In the mainstream, black business success is most often associated with the entertainment industry. We recognize artists like Jay-Z and retired athletes like Jordan who’ve parlayed their fame into several streams of income. Unfortunately, our familiarity with black entrepreneurship barely extends beyond a select prominent few.
The American public is not alone in this lack of understanding: even at a preeminent leadership training ground like Harvard Business School (HBS), future executives aren’t exposed to examples of black business.
According to recent reports, only 2 out of the 300 case studies read by first-year students at HBS featured black executives. Furthermore, less than one percent of the 10,000 case studies published by Harvard feature black executives. HBS’ case studies are considered the industry standard.
In response to this lack of representation, HBS professor Steven Rogers wrote 14 case studies on black business and created a course for students to study black entrepreneurship. He had 45 students – all black – register for his class.
The Curatours, like professor Steven Rogers, is committed to expanding the conversation about black business and entrepreneurship. Here are three young, black entrepreneurs that continuously inspire us.
You probably haven’t heard of Tristan Walker, but you’ve heard Nas promote the Bevel blade or seen a Bevel ad on social media.
Walker is the Founder and CEO of Walker & Company, the parent organization of Bevel. Through Walker & Co., Walker’s goal is to create health and beauty brands that improve the personal care experience for people of color.
Bevel, established in 2013, made national headlines back in 2015 when Walker & Co raised $24 million in funding and signed a deal to distribute its shaving system in select Target locations. Since, the brand’s product development and popularity have continued to grow.
Walker, a 2010 Stanford Business School grad, is also a co-founder of CODE2040, an organization dedicated to increasing black and Latinx representation in leading tech companies primarily through their college internship program – more than 90% of interns have received full-time offers after completing the program.
After roughly two years in business development at Intuit, Morgan DeBaun decided to leave corporate America in 2014 and co-found Blavity [https://blavity.com/], a digital community and tech company for black millennials.
In less than three years, Blavity has amassed a social media followership in the millions, and is arguably the pulse of black millennial culture. In 2016, DeBaun, the company’s CEO, was selected as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Media.
Blavity is a venture-backed and ever-expanding startup. Among recent accomplishments, the organization launched a conference called AfroTech, created a lifestyle brand for black women called 21Ninety and acquired a company called Shadow Act. Undoubtedly, Blavity will continue to make bold, socially conscious moves under DeBaun’s leadership.
John Henry, 23, is a first generation Dominican-American who sold his first company, Mobile City, for $1 million at the age of 21 – he was the sole-owner. That company was a dry cleaning service based in New York City. At the age of 18, Henry, an aspiring jazz musician and doorman at the time, dropped out of school to focus full-time on expanding his service. His clients extended beyond his building tenants to include the casts of shows like Law & Order: SVU and Power.
Henry didn’t have a passion for dry cleaning, but he does care deeply about investing in early stage startups: he founded a Harlem based startup accelerator called Cofound Harlem, which focuses on minority businesses.
In addition to his work at Cofound Harlem, Henry is a managing partner at his own venture capital firm, Harlem Capital Partners and the host of a podcast called Open For Business that is sponsored by eBay and Gimlet Media.
Celebrating black business success
By stimulating black entrepreneurship, not only will communities be revitalized, but also the black business narrative will begin to shift. Currently, there isn’t much of a narrative, which in effect limits the minds of all, and particularly black people.
In my opinion, the answer isn’t simply to promote existing businesses and buy black; we need more producers, too. We need more innovators and disruptors. Society needs more people of color to think big ideas and come up with creative solutions to the problems we face.
The present lack of exposure to black business is a major hurdle we must overcome, and if we fail to do so, the expectations for black youth will continue fall short.
Censorship has been powerful tool of regimes and organizations throughout history: if you can control what one thinks, you can control how one acts. Now, I’m not here to accuse anyone in particular of censorship, but the legitimate examples of its effective use to keep individuals uninformed are endless. A serious effort is needed to bring black business to the forefront. The success stories are out there. We just have to find and share them.