On Wednesday, the Entrepreneurship Center at Kenan-Flagler hosted a virtual event called “Creating a Space for Black Entrepreneurs.” The event, organized by Keysha Jones, featured four great entrepreneurs: Amie Thompson, Dana Newell, Franklin Roye, and William Spruill. During the event, these entrepreneurs shared their experiences as black professionals and entrepreneurs. They also spoke about the challenges they face, both in their daily lives and at the earlier stages of their careers.
Lessons for Black Entrepreneurs from the Event:
How can we address the “Solo Entrepreneur” and “Do it Yourself” attitudes in the Black entrepreneurship community?
It’s important to remember that no one, no matter how talented, can be successful all by themselves. Amie Thompson, the President and CEO of Creative Allies, recognizes how collaboration can be difficult. “Delegation is a really challenging thing, and I think part of it is wanting to be really good and really great at something,” she explained, saying that this attitude may make it difficult to ask others for help. “I think it comes down to making sure you ask for help when you need it, and not feeling like you’re less than anyone because someone else is helping you.” Developing that “team mentality” is important for black entrepreneurs (not to mention other entrepreneurs also).
How can Black entrepreneurs deal with microaggressions effectively?
Being a person of color in the business world can be difficult at times. People might say things that they genuinely believe aren’t hurtful or ignorant, when in fact the opposite is true. Dana Newell, the President and CEO of BentonNewell Communication, said, “You have to wear your emotional armor.”
She spoke on the challenge many African American women face in the business world. If these women call someone out for insensitive comments, they may just be viewed as the “angry black woman.” Whether you’re in the entrepreneur space or in corporate, you must be ready to endure offensive comments. However, although you can choose whether or not you speak up, Newell did encourage black entrepreneurs to “say SOMETHING.” “In this very interesting time, it just does not make sense to be ignorant, when there’s so much information out there.”
What can larger organizations do to create welcoming environments for Black entrepreneurs?
While social media and hashtags can help, large organizations need to do more to help spark true change. Franklin Roye, the President of IndyCare, said, “We have to hire black people, we have to promote them.” How? Roye stressed that companies need to reexamine their hiring processes. “It’s normal for investors or hiring managers to evaluate people against their implicit assumptions on what leads to success,” he said. The life experiences of the people making decisions factors into what they view as a “success formula.” These factors can lead to black people, who may have had different life experiences, entering an interview at a disadvantage.
To help change this, Roye said that companies need to “reflect on what practices they use to evaluate candidates.” Do their hiring practices actually identify talent? Or do they just aim to “maintain a status quo?” He stressed that companies must ensure that evaluations are objective, and not filtered through someone’s personal lens. In addition, looking at a person as a whole is something companies should do. The unique life experiences a person may have can lead to success, with the right coaching and tools.
What are some barriers or challenges Black entrepreneurs face in terms of access to resources?
When asked this question, William Spruill, the co-founder and president of Global Data Consortium, said, “Barriers are legion. There are so many barriers to being successful as a black entrepreneur that I’ve encountered.” Access to money usually poses a major barrier to black entrepreneurs, but Spruill also identified another major challenge. “It’s not just money, it’s access to legacy,” Spruill said. “Legacy” here referrs to access to the knowledge black entrepreneurs need, as well as people who can help move them move forward.
That “do it yourself” mindset has added to this challenge, as it may be hard for some entrepreneurs to reach out for help. Shedding this mindset may help build more connections. Spruill also explained that often he feels an emphasis on him and others, to be successful “black” entrepreneurs, when really they are successful entrepreneurs who happen to be black. Out of a group of peer entrepreneurs, he was the most successful. He explained that he wanted recognition for that accomplishment, in addition to awareness of his race. “I think that’s an attitude we all need to embrace,” Spruill stated.
Another important factor Spruill discussed is how non-minorities need to provide their legacy to entrepreneurs of color. “It’s not always about money, it’s about connections to customers, talent and other things,” Spruill explained. Putting yourself out there, hard as it may be, can help. “Larger companies and corporations need to be more diverse, but we also need to be diverse with our networking and partnerships as well,” Thompson said. Trying not to limit your network to people who only look like you will help broaden your network. Then, this expasion will allow you to draw from these other areas and resources for greater success.
Can the Black Lives Movement’s Protests Have Lasting Change?
Spruill provided a clear answer to this question. “Absolutely.”
As he sees them, these protests have led people (young and old) to have conversations about racial issues in America. Not only about things happening right now, but also about what will happen in the future. “People who choose to ignore this I think ignore it at their own peril,” Spruill stated. To ensure that lasting change occurs in this country, he said we need to acknowledge the things that are happening around us. “Now is the time to act, not the time to ignore,” agreed moderator Vickie Gibbs.