Much like the dawn of the Industrial Age toward the end of the 19th century, the spirit of entrepreneurship remains an invaluable commodity for America, perhaps even the country’s greatest asset. This is particularly true of young black entrepreneurs who have historically been underrepresented in the market. But it’s a new day and the number of African Americans who are carving out their own paths and running their own businesses is in an upswing. Here are seven such young black entrepreneurs.
Tech entrepreneur Angela Benton defies the status quo in an industry where the absence of women is topped only by the noticeable absence of African Americans. Benton is both. As CEO of Black Web Media and founder of the NewME Accelerator, Benton has made something of a lifestyle of outwitting and outliving challenges. If NewME sounds familiar, it should. The first 12-week cycle of the California-based tech incubator program for minority-led businesses was featured on CNN’s Black in America 4 in the fall of 2011.
Hailing from Memphis, TN Terry and Jerry Lynn have taken brush to canvas to sketch their way into entrepreneurial success with their brand Twin. The brothers, who actually are twins, own LynnTwin.com, an online portal-slash-portfolio that displays their artwork and hosts a bio that boasts a long list of exhibitions, honors, publications and corporate clients.
The hair care industry is huge in the African-American community, to the tune of a billion dollars annually. Within that niche is a growing subcategory of products for women who wear natural (unprocessed) hair. It is that space that Kim Etheredge and Wendi Levy have chosen to occupy with their popular Mixed Chicks brand of hair care products. Mixed Chicks can be found on the shelves of local beauty supply stores as well as Target, CVS, Rite Aid and Duane Reade.
Personal Brand Strategist, Author, Keynote Speaker, Tech Entrepreneur and Man About Town Hajj Flemings is founder of the Detroit-based personal branding collaborative Brand Camp University. His expertise has been featured on NBC, Fox News, ABC, ESPN and Business Week. His book, “The Brand YU Life: Re-thinking Who You Are through Personal Brand Management” was selected as one of Fast Company Magazine’s 2008 Readers Choice Business Books of the year. Flemings is also the creator of Gokit.me, an online tool that helps users to aggregate content from various online profiles onto a single platform.
Any woman can be fashionable, irrespective of her size. That is the conviction that initially prompted Monif Clarke to start her business in 2005. In response to her own frustration with what she perceived as a lack of stylish options available for plus-sized women, Monif decided to partner with her late mother, Elaine, to launch a clothing line for plus-sized women. Formally schooled in math and science at Rutgers University, Monif was met right out of the gate with a massive undertaking – she didn’t know the first thing about the fashion industry. She went back to school, attended trade shows and expanded her network to include people who were already in the industry. Today, Monif C. ships all over the world from orders received online. As well, the company has stores and product in Manhattan, Buffalo, New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Houston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Jamaica and St. Croix.
One can not speak of black entrepreneurs without mentioning talk show queen turned network owner Oprah Winfrey. Starting very an impoverished background in Kosciusko, MS she made a name for herself with her daytime talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. During that time she has gone on to being her own publication “O”. She went on to produce and star in numerous films including the notable mentions, “The Color Purple” and “The Butler” respectively. In making the decision to leave what she was best known for, her talk show. Winfrey started her own network, a decision one would deem an enormous feat and risky leap. She collects funds for charities through her organization, Angel Network, while also establishing Family for Better Lives Foundation. Humanity is not her only concern for she also possesses a deep thought about education. Realizing that it is essential, she dedicated herself in this particular field, conducting The Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program, Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, and Christmas Kindness through Oprah Winfrey Foundation. “For me, education is about the most important thing because that is what liberated me,” she said. “Education is what liberated me. The ability to read saved my life. I would have been an entirely different person had I not been taught to read when I was an early age.”
In a recent TED talk, Henry Rock posed a provocative scenario in which the redemption of the American economy rests in the hands of a previously untapped resource – young black men. Here’s to hoping this trend of entrepreneurship amongst young African Americans continues.