The right to vote is often touted as an inalienable right and revolutionary act of African-Americans, stemming from the hard-fought road to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I would argue the provisions made by the JOBS Act signed by President Obama in 2012 should be viewed in the same light as voting; a set of rights that must be continually exercised to bring forth social change. The JOBS Act highlights the transformative power of small businesses to bring about social change. For Black entrepreneurs, building a business that serves Black people and hires Black people is a revolutionary act. Below are 3 of the top reasons (I could easily offer 100 more) why pursuing entrepreneurship for Black founders is revolutionary.
1. There’s Power In Ownership.
The act of owning something; possessing an understanding of the inherent good and productivity associated with holding an equity stake in the economic future of Black communities cannot be understated. Especially with this country’s history of policies to uphold chattel slavery and sustain the cultural practices of “black codes” and “jim crow”, Black ownership is a form of rebellion and should rightfully be deemed a victory in the battle for racial and social equity in America. Thomas Jefferson wrote of the immutable importance of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but many are not aware that Jefferson edited this statement which originally read “life, liberty and property ownership” as he was well acquainted with the benefits of “property ownership” that included hundreds of acres of land in Virginia and the Black bodies of those he enslaved. Controlling capital is as American as apple pie, and often just as sweet too.
2. White Culture Has a Huge Knack for Underestimating Black Entrepreneurs.
Many Black entrepreneurs are lured away from great ideas because they are told by someone embracing white culture that they are “thinking too small” or “limiting themselves” if they build a business that seeks to primarily market itself to a Black demographic.
An attempt to make this very subjective and biased thinking an objective fact is usually done by asserting the entrepreneur’s market size will be too small and disqualify their business as an attractive opportunity to pursue. Essentially, Black entrepreneurs are told they are wasting their time if they build a business for Black people.
Unfortunately, many fall for it.
Black people often base their standards upon the norms and mores of white culture. So, if white investors tell Black entrepreneurs that they are thinking too small, many believe it to be true without any further questioning or analysis. Digging beneath the surface, more Black entrepreneurs could actually find success if they leveraged their cultural knowledge to create innovative business models to serve other Black people. Instead, too often we are persuaded into thinking that being a Black entrepreneur with a business that targets Black people is some form of self-sabotage.
3. Owning Something That Advances the Lives of Black people.
Would opening another fast-food shack in any inner-city where there is a large proportion of Black people in America really be helpful to the residents there – even if it does create a certain number of jobs? Probably not.
Ironically, quick-serve food businesses often have an overwhelming presence in Black communities. There are many reasons for this, but one of the latent reasons is that Black entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business selling products that are detrimental to our wellness can get access to capital in the White-dominated financial marketplace much easier and faster than Black entrepreneurs looking to build businesses that are building Black lives, families, and communities.
The white culture driven system of capitalism in America is null of a social justice and ecological lens. Choosing to start and then build a business that is specifically meant to better Black Lives is an objective financial risk in the white male-driven capitalist ecosystem of today.
Black entrepreneurs that are fearlessly using their platforms to promote the advancement of Black well-being are taking real risks with the ventures that are currently looking to scale and impact more lives with. It may not be apparent the obstacles they face because the obstacles are not obvious – they are quite obscure in fact, hidden in the boardrooms, and the coffee shops, and the conference rooms, and on the street corners across our cities and towns.
If you have decided to take a stand for social justice by taking the risk of having a business that is truly building Black culture for the better, much love to you. Our communities require more than just social entrepreneurship, they require social justice entrepreneurship from socially conscious entrepreneurs.
I challenge the VC community to not only invest in Black entrepreneurs, but to invest in those entrepreneurs that are actually servicing Black communities. I challenge them to look beyond the entertainment, cosmetics, and fashion industries. Scale comes with investment and sometimes untapped market opportunities must be uncovered or created.