The conversation on diversity and inclusion is front and center in many communities these days. This discussion has made its way to the business realm, where it is opening up markets, propelling niche ideas into the mainstream and exposing product lines to expansion opportunities.
Crucial proponents of this movement include entrepreneurs whose diverse origins and fresh perspectives drive innovative ideas and inspire people from all walks of life, regardless of cultural or ethnic backgrounds.
Successful Black Entrepreneurs Who Inspire
In celebration of Black History Month, we’ve compiled a list of 11 inspiring black entrepreneurs who are changing the world through their businesses. Some have blazed historic paths, some have become household names, some have worked tirelessly to make a difference in their communities and some have done (or are doing) all of the above.
Here are some of the top black entrepreneurs who inspire, in no particular order:
1. Madam C.J. Walker
Let’s start with a trailblazer for black women entrepreneurs.
Born in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove) was one of the first U.S. women to become a millionaire. This black female entrepreneur created a business selling hair-care products designed specifically for African-Americans. She sold shampoos and hair treatments door-to-door, teaching women she met about hair and scalp treatments.
She was soon selling her products across the U.S, and her company became a start-up success story. Later, she opened her own factory in Indianapolis and expanded the company to Jamaica, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama and Haiti.
Walker also used her wealth to fight against racism and support institutions that assisted African-Americans.
2. Oprah Winfrey
Certainly one of the most famous black entrepreneurs, Oprah Gail Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi. After a difficult childhood, she landed a job in radio during high school. She became a co-anchor for a local evening news program by 19 and eventually took herself from being homeless and sleeping in her car to becoming a preeminent talk-show host, actress, television producer and philanthropist with a net worth of some $2.8 billion.
She’s the chairwoman and chief executive of Harpo Productions. Her media empire includes O Magazine and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). She became a household name as the host of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” one of the most popular talk shows on TV, where she pioneered an intimate, confessional style of media that connected with millions of people as well as bring gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender people into the mainstream spotlight through television appearances.
3. Kezia Williams
Based in Washington, D.C. area, Kezia M. Williams founded the Black upStart, an organization that offers training to aspiring black entrepreneurs. She also leads the national entrepreneurship initiative of the United Negro College Fund, a philanthropic organization that funds scholarships for black students and supports private historically black universities.
She is the chairwoman of Capital Cause, a nonprofit that trains young philanthropists to volunteer their skills and provide grant funding to support startup nonprofits in minority communities.
4. Beyoncé and 5. Jay-Z
This power couple has impacted more than the entertainment industry. Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is a lifelong entrepreneur who has founded several thriving businesses, including clothing lines, beverages, real estate, sports teams and record labels. The rapper, producer and record executive has a net worth of $1 billion.
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter made her mark as a singer, songwriter, record producer and actress, rising to fame in the late 1990s as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child. She has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and has been listed among Time’s 100 most influential people. She was ranked as the most powerful female in entertainment by Forbes in 2015 and 2017.
6. Daymond John
A marketing mogul who started his entrepreneurial journey in first grade, Daymond Garfield John is an investor, television personality, author and motivational speaker. He appears on ABC’s television reality series “Shark Tank” and hosts a podcast for black entrepreneurs called “Rise and Grind.”
When John first came up with his business idea of creating apparel for young men, his mother taught him how to sew and allowed him to run his business from her house in Hollis, Queens. From selling ski hats and screen-printed T-shirts, the business transformed into the international fashion brand FUBU, which has earned more than $6 billion in global sales.
7. Morgan DeBaun
One of the most successful young black entrepreneurs (she turns age 30 on Feb. 8, 2020), Morgan DeBaun is the co-founder and chief executive of Blavity, a website created by and for black millennials covering news, culture, politics and lifestyle. With more than 1.8 million unique monthly visitors, the media brand supports a community of exceptional multicultural creators and influencers, helping them reach a wider audience, amplify their message and fund their ventures.
DeBaun is a role model for black youths because she understands what it means to be one in today’s society. She built Blavity to provide a platform for “authentic storytelling where black millennials, in particular, can visit to stay informed and share their perspectives.” In addition, she also serves as an advisory board member for the Black Economic Alliance.
8. Eboné F. Bell
Founder of Tagg Magazine, Eboné F. Bell has expanded her media venture from a small magazine into a bimonthly print publication, website and podcast in 6 years. The magazine covers “everything lesbian, queer, and under the rainbow,” showcasing people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) business enterprise community, celebrating LGBT women in particular.
Bell has produced events including the annual Capital Queer Prom, Capital Pride Women’s Parties, Pride in the Sky and the Put on the Gloves Fashion Show. She’s the winner of the 2012 Capital Pride Hero Award and the 2014 OUTstanding Virginian Award.
9. Sheila Johnson
The first African-American woman to attain a net worth of more than $1 billion dollars, Sheila Crump Johnson co-founded Black Entertainment Television network with her ex-husband Robert Johnson in 1979. She’s the chief executive of Salamander Hotels and Resorts and the first African-American woman to own or partner in three professional sports franchises: the Washington Capitals (National Hockey League), the Washington Wizards (National Basketball Association), and the Washington Mystics (Women’s National Basketball Association).
An active philanthropist, Johnson served as a global ambassador for CARE, a humanitarian organization that fights poverty worldwide. Johnson teamed with CARE to launch Sheila’s I Am Powerful Challenge, a campaign aimed at helping women living in poverty around the world. The cause raised more than $8 million for CARE in 2007.
A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Johnson also serves on the board of governors for Parsons The New School for Design in New York and is a member of the Leadership Council at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.
10. Chris Gardner
The inspiration behind the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith, Chris Gardner is an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and philanthropist. He struggled with homelessness while raising his son as a single parent and selling medical equipment to make ends meet. He eventually got an internship at Dean Witter Reynolds and a stockbroker license. Gardner went on to broker multimillion-dollar deals and become one of the most successful African-American stockbrokers.
As a philanthropist, Gardner has sponsored a number of charitable organizations — including the Cara Program and the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, which provide him and his son with shelter when he was forced to live on the street.
11. Wally Amos
Wallace “Wally” Amos Jr. is the founder of the Famous Amos chocolate chip cookie brand. He also is a television personality and author. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Amos worked as a music talent agent, signing Simon and Garfunkel and representing Diana Ross, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.
Amos has appeared on various television shows, including “The Jeffersons,” Taxi,” “The Office” and “Shark Tank.” He also appeared in the 2018 documentary, “The Great Cookie Comeback: Re-Baking Wally Amos.” A literacy advocate, Amos also hosted an adult educational TV series, “Learn to Read.”
Final Thoughts on These Inspiring Entrepreneurs
Not only did these black business entrepreneurs overcome social and economic adversities to build businesses that have made economic and cultural impacts in the U.S., they also have been active members of their communities, role models for people with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds and philanthropists who raise awareness for and support charitable causes.