Editor’s Note: This piece is part of an ongoing series on female entrepreneurs of color. Read more here.
The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in many communities of color. In fact, minority children are especially likely to dream of owning a business when they grow up, according to a Gallup-Hope study.
Those children may well face the challenge of bias as they grow older and start companies. Women of color in particular can experience difficulties accessing the world of entrepreneurship. But it’s also true that they will often benefit from unique sources of strength.
A number of the business owners we interviewed during our project on women of color, or those who responded to a query we conducted in partnership with the Public Insight Network, emphasized the positive role that race played in their startup stories. They talked about the empowerment and support they received from their communities, and about the inspiration they found in the strength of their peers.
Below, we feature four stories of women who were driven and motivated by the tenacious characters and rich histories of their communities.
Tina Aldatz says race is a key part in her startup story — but perhaps not in the way one might imagine.
The serial entrepreneur, who not only started and grew a big-name beauty business, but a premiere travel/lifestyle venture as well, is half-Mexican and half-Irish, and describes her upbringing near Santa Monica Beach in Calif., as “socioeconomically disadvantaged.” Aldatz’s family struggled with domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and other issues. Those hardships affected her and informed her worldview, but she says they also provided “a road map for overcoming obstacles.”
“These challenges built character. It might not have been traditional, and it might not have been easy. But, then, being an entrepreneur isn’t easy,” she says.
Now that she’s successful, Aldatz takes a pay-it-forward approach to life, working with organizations like Girls Inc. and Hispanic 100 on developing their mentorship programs. She has lots of wisdom — and encouragement — to share with the next generation of entrepreneurial Latinas. “If I can be successful, anyone else can, too. That culture of determination and Latino work ethic is ingrained in our DNA.”
CEO of Superb Speakers and Consultants Bureau
Joyce Scott’s speech consultation service has grown into a global organization that boasts 130 experts on call. Not bad for a woman whose introduction into the world of public speaking was an effort to overcome her fear of it.
Growing up, Scott, who is black, attended school in predominantly white Beaumont, Texas, graduating from Lamar University in 1972. As one of the few people of color there at the time, she was inspired to get involved in the Civil Rights movement, and to lift herself up in the eyes of others. “I decided to stand out in all of the positive ways I could, to show my race as a beacon for what would be America’s leadership.”
Great grades and significant involvement in extra-curricular activities and community outreach taught her to feel pride in both her achievements and her racial background. Those experiences also stoked her aspirations. “My career and family life have been planned to complete the goals I set early in life,” she says, “and to make the American dream my own.”
Scott, who took the leap to business ownership after establishing herself in the tech world as a sales leader at IBM, has been a successful entrepreneur for over 15 years. She sums up her triumph simply: “Things have worked out.”
In 2008, Stacey Smith was working as an administrative assistant. Today, she runs both a marketing business and online fitness company in Tempe, Ariz., and is the author of a career-advice book.
“Entrepreneurship is a path of personal and professional growth,” she says. “You grow into being a far more creative and courageous person than you ever imagined.”
When the Akron, Ohio, native first started out in business, she thought that being a black woman might stand in the way of her professional success — a worry reinforced by a lack of powerful minority women in mainstream media. “There was Oprah, but no women who were more approachable,” she says.
But Smith was pleasantly surprised by the good reception her ventures received. In fact, her first sales-copy client was the white male owner of an aerospace company. She encourages other women of color to be proud of who they are, even if they work and run ventures in industries where female minorities experience significant challenges.
“When you’re starting out as a minority woman, you may want to hide the fact that you’re black, or Latina, or Indian,” she says. “In some industries, such as tech, there’s still a lot of work to be done to open doors of opportunity for minority women. But I’ve found that the boundaries in many industries have come down.”
Owner of Curtain Call Inc.
Yumi Na Kim came to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, to attend New York University, but her plans quickly changed after realizing her childhood dream to take on the Big Apple.
“I came to the U.S. as a foreign student to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, but decided to work and get a green card instead,” she says.
Kim found a job as a programmer and database administrator and worked at big firms like HSBC for more than five years. In the male-dominated field of technology, she found validation and empowerment. “As a minority woman, I believe that it is good for women to work in the IT industry because we can prove our ability through our work.”
But while Kim was successful in a city she loved, one other dream continued to elude her: business ownership. It was ultimately her homeland that inspired her to start Curtain Call Inc., which began when she decided to make window shades for her newly purchased condo after failing to find something similar to shades she’d had in South Korea. Before long, Kim obtained a U.S. patent for her design and turned what had been a sideline idea into a full-time business that serves customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Kim’s career trajectory has given her an aspirational outlook on life, and on achieving her goals. “Based on my experience, if you have a dream, whatever decision you make in life should be towards reaching that dream,” she says. “Dreams will come true eventually, if you work for them hard enough.”