Black entrepreneurs have encountered particular hurdles in America throughout history, one of which is a lack of financing. New ideas are given life by business investment, which would otherwise be lost, appropriated, or manipulated. The problem persists, with Black entrepreneurs receiving less venture capital funding.
Despite the odds, these entrepreneurs continue to launch new firms, adding to a long history of Black ingenuity and advancement. According to research by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Black-owned businesses often start with three times less capital than white-owned businesses. Some, such as those listed below, are receiving funding and challenging the status quo across a wide range of industries.
Many of today’s most powerful corporate leaders have African American ancestors. In honor of Black History Month, Entrepreneur is honoring all trailblazing, record-breaking black entrepreneurs for their dedication, accomplishments, and contributions.
They’re men and women who have developed multibillion-dollar businesses, inspired millions, and helped the next generation of black entrepreneurs succeed.
Oprah Winfrey is one of America’s most successful ladies in recent memory. Her entrepreneurial trajectory has taken her from a popular daytime television chat show to the CEO of Harpo Inc.. A media conglomerate that includes television and publishing. She also works as a brand ambassador for various businesses.
Winfrey was famously sacked from a television news anchor job at Baltimore’s WJZ-TV after her manager deemed her “unfit for television news” early in her career. She persisted, though, and disproved this stereotype. Winfrey went on to become the chairman and CEO of Harpo, Inc., and host and create her own talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. She later founded the O magazine and the OWN television network.
Multibillionaire marketing magnate and ABC Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban can also teach aspiring entrepreneurs about perseverance. He started his clothing company, Fubu, in 1989 and had to close it three times over the next few years while he learned the ropes of entrepreneurship. During Fubu’s first six years, he also worked at Red Lobster.
According to reports, Fubu was not John’s first business effort. He sold personalized pencils to his first-grade classmates. His mother taught him how to sew and eventually mortgaged her home a second time to finance the endeavor when he was in his late teens and came up with the concept to create an apparel company.
John is the founder and CEO of Blueprint & Co., a coworking space in Midtown Manhattan, as well as The Shark Group, a brand management consultancy, in addition to being a significant investor and the CEO of Fubu.
According to several accounts, John is worth $250 million.
Jay-Z and Beyonce
Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is a rapper who has started and run several businesses, the first of which being Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995. He also co-founded the Rocawear urban apparel line, the 40/40 club restaurant chain, and the Roc Nation label after serving as the chairman of Def Jam Records. He’s also the co-founder of Tidal, a music streaming service that he and his wife, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, co-own.
Jay-Z and Beyonce, individually and as a couple, manage thriving black businesses. Jay-Z is a musician turned entrepreneur who owns the Roc Nation record label, Roca Wear clothing line, Tidal streaming service, and several restaurants. Beyonce is the founder of the renowned gym and athleisure business Ivy Park, in addition to her lucrative music career. Their net worth is estimated to be $1.9 billion.
The renowned basketball player who previously represented the Chicago Bulls is a brand unto himself. Jordan was rejected from teams as a youngster because he was too short, despite his continued enthusiasm for the sport. He went on to play in the NBA for 15 years.
Today, Nike’s Air Jordan line, or the Jordan brand, named after the great athlete, is a multibillion-dollar corporation recognized for its highly sought-after footwear. Jordan has also been a spokesperson for Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Gatorade, McDonald’s, and other brands throughout his career. He also has a majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets basketball team and a minority stake in the Miami Marlins baseball franchise.
Asmau began her career as a chemical engineer, but her love for creativity soon took over. Plum Appropriate, an app that scans a user’s selfie to discover the perfect makeup for their skin tone – including the diverse tones of women of color – was established by the Columbia graduate. Asmau Ahmed named one of five “Top Women in Digital,” focuses on gaining commercial value from innovation.
Janice Bryant Howroyd
The founder and CEO of Act 1 Group, an employment agency and consulting firm, is the first African-American woman to lead a company with annual revenue of more than $1 billion.
According to The Los Angeles Times, she arrived in Los Angeles in 1976 with only $900 in her pocket from her homeland of Tarboro, North Carolina. She launched Act 1 two years later, despite not having a fax machine or even a phone. She built the business by word of mouth and by introducing new services depending on client requests.
