Starting a business is never a simple task. Each entrepreneur has their own unique path they walk and lessons learned along the way, especially so for Black-owned businesses. This Black History Month, we reached out to a number of founders and successful entrepreneurs to share insights into what their journey has been like in the business world as people of color.
Here they provide some tips on starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur, including the challenges and rewards of being a Black founder in today’s world.
Adrian Devezin – Empowr
Adrian Devezin has had an exceptional business journey. He went from working a minimum wage job at Mcdonald's to a six-figure career in programming within a year. He now runs Empowr, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating career paths for students of color.
Devezin learned a lot along the way but says that one of his most valuable lessons was learning the importance of building a team. “The reality is nobody became successful on their own. Build a team of passionate individuals who believe in your goal. This is perhaps the biggest key to success,” he says.
Devezin believes that it’s more sustainable to work with a collective goal and in a team environment, even if you are the sole business owner and founder. “Once you gain a team, you must entrust others to do their job and learn to lead them,” he explains.
While he recognizes that everyone has a different measure of success, he tends to look at how many lives his company or organization is improving. “With each student graduating from Empowr, we have ended one poverty cycle, reduced the racial wealth gap, improved a community and decreased educational disparity. There is nothing more rewarding than that."
Tope Adubi – Kilali Cosmetics
Nigerian-born Tope Adubi always had a passion for local products that accentuate natural beauty and tell the story of the hidden gems of the African continent. She started Kilali Cosmetics, a beauty brand that uses indigenous ingredients to West Africa to create high-quality skincare products.
One of her biggest insights for budding entrepreneurs is that nothing beats resilience. “Resilience will get you far. You will hear a lot of NOs. A whole lot of it and sometimes, it might get to you, but you have got to keep going,” she says.
This proves even more important because there are a lot of challenges that come with being your own boss. Adubi is quite candid when she describes the hardest part of being an entrepreneur:
“You are constantly wearing several hats and are responsible for every single decision pertaining to your business. As a small business, that means being the operations lead, marketing director, publicist, designer, financial operator, strategist, technical department, content creator and a whole lot more.” And yet the rewards can make it all worthwhile.
“The beauty of it all is when you see the result from all your hard work," she says. "For every product we sell, I know we have been able to share, educate and enlighten customers about clean African beauty. This keeps me going."
Andy and Nyles Burton – Andy Factory
Andy Burton first started Andy Factory as a home-school business project but soon decided to release it into the market. Along with his brother, Nyles, the two entrepreneurs are making a big impact in the foodie world with their sauces rich in unique tastes and spices.
Despite starting the business relatively young, the brothers’ best piece of advice is to simply go for it. “We often just think about our dreams but never take the action to build them out. Start the business plan as soon as you can and give yourself a timeline for accomplishing your goals."
Andy and Nyles found that being young was the hardest part of starting their business, but having a close network of help can make the difference. "Running a business is hard and it can especially be challenging when you have to balance school and work. We had to quickly learn time management skills and how to juggle multiple tasks at once. Fortunately, we have friends and family that act as amazing advisors and help us along the way."
While running their business is their main priority, Andy Burton also has a passion for motivating and inspiring others. “I love sharing my story to kids that also have big dreams of their own. My goal is to teach other kids, especially minorities, how to invest in yourself and make plans towards being your own boss,” he explains. He believes that giving back can be just as rewarding as being a successful entrepreneur.
Sherrill Mosee – MinkeeBlue
Sherrill Mosee is the inventor and designer behind MinkeeBlue, a brand she started to solve a problem she called the "overload bag syndrome." She came up with an organizational bag suitable for all the roles women play on a daily basis. She also founded a nonprofit organization, Family Care Solutions, to promote higher education among low-income women and children.
She offers plenty of advice for people of color looking to become entrepreneurs. “Understand your why, your purpose for choosing entrepreneurship, and reflect on it often. Your answer should be strong enough to carry you through the good and the bad,” she says. It’s also important to acknowledge the challenges and failures along the way, which of course, there may be many. But, “always celebrate your wins, especially the small ones,” because that can maintain your positivity even when things get tough.
As many of these Black founders have stated, it’s important to build a network and team around you. Mosee recommends connecting with networks as early on as possible. She uses an old African proverb to illustrate this: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Everyone has a different entrepreneurial journey, and these four successful Black founders help shine a light on the positive qualities that took their ambitions to the next level. Their experiences show a few common themes on starting a business, including the importance of building a network or team to support your ideas and being as resilient and positive as possible, even when things get tough.
If you're inspired to get your own business going, begin with our free Start a Business Checklist. You'll get all details you need to know.
Jenna Scatena is a writer and content strategist with a love for stories that have never been told before. More than a decade of working with prominent magazines and brands informs her approach to impactful storytelling. Her stories have reached more than 30 million readers, won multiple awards and been anthologized in books. Jenna's work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Marie Claire, The San Francisco, BBC and The Atlantic. She's the founder of the editorial consultancy, Lede Studio.