Casting Your Net Abroad

Black Americans are leaving the U.S. to start businesses overseas. Here's what you'll need to launch your enterprise on foreign shores.

Now more than ever, african Americans are realizing that a world of business opportunities exists beyond our familiar shores. Although those opportunities may be far from home, costly and risky, the entrepreneurial spirit that’s been integral to our survival has inspired those caught by the international bug. Motivated by the promise of new opportunities, African American self-made business owners have been venturing abroad since the early 1800s, when garment maker Mary Gardner Prince moved to Russia in 1824 to create a line of children’s clothing for nobility.

A number of African American in this century have joined large corporations in various roles overseas, and set up importing or exporting businesses in the States. Today, international entrepreneurship is becoming another viable option for our progression into the 21st century.

While it’s unknown exactly how many African American entrepreneurs are doing business overseas, they are gaining some exposure. New York-based makeup artist Diane Stevens,an internationally known consultant, is setting up a cosmetics manufacturing plant in South Africa next year. Several African American restaurateurs are cooking up a storm in Australia and China, while U.S. servicemen have opened businesses in Vietnam and Germany.

Perhaps on of the more formidable tasks is uniting black entrepreneurs worldwide so that we can be more productive and feel less isolated. The National Federation of Black Women Business Owners in Washington, D.C., is aiming to do just that. Its sister organization, the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners, based in the U.K., was encouraged, Ph.D., and its foreign president, Yvonne Thompson, to bring European sisters into the loop.

While Walker is planning globally, she doesn’t, however, encourage African Americans to start overseas businesses before doing their homeworks here. “First, be solid at home. Be astute in both politics and business. Then, make sure you have a solid product or service that is usable in the country that you choose. Know the economy, the language, the ethnicity and the culture of the country,” she warns. “Don’t go unprepared and come back broke.”

EFBWBO’s London-based vice president, Sandrah Monthieux Pelage, agrees. “Understand that each country has different legislation, culture, language and tax issues. For example, in France, small businesses are more disciplined and the taxation is higher than in England,” she says. “Be aware that certain parts of the world, like South Africa and the Caribbean, have a natural population that’s black, making a black entrepreneur feel less isolated,” she says.

Despite the cultural barriers, some black entrepreneurs have found a more accepting business environment, though the scene will be unfamiliar. Preparation will be key, notes Kathryn Leary, president and CEO of The Leary Group Inc., a New York-based firm that promotes trade development and marketing for black entrepreneurs.

“Start doing the legwork before you get on the plane,” Leary advises. Contact the mayor’s office, chambers of commerce, U.S. Embassy and the economic development office in the city where you want to do business. “Go to their meetings and establish your credibility,” she urges.

You’ll find that it also takes expertise in the service you want

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