“Being the first African American woman to achieve anything in 2016 is hardly an accomplishment,” Howroyd remarked in an interview with CNBC. … While I appreciate the adulation, the best thing I can be praised for is simply being a woman who has built a successful business.”
Rihanna is one of the most recent young Black entrepreneurs, having transitioned from music to a multibillion-dollar beauty line, Fenty Beauty, and a lingerie line, Fenty X Savage. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty brand was acquired by LVMH, yet she remains the CEO of both companies. Her estimated net worth is $1.7 billion.
Dr. Dre, as Andre Young, teamed up with Jimmy Iovine to produce Beats by Dre headphones in 2008. The company partnered with a variety of artists, athletes, and designers, expanded its product line to include earbuds, speakers, and a music streaming service and was acquired by Apple in 2014 for $3 billion. Beats Music became Apple Music and Beats Electronics became Beats Electronics. Dre reportedly topped Diddy to become the richest person in hip-hop at the time of the Apple transaction.
Dre began his musical career as a member of N.W.A. and also played solo before that. He co-formed Death Row Records, which released records by Snoop Dogg and 2Pac, and subsequently founded Aftermath and worked with Iovine on Interscope Records, which signed Eminem. Because of the value and talent that Interscope contributed to the industry, Universal was termed “the house that Dre built.”
Kenneth Frazier is the former CEO and executive chairman of the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Before becoming CEO, he joined Merck as General Counsel, overseeing the company’s defense in high-profile litigation actions. He stepped down as CEO in 2021 but remains Merck’s executive chairman.
Robert L. Johnson & Sheila Johnson
Johnson, the founder of the BET network, is America’s first black billionaire, along with his ex-wife Sheila. When they sold BET to Viacom for $2.9 billion in 2001, the former couple became billionaires. BET had gone public nine years before, making it the first African-American-owned firm to trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
Robert and Sheila have since reached a number of significant business milestones. Johnson became the first African-American majority owner of a professional sports team in 2003 when he bought the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA. Meanwhile, Sheila was the first African-American woman to hold a stake in three professional sports teams. The Washington Mystics (WNBA), the Washington Wizards (NBA), and the Washington Capitals (NHL) (NHL).
At the age of 45, former professional boxer George Foreman became the world’s oldest heavyweight champion.
He went on to train his son, George “Monk” Foreman III, as a boxer, and Foreman Sr. invested in Monk’s gym brand, Everybody Fights. Later, he and his son co-founded Foreman Boys, a boxing promotion organization. Foreman opened George Foreman’s Butcher Shop in March 2016.
The George Foreman grill is another option. Foreman claims that the inspiration for the film stemmed from a nightmare he experienced after Muhammad Ali knocked him out during a fight.
Tyra Banks is most recognized for her legendary modeling career, but she has also had a successful business career. She is the current CEO of Bankable Productions, the firm behind hit TV shows like America’s Next Top Model and The Tyra Banks Show. Tyra Banks has also launched a book, a cosmetics line, and other ventures.
Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919), born Sarah Breedlove, became one of the first American women to become a billionaire when she founded a company around a product she created for African-American hair care. Walker’s innovation was inspired by a personal need: he was losing his hair due to a scalp problem.
She and her husband traveled across the country, marketing their products through a series of talks and demonstrations of the “Walker Method” of hair care. (They eventually divorced.)
With the foundation of Madam C.J. Walker Laboratories, she expanded her business into cosmetics and cosmetology. The beauticians who were taught there, known as “Walker Agents,” became well-known in black communities across the country.
Walker also toured the Caribbean and Latin America marketing her business and donating a portion of her fortune to charity causes near the end of her life.
Shonda Rhimes is the creator, writer, and producer of a number of renowned television shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and others. She runs her own production business, ShondaLand, and is now working with Netflix on a multimillion-dollar project.
John H. Johnson
Johnson Publishing Firm, the company behind well-known Black periodicals including Ebony and JET, was founded by John H Johnson. He was one of the first African Americans to succeed in the publishing industry.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, these names are simply the tip of the iceberg. However, some details of their lives reveal the challenges they had to overcome in order to succeed. These Black Entrepreneurs makes their accomplishments all the more impressive.