It’s never easy to start a business — so much so that roughly 20 percent fail in their first year, 30 percent in their second, and 50 percent in their fifth, according to longstanding data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Small Business Administration.
And though all professionals are impacted by the less-savory elements of running a business, non-white (and non-male) entrepreneurs face an abundance of additional issues.
Specifically, black entrepreneurs encounter a slew of challenges in funding their ventures. This is due in large part to systemic problems within the world of venture capital — only 2 percent of investment professionals are black, according to findings in a recent Morgan Stanley study; this lack of diversity a large factor in why the lion’s share of investment goes toward primarily white, male entrepreneurs.
In fact, 38 percent of African Americans say the biggest challenge facing their business is a lack of capital and cash flow, according to a survey conducted by Guidant Financial.
That said, there have been breakthroughs for black business owners. The same survey purports 69 percent of respondents indicate their business is currently profitable, and most stated they felt “confident” in the current political climate to continue running their business successfully.
To set the record straight (and in honor of Black History Month), we spoke to four black entrepreneurs, asking them to detail their recent “wins,” their struggles, and their goals.
Tianna Tye is an Atlanta-based industrial-operational psychologist. Tye focuses on helping creative entrepreneurs with hiring and developing their teams. She’s an “analytical creative” who specializes in data-driven solutions to team-building and developing good leadership skills.
Her Recent “Win”
“Investing in my own professional development was a game-changer for my business this year,” says Tye. “I invested in a program that fundamentally changed the way I approach entrepreneurship, ensuring my business structure aligns with my long-term goals.”
“Most important, my professional development taught me the power of connection in entrepreneurship,” Tye adds. “Now there are thousands of women who know exactly who I am and what I do. The friendships and partnerships that have been forged are priceless.”
Overcoming a Struggle
“Entrepreneurship can be really challenging, especially in an online space,” Tye says. “I struggled like many other solopreneurs, feeling lonely, disconnected, and like I was swimming.”
Tye notes that her recent professional development was quintessential in overcoming the isolating nature of being an entrepreneur, while opening the door for future success.
“It is 100 percent worth it to invest in yourself,” according to Tye. “It sounds odd, but the courses [I’ve taken] and mentors I’ve worked with have truly been a saving grace.”
Lest she be daunted by the hiccups of starting your own business, Tye has big dreams for the future of her entrepreneurship.
“Black female entrepreneurs are the largest growing demographic, yet our wage gap is still something serious,” Tye says.
“While 2020 will be my first full year of operation, my revenue goal is $100,000,” she says. “I’ve never been one to play small.
William “Chip” Beaman
Though he found success as a “behind the scenes” video game voice over professional, William “Chip” Beaman had difficulty obtaining work in other mediums. Through tenacity, connection building, and hard work, however, Beaman was able to build the Halp Network. The organization helps similar creative professionals find production and post-production work throughout the United States.
His Recent “Win”
“Through a series of events in 2018, I found myself able to start my own enterprise, the Halp Network,” Beaman recalls.
“Using the connections I made over the course of 23 years, I’m now able to work on projects that aren’t solely video game voiceover, but on feature-length films, television, and podcasts,” he adds.
On the client-facing end, the Halp Network also “provides services ranging far beyond voice over, such as motion capture, localization, and other services across the entertainment landscape” to companies like Electronic Arts and Activision, bolstering their position as talent finders in niche creative skillsets.
Overcoming a Struggle
Prior to forming the Halp Network in 2018, Beaman recalls the arduous process of getting new gigs.
“I found it particularly difficult to break out of video game development and into other forms of entertainment,” Beaman states. “Many in the entertainment field find film and television to be more legitimized forms of media.”
“Working for a well-established post-production facility, I found I was not able to spread my wings and enjoy those other avenues,” he adds.
Now at the helm of his new enterprise as co-founder and CEO, Beaman is ready to pass on his network and success to similar performance professionals, while changing the discourse in his industry in a way that helps other creatives.
“As we move into 2020, my goal is to share my love for creating, engaging, and learning,” he states. “I want to educate and help set best practices across the industry.”
He hopes to achieve this by hosting workshops, networking events, and classes with recognized leaders and working professionals.
“I want to elevate and advance our industry in a collaborative and engaging environment,” he adds, striving to build a more inclusive professional field for others like him.
As director of risk management at insurance policy provider Combined Insurance, Brandon McCreary is ultimately responsible for avoiding pitfalls that could lead to business losses. Besides navigating the often tricky world of risk management, McCreary is also the founder of Combined’s African American Resource Group.
