Have You Ever Thought About Becoming. your own boss? Well, in 1996 hundreds of thousands of people not only thought about starting their own business, grabbed the entrepreneurial brass ring with both hands.
According to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Economic Research, there were 842,000 new start-ups last year (up from 819,477 in 1995). Of course, becoming a business owner isn’t easy. In fact, it’s risky business, given that about half of all new firms fail within the first four years.
The challenges of entrepreneurship-which include securing start-up capital, dealing with the competition and keeping pace m a high-tech age — have many clinging to the comforts of corporate America. But others are pursuing the American Dream and succeeding.
Four African American entrepreneurs who have braved the odds and come out on top in their respective industries were honored last May in Orlando, Florida, during the BLACK ENTERPRISE Entrepreneurs Awards Dinner. This was the closing event of the Second Annual BLACK ENTERPRISE/NationsBank Entrepreneurs Conference. Dressed in black tuxedos and sequined gowns, the attendees awaited announcement of the recipients. And the winners are
EMERGING COMPANY OF THE YEAR
The Emerging Company Award recognizes businesses that are poised for future growth. They have adopted creative marketing techniques and carved out a niche for themselves.
Jacob Miles President & CEO Cultural Exchange Entertainment Corp./Cultural toys
Walk the aisles of Toys ‘R’ Us and you’re bound to meet Rosie. No, she’s not the store manager, nor is she a regular customer. About eight inches tall, Rosie is one of 10 Hollywood Hounds, a line of plush, culturally conscious characters created by Jacob Miles, chairman and CEO of Cultural Exchange Entertainment Corp./Cultural Toys.
Founded in 1993 by Miles and his wife, Rosalind Bell, Cultural Exchange is the nation’s first African American-owned, full-line toy company. One of only a handful of toy manufacturers there are few beyond Mattel, Hasbro, Kenner and Tyco — the Minneapolis-based firm produces a wide variety of multicultural toys and electronic learning aids for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
Other popular products include the Dinkytown Day Care Kids, a multicultural doll line with eight characters from across the globe, the Soft Stack building block set, and C-Bear, a hip, Ray Ban- wearing bear based on the animated series C-Bear & Jamal.
“We’re a children’s entertainment business focused on creating properties and products that speak directly to the African American and multicultural community,” says Miles, who has worked in the toy industry for 25 years.
Miles worked for the aircraft engine group at General Electric before starting his career in toys. But he found that working in a field barely open to African American products or personnel was not easy. “The [toy] industry is not very diverse at all,” says Miles, whose toy career began in 1975 with General Mills’ Kenner Products Division. In fact, while at Kenner, Miles tried to convince the company to create a brown version of the Baby Alive doll, but the idea was initially rejected.
As manager of engineering at Kenner, Miles was involved in the production of several products including