Than Cheer
This former All-American and NFL cheerleader is on a mission with More Than Cheer to dismantle demeaning stereotypes about cheerleading and make it a tool for empowering women. “I’ve taken an activity used to trivialize women and girls, and turned it into an opportunity to empower the next generation of girls who will lead their communities into a brighter future,” she told us.
This story, originally published in 2019, has been updated for 2020.