His Recent “Win”
One component of McCreary’s professional responsibilities is assessing new, previously unknown threats to business profitability. To that end, he recently took up the mantle of improving Combined Insurance’s online security.
“As the insurance industry risk landscape evolves, it is becoming more evident that cybersecurity risk is a growing threat to the bottom line of many organizations,” McCreary says.
“I recently completed and passed the Information Services Audit and Control Association’s (ISACA) cybersecurity auditor exam,” he adds. “The exam provided a good foundation on cybersecurity audit concepts and the risk and controls to an organization’s cybersecurity.”
Overcoming a Struggle
In line with assessing the threats of today, McCreary was quick to turn inward and address what he lacked in his own professional skill set. This proved a more sobering and difficult experience than he anticipated.
“After going through an honest self-assessment process, I realized that my technical skills were outdated and in need of a refresh,” he says. “Unfortunately, skills that were vital three years ago are not as relevant today.”
This assessment led to his eventual undertaking of the ISACA auditor exam, a test that McCreary says proved “a difficult, but necessary process to undergo to maintain relevance among peers and competitors.”
Never the one to back away from a challenge, McCreary’s goals for 2020 revolve around continuing to build his professional technical skills while improving his own personal finances.
“One of my professional goals is to learn a new coding language within the first half of the year,” he indicates. “My personal goal for the second half of the year is to purchase my first investment property.”
A life strategist, consultant, and speaker, Nile Harris makes her living pushing entrepreneurs and professionals toward achieving their goals. Working with health care, life science, and education organizations, she specializes in developing strategies for workplace success, helping individuals “jump to the other side of fear and foolishness to achieve their most audacious goals.”
Her Recent “Win”
Exposure is important when you’re a self-employed individual. So when Harris was recently spotlighted for her business savvy in the media, she was pleased to receive some well-deserved recognition.
“My most recent win is my first mention in a major publication where I shared my favorite productivity tool for working smarter, not harder,” Harris says regarding her recent contribution to a Forbes story. “I received the news right before Christmas. It was great to share in the excitement with family and friends.”
Overcoming a Struggle
While Harris has no shortage of tips and tricks for professionals on how to maximize their productivity, she too has to deal with the common problems inherent to entrepreneurship. Most recently she had to contend with the issue of late payment, an unfortunate hazard of self-employment.
“In this particular instance, I provided flexible payment terms for a client who took advantage,” Harris recalls. “Three months later, I still hadn’t been paid.”
She in turn looked at the situation as a teachable moment. “I learned a valuable lesson: Clients value me as much as I value me,” she says. “By being too flexible, I sent an unintended message that it was okay to devalue my work.”
Much of Harris’ work has been in a one-on-one capacity, but this year she’s looking to spread her professional acumen in a wider capacity.
“A goal I have for myself is to book 10 speaking engagements in 2020. Plus I have been invited to submit topic proposals for two organizations with upcoming annual meetings,” Harris says.
“Though I’ve been speaking and training for years, it’s primarily been for work. I’m thrilled, and sometimes anxious, to be able to share my expertise and experiences on how to overcome the fear of change and uncertainty to accomplish your business and life goals.”
Funding Opportunities for Black and Minority Business Owners and Entrepreneurs
Challenges persist for black business owners and entrepreneurs seeking capital. But thankfully, there are a number of grant and funding opportunities available to those individuals seeking to jumpstart their enterprises. Some of them include:
- Grants.gov is a database of federal grants, some of which are specifically for black and minority-owned businesses.
- The Chamber of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency posts occasional grant competitions for business owners of color on their website.
- The National Black MBA Association hosts an annual Scale-Up Pitch Challenge for black MBAs looking to build their entrepreneurial ventures.
- The Small Business Association’s 8(a) Business Development Program provides government contracts to businesses “owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people,” a designation that includes businesses owned in large part by people of color.
- The Business Consortium Fund offers support and financing exclusively to minority-owned businesses for entrepreneurs seeking necessary business loans.
Additionally, investment firm Harlem Capital published a database of 200 black and Latinx venture capitalists, detailing high-performing firms where investment professionals of color work.
Final Thoughts on the Experiences of Black Entrepreneurs
Despite the systemic challenges present, these four successful black entrepreneurs have been able to overcome many of the hurdles inherent to owning and/or operating a business. Their respective abilities to celebrate their strengths (and their tenacity during periods of struggle) are to be lauded. Here’s to their future success.