Patents and Profits

Exploring a different kind of entrepreneurialism: inventions

Writer Renita Burns (center) with inventors and November cover subjects

Each November, BLACK ENTERPRISE dedicates the issue to small business. Considered the backbone of the U.S. economy, this group met unprecedented financial challenges yet has shown unduplicated resiliency. In the midst of the troubled economy, many Americans disregarded risks and sought opportunity on their own terms. Specifically, black-owned businesses account for 1.9 million businesses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Ask anyone who’s succeeded (or failed) at it, becoming an entrepreneur isn’t the easiest feat. But the experience is invaluable.

This year we take a look at the unconventional entrepreneur: inventors. “Now more than ever you have people looking for ways to step out on their own,” says Small Business Editor Tennille M. Robinson. “And while it’s one thing to start a small business, it’s another to conceptualize an idea and then see it transform into a marketable product.”

Black inventors hold a unique place in American and world history, whether propelling America forward technologically—Otis Boykin’s improved electrical resistor would later be found in computers, radios, and televisions—or just advancing our playtime—engineer Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaker is perhaps the most popular water gun ever. Despite the racial, social, and economic environment, these creations revolutionized industries and spawned consumer demand. And today, black inventors continue to carve out an indelible niche as creators and businesspeople.

BLACK ENTERPRISE content producer Renita Burns methodically explores this coveted group in the feature “Code Name: Inventors.” Burns shows us how Andrè Woolery, creator of the MagnoGrip Magnetic Wristband, and Elaine Cato, developer of the Breakthrough Backless Bra (both pictured below), turned their concepts into lucrative business ventures. Though Woolery chose to manufacture and distribute independently while Cato licensed her invention to a third party, each represents a carefully concocted mixture of enterprise, ingenuity, innovation, and dogged determination.

“There’s a lot of pieces involved in taking a product to market,” says Calvin Flowers, president of Chicago’s 1st Black Inventors Entrepreneurs Organization. “Most inventors, especially African Americans, don’t know the business process it takes because we haven’t been exposed to it.” Though the experience is fraught with trial and error, the end product can prove rewarding. Invention can mean big business to those agents savvy enough to manufacture a solution to a need not yet met.