African American Entrepreneurship: Past and Future

African American Entrepreneurship: Past and Future

In honor of Black History Month this February, we invite NAWBO Baltimore chapter members to learn about the entrepreneurial spirit and success of women within the African American community.  Let’s celebrate lesser known African American women who have done well in business, not just celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks.  Madame C.J. Walker (1867 – 1919) is known as the first female self-made millionaire.  She was African American and made her fortune by developing and marketing hair care products specifically for the black community.  Her company still thrives almost 100 years after her death: Annie Malone (1869 – 1957) was another African American multi-millionaire in the cosmetics industry.  Some current examples: Tina Wells, founder and CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, who focus on the niche of marketing to teens and trend-spotting (visit and Janice Bryant Howroyd, founder of ACT-1 staffing agency, who started with $1,500 and a telephone and now has over $1.4 billion in revenue (visit

According to the 2007 Census Bureau data, the 1.9 million Black-owned businesses in the survey grew by more than 60% between 2002 and 2007.   The top three industry sectors represented were health care/social assistance (19%), repairs/maintenance/personal/laundry services (18.6%), and “All Other” (33%).  The Center for Women’s Business Research finds that African American women start businesses at three to five the rate of all other businesses.  Despite financing and other obstacles, the census showed that Black women-owned businesses grew at a healthier rate of more than 65% between 2002 and 2007.  An excellent resource for information on the progress and challenged faced by women of color in business can be found in this report written by the Center for Women’s Business:

Unfortunately, the census also showed that only 12% of 1.9 million generated more than $50,000 in annual revenue and over 83% had fewer than 10 employees.  By law, the Census Bureau collects business-related census data in years ending in 2 and 7.  The results of the 2012 survey will be out in December 2013.  Check this website for more information:

 Other resources and events, both near and far, include the following:

The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. has numerous events scheduled in celebration of Black History Month.


Towards the end of February, you can attend the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit in Orlando, Florida (2/27 – 3/2) Link:

The conference features women entrepreneurs such as Judy Smith ( and Cathy Hughes (

The Oxford University Press maintains the Oxford African American Studies Center and contains a wealth of information.  Link:

This article was written by NAWBO member Mary C. Miller, J.D., SPHR, ACC who provides business coaching, HR consulting, and other related services.  You can contact Mary by email at or by phone at 434.242.7181.