All Articles Tagged "african american women entrepreneurs"
Welcome to “The Hustle” where we profile African-American women who are turning their passion into a little something on the side, and turning that little something into a big business. Know someone who should be in “The Hustle”? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Teach for America alum Yamillee Toussaint sees a room full of high school girls dancing after school, she doesn’t just see a well-practiced routine. She sees confidence rising and a chance to transfer that confidence to empowerment for young girls to reach for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The 2008 MIT mechanical engineering graduate has a plan to help young girls succeed in STEM fields through dance. Through her program, STEM from Dance (SFD), she’s using songs like Beyonce’s “Run the World” to show girls how they can do just that.
“I truly believe that the time is now,” she said. “Our country is at a critical moment in time where STEM jobs are on the rise. If we can take a significant slice of this STEM pie and get our students in the STEM pipeline, we can make transformational educational and economic progress in the minority community.”
A New York native, Toussaint has always been interested in science and math. Her father has been a mechanical engineer all her life and as a child she often had chances to follow him to work and learn what his job entailed. She was impressed by his excitement and enthusiasm for his work as well as the way he took on the challenges with the field with a pervasive curiosity.
“I chose mechanical engineering because I had a grasp on what engineering was,” she said. “I felt like I would thrive in, and I had the support and guidance of my role model – my father.”
After completing an internship in the field and graduating, Toussaint knew that although she enjoyed the engineering field, she wanted to take on a job that combined her desire to serve and connect with people. With her passion for service calling her, she decided to join Teach for America and taught high school algebra for two years at a school in Brooklyn.
Carol Sankar is a bestselling author, wealth coach and marketing strategist. Before she started Carol Sankar Enterprises, a business consulting and real estate investment firm, she worked as a senior paralegal representing Fortune 100 corporations and various law firms. Now, she has two full-time employees and several independent contractors on staff.
Following a move to Charlotte in 2005, Sankar started investing in real estate. Success quickly followed. It was this financial success that spurred her to develop The Millionaire Mindset Entrepreneurship Program, a trademarked program Sankar started teaching to her clients in 2009. Her ability to help others build success has landed her in national magazines like Ebony, Career, Essence and Harvest.
Madame Noire: Why did you stop working as a senior paralegal and start your own legal consulting firm?
Carol Sankar: I was unhappy. I wanted a change. I’d dream about operating my own business. However, I was dependent on my income. I started my legal consulting company (it was called New Edge) as an after work project while I continued to work my regular job. After operating my consulting business on the side for about 18 months, I turned a profit. However, the thought of being a full-time entrepreneur scared me, so I held on to my regular job for security. Subsequently, the company I worked for downsized and my entire department was laid off.
Now I had to turn my side job into my full-time job. I began advertising, networking, and meeting with different organizations throughout New York City. Within months, my business was on autopilot. I was featured in newspapers, on radio shows, at events and more.
I operated my business full-time from my living room in Brooklyn, NY with clients lined up everyday looking for assistance with immigration, wills and divorces. I outsourced some work to other attorneys, and not long after, attorneys began to hire me to become their outsourced staff. It was an amazing time.
MN: Were there times when you wanted to abandon your business and go back to working for someone else?
CS: Of course! I don’t think there’s a true entrepreneur who doesn’t feel the urge to return to corporate America. You become adjusted to the security of a paycheck and benefits. When you operate your own business, there are no sick days, lunch hours, vacation time, breaks or holidays. I work when my clients need me; unlike corporate America, which gives you defined space, duties and time to work. However, when I sit back and watch how I built my company from the ground up, I feel proud. Then the feeling to return to a corporate job goes away.
MN: How much did you initially invest in Carol Sankar Enterprises?
CS: I used money (approximately $18,000) I got from the sale of New Edge to start Carol Sankar Enterprises. I saved on my upfront investment by working from home, and focusing more of my attention on marketing to get the company off the ground. I focus on commercial real estate investing (investing in properties like apartments, office complexes and shopping centers). Right now, I’m in the middle of investing in my third shopping center in North Carolina. The other two commercial properties I co-own are apartments; one is in Memphis, the other is in Gastonia, NC. You can get property from your city government or from auctions for $500 or less, renovate and restore them, then lease them for profit. We net about $5,000 a month with the apartments. Once a property pays itself off, we re-invest the money back in the business.
MN: What types of services do you offer clients?
CS: We offer coaching/consulting for startup entrepreneurs, primarily sole proprietors, who are struggling in their business. We teach entrepreneurs how to market their products/services, build a support system (e.g. workforce), manage their time and resources wisely, etc.
“My motivation is from being born and raised in the ‘hood (East New York area of Brooklyn),” The multi-talented entrepreneur said in an interview with Black Enterprise. “Every day, you had examples of what not to be. Every day you saw people bite the dust. Seeing that made me realize that I didn’t want to be a statistic. I always wanted more for myself. I also have parents who are still happily married who taught us the game, so I guess I am passing along what I learned.”
