Profile in Courage: Marketing Maven and Entrepreneur Ola Jackson
By Rhonda Campbell
Ola Jackson is the founder of Onyx Woman Magazine, Onyx Woman TV and Onyx Woman Network . Her resume includes experience as the former host of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Movin’ On Radio. She has been using her marketing and business experience to encourage other African American women to realize their entrepreneurial goals for more than 20 years. She has won the Robert Morris University’s Alumni Achievement Award; she has also won Business Woman of the Year, Woman of Vision and Woman of Excellence and been nominated for Pittsburgh’s Community Champion Award. Last year the Small Business Administration named Ola Jackson as its Western Pennsylvania Minority Business Champion. Not bad for a woman who was the first in her family to graduate from college. Courageous for a woman juggling the responsibilities of caring for a special needs child. We caught up with Jackson to discuss how parenting and entrepreneurship went hand in hand in her experience.
MN: Did you always envision yourself as an entrepreneur, even when you were a young girl? And if you didn’t, what ignited your passion to own and manage your own intellectual and creative properties?
Ola: Growing up I never had a desire to be an entrepreneur because there were no role models accessible to me. The closest thing to a “light bulb moment” for me was watching the television show Bewitched. In Bewitched one of the characters, Darren, worked for an advertising agency. When Darren couldn’t come up with advertising campaigns, I would imagine myself creating marketing concepts to help him win over his clients.
When I decided to start my own business my thoughts reverted back to the enthusiasm I had imagining myself as Darren’s muse. I always felt that whatever I did for a career would have to allow me to create something and watch it grow. Today what I do most with my business is create concepts and sell them to corporations for sponsorship.
I started my business when my husband and I discovered that our son was autistic. We had decided that one of us needed to be accessible to meet his ever-growing needs. I knew that working from home would give me the flexibility to attend his appointments.
MN: Sometimes when we start a business or project we envision a final result and think once we achieve that result we’re done. For example, if we have a passion to open a bakery we may feel we’ve reached our goal after we purchase real estate, decorate and put an “Open for Business” sign in the window. As a seasoned entrepreneur, in your eyes, is starting a business, writing a book, etc. the fulfillment of a goal?
Ola: Being able to look back and see how having a business impacted my personal goal of being an advocate for my son is the fulfillment of a lifetime. Our businesses, like our lives, go in stages. Both (our businesses and our lives) should be treated as a process. Each time you complete a page (or fulfill a goal) you carry your story over to the next chapter. That next chapter is built from what you learned earlier in your life. The end is simply your exit plan.
MN: In what key ways has the Onyx Woman Network changed since its inception?
Ola: Twenty years ago I started by offering public relations services. I later created an 8-page newsletter. We saw the need for workshops and conferences, so we produced those business events for women. We later evolved into producing television when I founded OWN: The Onyx Woman Network. Now, we are more actively on the Internet and growing our network. At one time, our only focus was Pittsburgh; now we sponsor events around the country and interview women from around the world.