In case you hadn't already heard, August is National Black Business Month. (Although, we think you should be supporting Black businesses all year round.) There are an incredible amount of Black business owners who are worthy of support, but we wanted to highlight a few that not only operate their own businesses but find time to support others in their communities as well.
Le'Kiesha French, Carmen Mays, and Makisha Boothe are all members of the Black Innovation Alliance, a group that seeks to support Black innovators and strives towards equity in the innovation economy. Now more than ever, it is crucial that Black businesses are not only receiving the support from customers and consumers but from entities such as the BIA for direct, structural resources and support from the ground up.
Carmen Mays is the founder of Elevators, a company that helps Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities reach their fullest capacities by aiding them with strategy and innovation initiatives. She actively seeks out opportunities to expand equity within underinvested legacy neighborhoods and forges ahead with solutions. Carmen has developed blueprints that have been successfully leveraged by community leaders and partners to bridge equitability gaps and promote economic empowerment and transportation access.
Le'Kiesha French proudly wears the title "Social Disruptor," and her "CEO of My Life" initiative through her enterprise PRENEURology Global, which focuses specifically on underserved youth by providing an introductory and transformative entrepreneurship experience. This initiative was founded by French's own drive to design her life and to actively live with purpose, not just by default. As a motivational speaker, she shares her story of entrepreneurship, mastering personal innovation, driving social change, and making inclusion the rule.
Makisha Boothe is Founder and Head Business Coach of Sistahbiz Global Network, a business accelerator for Black women entrepreneurs. Sistahbiz Global Network helps Black women solopreneurs and microbusinesses build scalable, sellable businesses. As a rapid improvement coach, Makisha helps small businesses rethink their revenue strategies, brands, systems, resource allocation, and human capital strategies.
We got a chance to speak with each of these three women and hear their thoughts on why Black businesses and why now. Check out the full interview content below!
Why is it important now to focus on advancing black business?
Carmen Mays: I think it has always been important to focus on Black businesses. But what makes now significant is the new eyes set upon the experience of Black people in this country and how closely tied that experience is to Black business. Our access to collective full citizenship is directly related to not only what we produce but also what we own. So if you believe Black Lives Matter, then by extension, so do Black businesses.
Le'Kiesha French: There's an opportunity to close the wealth gap. Black communities are being hit the hardest with job loss. We have to be proactive and disrupt the norm. With the mobilization of Black Lives Matter, this is a time of action. A light is being shone on us like never before and we've got to seize the moment.
Makisha Boothe: When Black businesses fail to launch and succeed, our Black communities struggle to build wealth, eradicate poverty and all of its symptoms, and break generational cycles of disparities in education, healthcare, and environmental. I want to reiterate—it's not something that has become important now—it always has been. We just have a heightened awareness of the need at this time due to the national unrest and spirit of "enough is enough" that is rising again in new and greater ways.
Do you think in the past, Black businesses have been overlooked? If so, what is the reason for this?
Boothe: Absolutely. Our numbers look the way they do because we are overlooked, under and unfunded, and overworked. Black businesses receive less exposure, have a harder time accessing social and financial capital, and aren't at key tables with key economic leaders and decision-makers. While there are many root causes, the deepest one is the same idea of racial injustice. All other frequently referenced causes are usually linked to discrimination and inequity.
French: Before [COVID-19], there was a lack of support, particularly for startups. With [COVID-19] exposing the economic wealth gap, our community needs solutions. Entrepreneurship is a great pipeline to get that support in Black & Brown communities. We can have great ideas all day, but if we don't have the funding, we can't move forward. Unlike our white counterparts, we don't have generational wealth. With the future of work, entrepreneurship is a key anchor. Black entrepreneurship falls on the spectrum of systematic racism and we're left to bootstrap. In addition, Black people are innovators. Socially and culturally, we have so much worldwide influence. A startup of color could have the solution to cure a disease, but without the funding, we'll never know.
What are the steps you plan to take to help advance Black business?
Mays: I will loudly tell the truth about my experience and amplify the experiences of other Black founders. I will continue to advocate for equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems and policies. I will hold companies and organizations accountable that expressed solidarity with Black lives but followed with no action.
French: I will continue to focus on mentoring Black entrepreneurs. I host live webinars on Facebook and Instagram Live with top tech influencers to reach people who are on the ground. For me, it's about sharing opportunities. Prenuerologly has pivoted by offering scientific entrepreneurship training. I want to change the trajectory with an awareness campaign called "Future In Color." In essence, we don't want to be just consumers in the new industrial revolution. We have the know-how to be key players and change things on a grassroots level because based on statistics, the future is color!
Who does the Black Innovation Alliance actually help?
Boothe: What I love about the BIA is that we know that we are stronger in numbers and the BIA work shines a light on the hundreds of Black-led organizations that are dismantling inequitable and helping Black businesses grow. We sometimes forget to advocate for the nonprofits, the accelerators and the think tanks that are Black-led. This is a huge mistake because these leaders are knowledgeable, culturally competent, connected and committed to the communities that mainstream institutions often struggle to access, understand, and serve. BIA is the voice that says "together, we can innovate and build solutions for our community". We have taken a collaborative, "for us, by us", approach to designing and implementing a game-changing transformation of the Black business ecosystem.
French: It helps Black entrepreneurs who have not had the support by bringing together those who are moving the needle. BIA creates an opportunity to have a village support them on their journey as innovators. As a liaison between organizations who want to impact Black businesses in the wake of COVID and Black Lives Matter, it serves by amplifying our individual work, thus creating a collective impact by the Black community.
Mays: BIA helps our communities prosper by dispersing resources that allow us to provide for the needs of Black creatives and entrepreneurs. When we aid in the success of Black entrepreneurship, we not only uplift a person but a whole family for generations to come. There is no other investment that yields better returns.
How can other people get involved?
French: We welcome all Black innovators, entrepreneurs, and disruptors to connect with us at www.blackinnovationalliance.com for membership, volunteering, and organizational partnerships. They can also follow the hashtag #BuildWithBIA to stay updated on our agenda!
Mays: Contact us through our website! Locally, I suggest that you get to know your local Black entrepreneurs. Listen to them and find ways to help. All hands are on deck.
WRITTEN BYGracie Griffin