Smalls acknowledges that although her book was the move that launched it all, her role on Chili’s show made the difference.
“After I got the role as the relationship adviser on the show, my writing career went through the roof, and I received a healthy book deal with a huge publishing company, HarperCollins. As far as popularity from the show in general, it has definitely made me a household name,” she said. I was still living in my hometown when the first season came out, and I had to move. People were following me home asking me to find them a man. It was crazy, but I love the love people have shown me since the show. It allowed me to meet many great people, and for that alone, I am thankful.”
In addition to all of her newest ventures, Smalls has also published a new book, “Men Love Abuse: The Guide to Losing the Nice Girl Image & Getting the Man You Want.”
“My latest book is off the chain! I can’t even lie to you. It is funny, endearing, and most of all honest. It is a book that lets women know that the less you sweat or stress a man, the better off you will be when it comes down to this thing called love,” she said to Black Enterprise.
“I come from a friend perspective, so I believe that helps people embrace the advice more.”
It’s no surprise that Smalls days are fully packed, she notes that she wakes from late nights to check emails, eight social media pages, proofread her work, check on the boutique and in between all of the work, she makes sure she finds time to take care of her fiancé. Despite all of the stress from business ventures and her full days, Smalls says she loves what she does, especially inspiring women looking for successful relationships.
“I love to encourage and empower women because I am a woman, and one day I will have a daughter, and it will be my job as her mother to teach her what she should and shouldn’t accept from a man or in life. I take that role as a love coach very serious,” she said. “I’d like to say I am the queen of self-esteem because if you have self-esteem, everything else will work out for you personally and professionally. You have to believe in yourself first.
More on Madame Noire Business!
- Bar Owners, Party Throwers & DJs: African-American Women Making It In The Nightlife Business
- How She Made It: Maria Lee-Driver Discusses The Success of Her Skincare Line Oria’s O’Shay’s
- Entrepreneur Spotlight: Shafonne Myers, Founder and Owner of Pretty Pear Bride Magazine
- Behind the Click: Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream
- Do Black Designers Skip Over Black Models to Gain White Customers?
- How She Made It: Alia Jones-Harvey, Producer of A Streetcar Named Desire
According to the Office of Minority Health, almost four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. Even with the alarming statistics, Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks say they never thought that Black Girls Run!, which now consists of over 25,000 women and 67 BGR running groups across the country, would pick up the momentum that it has. The two started Black Girls Run! in 2009 to document and create support for their own personal experience and never thought it would create nationwide inspiration for black women to start running.
“One of the things that sparked this whole conversation was when I first started running, I called my mom and said, ‘Hey, I want to start running. I got these shoes, they are dope,’” Carey said to Black Enterprise. “and she says, ‘Black girls don’t run.’ Just like that. ‘It’s something white people do.’ ‘Really, mom? That’s racist,’ was my response. She would say things like ‘your uterus is going to fall out,’ which is a myth, and that was why women couldn’t run marathons until the ‘60s. That all led to the creation of Black Girls Run!”
Carey and Hicks created an all-runners-everything website that includes product reviews, running group meet-up locations and runner spotlights. Their movement has over 30,000 “likes” on Facebook and more than 9,000 Twitter followers.
“Social media continues to be a big part, but I think when you are in your city and you see 30, 40 black women running through your neighborhood, everyone’s automatically like, ‘What is going on?’ That is not something you see every day,” Carey said. “That kind of still fuels the growth in people just being interested in what this running thing [movement] is all about. There are so many black women doing it. I want to say it’s a trend now. Hopefully, it’s a trend that continues.”
This September, the movement will pick up even more speed as the duo in partnership with AARP, hosts their first road race in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I always default to our tagline: ‘Preserve the Hot.’” Hicks said to Black Enterprise. “That says so much about really preserving who you are from head to toe. A lot of times it’s making sure, like with black women, it’s ‘Oh, my hair has to look good right now.’ But really it is just preserving everything about you.”
More on Madame Noire Business!
- Behind the Click: Ashley Baxter, Digital Marketing Manager for J.C. Penney
- How She Made It: Alia Jones-Harvey, Producer of A Streetcar Named Desire
- Why African Philanthropists Are Calling For Africapitalism
- Will Scandal’s Success Pave the Way for More Diverse Images of Black Women?
- How She Made It: Jeri Lynne Johnson, Founder of Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra
- Entrepreneur Spotlight: A Sister-Run Business Brings High-End Tea Stateside
Once Kissa “Starr” Thompson realized she couldn’t reach her fashion business dreams working for other people, she decided she couldn’t wait any longer. She started her company, Buttafly Unlimited after her second year of school in 2000.
“There’s a lot of times when you work at a job and it’s not really where you want to go or you don’t see yourself really going anywhere with it,” she tells Black Enterprise. “For me, I had some goals for myself and my company, and I was like, when I had reached this certain goal I want to make the step out on my own.”
