African-American women have made great strides in the realm of business ownership. In fact, they are starting businesses at a rate that is six-times that of the general population. Half of all African-American-owned businesses are owned by women, and among all businesses owned by women of color, 42% are owned by African-American women.
Women who shifted careers and decided to work for themselves was the focus of the Women of Power Summit session, “The Entrepreneurs Master Class,” hosted by Walmart. Discussing their path to entrepreneurial success were panelists Mahisha Dellinger, founder and CEO of Curls; Lisa Williams, Ph.D., founder of World of EPI, and Jane Carter, founder of Soul Formulator and Jane Carter Solution.
The enterprising women pointed to the importance of taking a leap of faith when starting a business. “There is this divine disconnect where your mind says it is too risky, but your heart says you can do it,” says Williams, a former college professor who bid goodbye to tenure and a multimillion dollar endowment to start EPI.
“You don’t have to know everything. Don’t be discouraged by those who have more experience or more knowledge than you,” adds Williams. “Give them the business and real entrepreneurs will find a way to make it happen.” Her Positively Perfect collection of skin toned dolls reflect the diversity of African American girls and is sold exclusively in over 3,000 Walmart stores nationwide.
“You need to have strategic persistence. When you hear ‘no’ you have to learn how to turn that into a yes,” says Dellinger. You also need a plan of action. “I had a detailed marketing plan. I had a road map for what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.” It was in 2002 that Dellinger, then a marketing manager for Intel, started Curls. She invested about $50,000 of her personal savings to hire a cosmetic chemist, develop initial products, and set up an online storefront. Today, her haircare line is carried in more than 400 Walmart stores as well as in retail chains Target and CVS.
From her beginnings as a professional hair stylist-colorist and salon owner for over 20 years, Carter founded Jane Carter Solution over a decade ago after experiencing an allergic reaction caused by exposure to chemicals in traditional hair care products. Today, she is providing her specially formulated natural haircare products in over 10,000 retail stores.
“You need to be smart enough to find people who know the answers [when they don't understand a certain area of the business].” Also, “work on your business, not in it,” says Carter. “Build your company with purpose and around who you are authentically.”