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Why We Need to Focus on Black Women’s Startup Stories


Black female founders statistically face more challenges than men or white women, including lack of access to capital. From left to right are Dreena Whitfield of WhitPR; Angela McIver of Trapezium Math; Judi Henderson of Mannequin Madness; and Katrina Thompkins of K’dara.  (Image credit: Christina Kelly)
Black female founders statistically face more challenges than men or white women, including lack of access to capital. From left to right are Dreena Whitfield of WhitPR; Angela McIver of Trapezium Math; Judi Henderson of Mannequin Madness; and Katrina Thompkins of K’dara.  (Image credit: Christina Kelly)

It could be America’s motto: This is harder for Black women.

In this instance, of course, we’re talking about being an entrepreneur. And while women business owners of any color face numerous hurdles that men do not, the road is that much more difficult for Black women — especially when it comes to getting the money needed to launch and scale.

Numerous studies prove it: from receiving an appallingly small amount of venture capital to making less than white women as employees, to having less intergenerational wealth and personal savings to tap into — the money is simply harder to come by. That’s especially sobering when you consider that most startup business owners rely upon bootstrapping or friends-and-family contributions to get up and running.

And the difficulties don’t end there. “When I first started up, I must say, I made it a point to almost hide my ethnicity,” Judi Henderson of Oakland, California, mannequin seller Mannequin Madness told us. “It’s what I felt I needed to do.”

[Related: Yes, Women Won the Right to Vote 100 Years Ago. But Equality Remains Elusive]

We spoke with numerous Black women about their individual experiences of launching and running businesses. Each candidly discussed with us how their race and gender played roles in their startup stories from the very beginning. And to be sure, the intersections of their identities absolutely factored in. The aforementioned statistics show up in their stories, as do other problems, from how they marketed their businesses to non-Black customers to how they networked effectively in their respective industries, many of which are dominated by white men.

But Black women are not a monolith, and while there were notable commonalities in their experiences, the richness and variety of their startups and stories also shine through. These business owners sell everything from PR strategies to educational tech toys. They hail from all parts of the country. Some have been in business for decades, while others — like Katrina Thompkins of CBD products seller K’dara — just launched earlier this year. (And, Thompkins launched while working as a nurse in New York during the city’s Covid-19 spike.) It’s a tapestry.

There was one other common thread, however, found amid the shared hardships and individual traits: each noted that this wave of awareness of systemic racism, and international protests against it, feels somehow different — like the start of something bigger, rather than an isolated moment in time. And it’s well past time for that revolution, says Dreena Whitfield of Union, New Jersey, communications firm WhitPR. Because right now, she’s still asking: “What will it take for Black lives to truly matter?”

Here’s hoping this is when society figures it out.

More in the “Her Perspective” series

As a Black Business Owner, She Hid Her Ethnicity. ‘It’s What I Felt I Needed to Do’
Judi Henderson, owner of Mannequin Madness, now hopes for a sea change for Black people in the business world.

Her PR Firm Has Succeeded By Amplifying Voices That Are ‘Ignored, Dismissed and Muted’
Dreena Whitfield launched WhitPR with a hyperfocus on Black-owned businesses, individuals and organizations.

A Nurse Launches a CBD Startup, Despite the Pandemic and Being a ‘Super-Minority’
Katrina Thompkins opened her e-commerce store, K’dara CBD, just as the coronavirus crisis was starting to take hold in the U.S.

This Ed Tech Founder’s Mission: Know and Show Others That They’re ‘Not Alone’
Lisa Love’s firm, Tanoshi, aims to bridge racial, educational and digital divides for low-income kids.

This Math Club Founder Wants to ‘Find a Path That Provides Some Equity’ in Education
Angela McIver, owner of Trapezium Math, says the pandemic has only worsened the gap between children from low-income families and necessary math skills.

As A Black Dentist, She Says ‘You Can’t Help But Notice That Nobody Looks Like You’
Dr. April Patterson, founder of Dr. Patty’s Dental Spa, recalls being one of just two Black women in dental school. Now, she’s elevating her own profile to be a role model to others.





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