Although Thompson had succeeded in starting her own company, in its initial stages she still had to work for others. Black Enterprise reports she found several 9-5 jobs with Def Jam, BET and Burberry. She also worked as a personal assistant to one celebrity. Thompson used each experience to help build contacts and her own personal brand.
“I think every experience, depending on how you take it, can take you to the next level,” she said. “It’s not in vain depending on how you used the time, so for me, when I’m in a situation where I’m freelancing for another company, I use that as a learning opportunity and I’m getting paid for it.”
Almost twelve years later, Buttafly Unlimited now sells hats, scarves andn t-shirts for men, women and children. Her designs have been worn by celebrities such as Alicia Keys and are sold in boutiques in New York, Atlanta, London and Japan, as well as through her website. Her most popular design features the words, “I Love My Hair,” and has inspired “I Love My Hair” self-esteem building workshops in New York City.
“The acronym B.U. is about being who you are and reaching your unlimited potential,” Thompson said. “Even though you’re different or you want to do something different or sometimes you thinking you want to do something different and you change who you are, it’s okay.”
Women entrepreneurs are flourishing at rates higher than the national average, an official at the United States Department of Commerce reports, and black female entrepreneurs comprise a large part of that success story.
Rebecca M. Blank, the acting deputy secretary of commerce tells BET that businesses owned by black women have a total sales count of almost $37 billion, a 78 percent increase since 2002. Most of these business owners take on businesses in health care, social assistance, administrative and support and waste management. In addition to women entrepreneurs, Blank also disclosed that “women make up a far larger percentage of minority-owned business than they do in white-owned businesses.”
These findings and other important business statistics were discussed at a forum recently held in New York City sponsored by the Obama administration. Over 200 women entrepreneurs took part in the forum, which featured top-ranking businesswomen who offered their experience, lessons and advice for how to grow business to the group.
Blank revealed that these women businesses were not only expanding, they were growing despite financial boundaries.
“Women are far less likely to use external capital and more likely to rely on their own credit cards,” she said. “And the question is: How do we open more avenues to access to capital for women.”
Entrepreneur speakers touched on these difficulties, and stressed the importance of research to create solid business plans.
“I had to learn to really crunch the numbers and to understand the necessity of doing the financials,” entrepreneur Monique Greenwood said at the conference. Greenwood is the owner and chief executive of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, which is a 16-year-old hospitality company. She has locations in Brooklyn, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“It’s extremely important for women to follow their passions — and to do the financial work,” she said.
The White House Business Council, the White House Council on Women and Girls and the United States Small Business Administration were also key sponsors to the event.
Kim Etheredge and Wendi Levy were making hair history for multicultural women across the US with their “Mixed Chicks” hair products. They had put in eight years of hard work to develop and market their product, and were earning an annual revenue of $5 million. But then, Inc.com reports, they discovered the alarmingly similar “Mixed Silk” brand. The Sally Beauty Supply product line for mixed race women came in packages that looked all too familiar. And with its cheaper price tag, the imitation brand threatened to ruin everything the entrepreneurs had built.
In 2004, Etheredge and Levy debuted “Mixed-Chicks,” a hair solution to the struggles the two dealt with as women of mixed race that they hoped would also help women with similar hair textures. Their product line, which includes shampoo and conditioner, began to sell in salons and beauty-supply stores across the US. In 2009 it even caught the eye of celebrity actress Halle Berry, who named the brand one of the “must-have products” in three national beauty magazines.
That same year, a representative from Sally Beauty Supply approached the two entrepreneurs at a trade show. The woman liked their product and invited the two to speak further about a partnership with Sally Beauty Supply. At first, the opportunity to have Sally Beauty Supply carry their products seemed incredible. But the two did their research and decided that the corporation’s strict return policies weren’t for them.
The duo’s dismissal wasn’t enough to deter Sally’s Beauty Supply. The chain went on to create “Mixed Silk,” and with Sallys’ clerks claiming it was practically the same thing as “Mixed Chicks” except cheaper, the two soon realized that their business was at stake.
Etheredge and Levy found themselves in a difficult situation. If they sued the billion-dollar company, they faced paying $250-500,000 a year in a legal battle that could last for years. In addition if they lost their case, the two risked having to pay Sally’s for lost revenue.
Then again if they won their case, it was a chance to possibility get rid of “Mixed Silk” and collect damages for lost sales and reputation.
“Kim and I felt the same way,” Levy tells Inc.com. “There was no way we could just sit there.”
In March 2011, “Mixed Chicks” formally filed a lawsuit against Sally Beauty Supply for trademark infringement, trade dress infringement and unfair competition claiming that the chain was selling and advertising an imitation of their product.
The co-founders are still locked in a legal battle, and await their May 15 trial date. The lawsuit has cost them big. Although they won’t disclose how much, they’ve had to postpone their plans to take the business international for now. The business has continued to grow in the US, and last year added seven new products and increased its distribution to 3,000 stores.
At the end of the day, the women have no regrets about their decision to sue. As Etheredge says to Inc.com, “You can’t just bully little companies.”