Business Dynamos

Black women are making inroads in the world of business. Like these three, you can tap exciting markets and achieve entrepreneurial success.

There is a quiet, yet powerful revolution happening right now in the small business world. Right before your eyes, black women are making more strides and gains than ever before.

According to a recent survey, minority women-owned businesses compose one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. economy. In 1996, 13% of the nearly 8 million women-owned businesses in the nation were owned by minority women (Asian, black, Hispanic, Native American/Alaska Native). The number of firms increased 153% between 1987 and 1996, twice the rate of all women-owned firms and three times faster than all U.S. companies. They employed nearly 1.7 million people and generated some $184.2 billion in sales annually.

In the survey, Women Business Owners of Color: Challenges and Accomplishments, conducted by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO) in Silver Spring, Maryland, a total of 679 women business owners were interviewed, 111 of them African American. The minority women gave many reasons for starting their own businesses. The need to be their own boss was the main one, with 59% of the black women citing the need for more flexibility in their lives. Not surprisingly, 53% of black and 36% of white women also said the “glass ceiling” prevented them from advancing in their careers, hence, their decision to move into entrepreneurial ventures.

One startling finding was that black women-owned firms lagged in employment and sales growth behind businesses owned by Hispanic and Asian women. “A significant reason for this may be because black women business owners are far more likely to have started their businesses on a part-time basis while holding down another job, and far more likely to have started their business alone rather than with others,” says NFWBO Chair Lois E. Haber.

Studies have long shown that black women have the least access to mentors. Yet, a highlight of this survey is that 52% of black women had mentors when starting their firm. They were also more likely than any other group to have sought out training and advice. The study also noted that their support networks were made up of a variety of business advisors and associations, including churches or other religious organizations.

Problems that cut across all color lines included the long hours associated with business ownership, the responsibility and total commitment, financial burdens, keeping up with technology, access to capital and problems with employees. Yet, despite these difficulties, 90% of black, white and Native American/Alaska Native women said they would choose business ownership if they had the chance to do it over again.

The stories of the following three entrepreneurs exemplify the growth and success of businesses owned by women of color. The fortitude, foresight and fervor of these women have helped them make a mark for themselves while paving the way to new and evolving business frontiers.

AMSALE ABERRA
Business strategy: Offer a unique quality product and control distribution and growth
To many new or about-to-be brides, Vera Wang is the standard-bearer in simple and elegant wedding dresses. But before there was Wang, there was Amsale.
The custom-order

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