The history of Black entrepreneurship in the US runs deep, from Tulsa, Oklahoma’s storied Black Wall Street to modern-day businesses that strengthen their communities and the US economy at large.
Today, Black founders face higher barriers than their white counterparts, a legacy of enslavement and Jim Crow segregation laws: they have 10% of the wealth of white Americans and tend to carry more debt, limiting their access to capital, according to a US Chamber of Commerce report, Improving Access to Capital for Minority-Owned Businesses. As a result, more than 70% of them have to dip into their personal and family savings to fund their ventures.
Initiatives like the African Diaspora Network’s Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ABLE) program, which BILL funds, aim to increase Black entrepreneurs’ access to capital, mentorship, and other resources.
Despite these and other challenges—including the pandemic—Black business ownership is thriving. Although COVID-19 disproportionately hurt Black-owned small businesses, Black entrepreneurship rose 28% from pre-pandemic levels, according to 2021 University of California, Santa Cruz data. Black women have propelled much of this growth.
In honor of Black History Month, BILL is celebrating Black business owners and their contributions. We asked seven Black entrepreneurs from our community to share words of wisdom for other Black founders.
1. Get your finances in order
Tae Lee, founder and CEO of Never Go Broke, an education company seeking to close the financial literacy gap; ABLE Cohort 2 member
It's important to be financially literate because entrepreneurship is hard. They say there's no such thing as an overnight success, and I truly believe that. You’ll see a founder and be like, “Oh, you did that so quick,” not knowing that they've been working on their business for 10 years.
Entrepreneurship has its ups and downs. For instance, you may go months without making any money. So you have to understand how your money works in order to not stress about borrowing money, debt, credit–because at the end of the day, you have to have money and good credit when you're going out trying to get financing.
Make sure you get as much in order as possible when it comes to your finances, so when it’s time to go out and do anything with your business, you have everything in place. Make sure you do your taxes correctly, don’t write off everything, and show that you actually made a profit. Start either paying your quarterly taxes or putting money aside for your quarterly taxes.
Finally, stay the course. Entrepreneurship is a process, and it takes time, but it can happen. You’ve just got to focus and try to do stuff right, without cutting corners.
2. Listen to your community
Trevon Williams, co-founder of Purple Rose Wellness, a Deaf and minority-owned family business specializing in luxury self-care goods and education; Grow by Invoice2go, a BILL company, winner
Try to build a buzz in your community by offering something they need or want, but only after truly connecting with them. One way to do this is by attending local networking events, or offering an incentive for feedback.
Also, find your niche and identify how that fits into your community's needs. Finally, always be open to learning and asking questions. Live the belief that you can always learn something new. Seek growth.
3. Choose team members who complement your skill set
Andre Peart, founder and CEO of ConConnect, a professional networking platform connecting justice-impacted people to employers and services, inspired by his own incarceration experience; ABLE Cohort 2 member
You’ve got to go above and beyond. Black founders and Black people in general haven’t been given the most opportunity, haven’t had things the easiest–employment, healthcare, accessing resources, you name it.
And a lot of Black founders need to understand when you go into venture capitalism, operating a startup, that you need to have that mindset that you're still underrepresented. Knowing how much money goes to Black founders, you have to go above and beyond if you want to be seen, heard, and respected.
If you're not tech-savvy, and you're building a tech startup, do as much as you can to get tech people around you–tech advisors, mentorships, even if it's a class, just to learn how to approach beta testing.
For tech and non-tech founders alike, choose your investors wisely. An investor who gives you capital is one thing. An investor who gives you capital and time is very priceless. When I say “time,” I mean mentorship, go-to-market building, introductions to customers, partners, advisors, all of those things. I don’t take on any investors who give just capital.
4. Build a targeted fundraising strategy
Mandy Price, co-founder and CEO of Kanarys, a technology company focused on providing the tools organizations need to create long-term systemic change around diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges; BILL customer
I would encourage other Black founders and founders of color in the DEI space to focus on making meaningful connections with everyone they meet because you never know who could impact your company one day. I know with Kanarys, the connections we have made, even as undergrads, have helped us tremendously.
Additionally, my co-founders and I had to take a very different strategy when it came to fundraising. We had some uncomfortable meetings with potential investors where they discredited our solution or did not understand the problem we were trying to solve–as if DEI problems didn’t exist.
Our strategy has been to seek out investors interested in leveraging technology to change the world for the better. Almost everyone we have met with since this adjustment has become an advocate for Kanarys and the work we are doing in some way.
5. Fill your cup first
Shanika Valcour-LeDuff, founder of Labor and Love, a nonprofit offering maternal-child services in New Orleans, Louisiana; Grow by Invoice2go, a BILL company, winner
Self-care is very, very important for everyone. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so you have to make sure you are refilling yourself before you try to give to other people. I would also highly recommend therapy, which is something that’s becoming more accepted in the Black community.
6. Be flexible—and don’t be afraid to be pivot
Andrea Lewis, founder and CEO of Jungle Wild Productions, an entertainment company showcasing women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ people; BILL customer
Set realistic goals for your business, focus on steady continuous growth, and remember to be flexible! Not everything is going to work out exactly as you planned, so you have to have the flexibility to adjust to changes you see in the market to capitalize on opportunities. As an entrepreneur, you must have the ability to look at the bigger picture and pivot when needed.
7. Remember: Trust is everything
Joey Womack, founder and CEO of Goodie Nation, a nonprofit that facilitates relationship building for diverse founders and social entrepreneurs; BILL customer
From the family stories I heard growing up, I came to understand that the trust that lives within communities has driven more change than capital ever has. Relationships and trust have the power to change the world.
Learn about BILL’s partnership with ABLE.
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