Spotlight: African American Female Entrepreneurs

Natalie Madeira Cofield Founder and CEO of Walker’s Legacy.

Natalie Madeira

Walker’s Legacy and the Walker’s Legacy Foundation are implementing dynamic, groundbreaking programs to ensure that Black women will remain the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America.  Natalie created her first company, NMC Consulting Group, at the age of 26. The consulting firm specialized in business development, public affairs, and program management. It quickly became a 6-figure consultancy and saw much success. Even though this business was successful, Natalie was seeking out mentorship, guidance, and kinship as she navigated the sometimes choppy entrepreneurial waters. In her search, she recognized that other women of color were in need of the same role models and guidance. This search led to the founding of Walker’s Legacy in 2009. Walker’s Legacy started as a quarterly lecture series for women in business, and has now grown into a powerful force supporting diverse professional women and entrepreneurs around the globe.

Tiffany Aliche, founder and CEO of The Budgetnista and the Live Richer Academy

Tiffany Aliche

Tiffany runs  two successful business, her speaking, teaching and writing business,  The Budgetnista, and the Live Richer Academy, an online school about financial literacy.

Born and raised in a small, rural village in Nigeria, her father worked as a financial professional. Each week, he would sit Tiffany and her four sisters down for “money lessons.”Those childhood lessons were a life raft for Tiffany when she found herself in unexpected financial straits.

During the Recession in 2009, at the age of 29, Tiffany lost her job as a preschool teacher. She hadn’t seen it coming. “Before that, I thought I had it all financially figured out,” Tiffany says. On a tight teacher’s salary of $39,000 a year, she had managed to save $40,000 in two and half years, so at the age of 25, she was able to purchase her first home.By the age of 31, Tiffany was still jobless with a $200,000 mortgage, $50,000 in student loans and $35,000 in credit card debt. She was losing her home to foreclosure, had drained her retirement account and had moved back in with her parents.

She used her know-how to manage her unemployment money and supplemented it by babysitting, tutoring and other odd jobs. Before long, her friends, also hit by the recession, noticed her progress. “Before long I was coaching them, then friends of friends. Then I started charging, $50, then $75, then $100 a session.”

The idea for The Budgetnista and the Live Richer Academy was born. Realizing she could make more teaching in a classroom setting vs. one-on-one, she reached out to the nonprofits she had volunteered with while unemployed and landed a contract with the United Way teaching finance and budgeting classes.

 

Jennifer Lambert and Jihan Thomas, co-founders of SWIVEL Beauty

Jennifer Lambert and Jihan Thomas

SWIVEL co-founders, Jennifer Lambert and Jihan Thomas knew nothing about tech and had no prior experience in entrepreneurship before becoming tech entrepreneurs. What Lambert, a Harvard educated lawyer, and Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania-educated magazine editor, had in common was the understanding that there was a need in the black hair space they could fill. The women created an app that connects women of color to hair professionals all over the U.S.

“We’ve endured soul-crushing, hair-breaking, money-wasting trial-and-error (don’t tell us you’ve never cried after a bad blowout!), dealt with awkward moments when a salon couldn’t handle our “ethnic” hair, and put up with bad service, long waits, and rude stylists…all in the name of beauty.

We’ve traveled to new cities and had no idea where to begin our stylist search (was anyone else’s hair in a bun 85% of freshman year?). We’ve resorted to chasing down complete strangers on the street to ask them where they get their hair done. We’ve been desperate enough to randomly pop in to the random “mainstream” salon and take a chance on a trim (all pictures from this era have been destroyed). We’ve been through it all.

All the while we’ve thought, There has to be a better way. We couldn’t find a solution, so we created one: A destination that makes it easy to build a beauty team that meets all your haircare needs.”

 

Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing director of Backstage Capital

Arlan Hamilton

Arlan is the founder and managing director of Backstage Capital has background in the music industry ; she’s worked with Toni Braxton and currently manages a singer with Atlantic Records; however, her vantage point as an outlier provides the precise sort of disruption that the largely white heterosexual male startup financing world needs.

