How do you become an entrepreneur? How do you start a business? How do you overcome rejection and gain self-confidence? In a panel hosted by USF’s School of Management Feb. 11, four Black women entrepreneurs dove into these questions and offered their advice to students.
The Black Women Founder’s Panel was introduced by marketing professor Sonja Martin Poole. According to Poole, Black women make up 36% of Black-owned employer businesses and start businesses at 10 times the national average rate. They also represent 42% of new women-owned businesses. “This matters because when small businesses flourish, so do communities, and Black business owners often intentionally locate themselves in Black and Brown spaces, which fosters economic growth,” Poole said in an email to the Foghorn.
Over the course of an hour, panelists Karen Hayes, Joy McGowan, Xiomara Rosa-Tedla, and moderator Netta Jenkins discussed the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, starting with how they tapped into their inner entrepreneurs.
“I didn’t know how to name it, but when I was a child, I was always the one forming a group. And then we had to find a way to support the group financially so [I said] we’re going to make things and sell them,” said McGowan, USF alum and founder of the Oakland-based beauty brand I Luv Curls. McGowan is also a mentor in USF’s Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) program. She said she was aware of her leadership and organization skills from a young age, something she and Hayes, founder of Bounce Beauty Salon in Oakland, have in common. “I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life,” Hayes said. Bounce Beauty Salon was featured in TimeOut Magazine’s “Things to Do” column in Oakland.
While the spark to create and lead was always present for these women, the path to realizing their goals wasn’t easy and came with learning how to handle rejection and overcome anxiety. “The more no’s I received, the closer I was to my yes,” said Rosa-Tedla, founder and co-owner of the brand UnoEth, an online brand based in Oakland that sells leather bags crafted by artisans in Ethiopia. “[Staying] active really dissipates the fear and anxiety, so keep working towards your goal in any way that you can.”
Hayes and Jenkins, the co-founders of data technology platform, Dipper, also weighed in on the subject. “It’s the fear of failure that propels me. Success may not look the way I envisioned it, but failure won’t happen.” Hayes said. “Find your tribe, find the folks you can lean on,” Jenkins added.
The panelists also talked about the logistics of building a business. According to Jenkins, while 2.2% of women in general successfully receive venture capital (capital invested in new businesses, typically start-ups), Black women only make up 0.2% of this number. For the panelists, this meant starting a business by bootstrapping, or from the ground up. “I started with $1,300 and just built from there. From selling five bags, to 10, to preorders, and so on” said Rosa-Tedla. She also recommended a local non-profit called Working Solutions, which helps one to five year old businesses secure funding of up to $50,000.
Hayes self-funded her business. “The benefit is that you have complete control. The cons are that sometimes you can’t move as quickly as you want to and some days you have to take less [of the profits],” she said.
To close, each panelist offered an array of advice to students and aspiring entrepreneurs. “Be able to articulate your worth in the form of an elevator pitch or a sit-down dinner,” Hayes said. “Cultivate your resiliency and take calculated risks.”
“Have a plan because it makes your goals real,” said Rosa-Tedla.
“Do an internship. Tap into your resources. Make yourself familiar with the Small Business Association. Get a mentor. Get a sponsor,” said McGowan.
In her email to the Foghorn, Poole emphasized the value of this event, particularly during Black History Month. “As a business professor and a Black woman, I am particularly interested in learning from this panel of business trailblazers. But their stories of struggle and triumph can inform anyone interested in entrepreneurship,” she said. “Black History Month is a time of celebration and education and this event represents just one way to elevate Black voices and stories.”