Arlan founded Backstage Capital to give underrepresented entrepreneurs that much-needed seed and early-stage funding. The website reads: “Less than 10 percent of all venture capital deals go to women, People of Color, and LGBT founders. Other VCs see this as a pipeline problem. We see it as the biggest opportunity in investment.”

Founded in 2015, Backstage Capital has reviewed proposals from more than 1,500 companies, and invested more than $2 million in seed money in approximately 50 companies.

Arlan has been able to stick to her mission of investing in minority founders. According to her, “65 percent of [our] founders are people of color, 65 percent are women and 35 percent are women of color.”

Arlan has a goal, she aims to have 50 percent of her founders be women of color by the time her investment portfolio reaches 100 companies

Tracy Reese, founder, president and designer of Tracy Reese Designs, Inc.

tracy-reese

Designer Tracy Reese, truly stepped into the national spotlight after former First Lady Michelle Obama gave her bold and feminine designs some serious visibility. More specifically, when Obama wore a sleeveless pink and teal dress designed by Reese at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Tracey loved to sew alongside her seamstress mother, and eventually graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York City. With a loan from her father, she launched her first fashion line. The company failed, and Tracey went to work for other companies. She’s worked at illustrious fashion houses, including Perry Ellis, where she served as design director for one of its brands. However, she never relinquished her dream of her own fashion line. To gear up, she got advice from experienced designers, such as Marc Jacobs, as well as counsel from financial investors.

In 1997, an older and wiser Tracey tried for the second time and relaunched Tracy Reese to rave reviews and much success. Her distinctively colorful, fun clothing is carried in high-end retail stores, including Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus, and boasts Sarah Jessica Parker and Taylor Swift among its fans.

She also launched a more casual, everyday clothing line, Plenty by Tracy Reese. In 2015, she opened a New York store location, and the 54 year old’s design empire has expanded to include footwear, home collections and nail polish, along with her fashion lines. Now that she’s reached the height of success, the founder, president and designer of Tracy Reese Designs, Inc. says she’d like to explore other sides of herself, including helping women and designers of color in her industry.

Jessica O. Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted Power

Jessica O. Matthews

Jessica O. Matthews’s first invention was a soccer ball called Soccket that generates electricity for an attachable reading lamp. For an hour of soccer play, you get three hours of light. The invention not only has uses as a teaching tool, but it also has a practical use in countries such as Burundi, where only 4 percent of the population has access to the electrical grid. The company has already produced a second energy-generating toy, the Pulse jump rope, for countries, where girls don’t typically play soccer. The jump ropes are produced in-house, on 3D printers. “After 15 minutes of jumping rope, which is good for you, it will give you six hours of LED light or a 50 percent iPhone charge,” she says.

Jessica Matthews is the founder and CEO of Uncharted Power (formerly Uncharted Play), a company that creates toys that generate electricity. She isn’t a scientist nor does she have a science background. She came up with the idea for Soccket in 2008, while an undergraduate at Harvard University.

She came up with the idea of the Soccket, because her relatives and friends in Nigeria were soccer fans. A soccer ball that could be an energy source seemed like a natural fit.

Jessica’s idea generated excitement, and she was able to raise more than $92,000 on Kickstarter to manufacture and ship the product. However, there were bumps with the first product — reports of shoddy manufacturing and balls that broke after three days. Mistakes were made, Jessica admitted, and she took it in stride and published a letter on Kickstarter in 2014 addressing the mistakes and what they were going to do about it, including replacing previously distributed balls with new and improved versions.

It was at that point that Jessica made a pivot. The company wasn’t going to make amazing soccer balls or jump ropes, however it could partner with companies that did and install their renewable energy technology into products with a track record.

The still-young company has raised $7 million for its series. A funding in 2016, a remarkable amount considering that black female entrepreneurs receive very little venture capital in the tech space, reports CB Insights.

Uncharted Power’s longer term plan is to partner with product manufacturers across industries, putting the recharging technology in everyday products we use, such as strollers and shopping carts here in the U.S.


 

 

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