There is a greater presence of Black women and men business owners than ever before. According to a 2019 survey from Guidant Financial, 37% of Africa-American business owners run their businesses themselves, are younger, and include more women. Throughout history and modern times, African-Americans faced and continue to face numerous challenges in their everyday personal and professional lives. They rise in the face of adversity, overcome obstacles meant to deter them, and continue to make their mark and shine in the world.
In honor of Black History Month, we’re shining the well-deserved light on four inspirational and influential African-American business owners. Read each of their stories as they change and better the lives of everyone around them.
As a child, Jennifer Sconyers dreamed about making a long-lasting difference in her community of Columbus, Ohio. After spending 20 years working for organizations that lacked diversity and proper leadership development, she knew she’d put an end to it. In April 2016, Jennifer opened her first business, Abundance Leadership Consulting (ALC), where she shifts an organization’s culture to make it more diverse, inclusive and impactful.
Day in and out, Jennifer expands organizational leaders and teams personal and professional perspectives on diversity. With the loving support from her family, mentors, and dedication, she’s made her childhood dream into a reality. Her latest service is The ALC Culture Shift Program — a three-phase organization culture program. The program creates a sustainable behavior change by creating awareness and choice, breaking old habits and developing new approaches to
Jennifer’s Secret to Success
“The secret to my business success is curiosity and support,” said Jennifer Scoyners. “I never pretend to know everything, and if I have a question, there is a community of support that I have cultivated around me that I can ask.”
Becoming a trailblazer didn’t happen overnight. With a high-need, but low demand for diversity and inclusion, Jennifer faced the challenge of locking in clients who were ready to make a change.
“Build a team of support around you of people who support your vision for your business and who at the end of the day, support you,” said Sconyers. “Having negative people around you who don’t support your vision will crush your dream, so don’t waste your time or energy.”
This first generation entrepreneur didn’t wake up an accomplished business owner overnight. Michael Baptiste grew up poor in the Miami projects and was raised by a single teenage mother. With his father in prison and a heavy gang influence in his community, Michael soon became influenced by his surroundings. These circumstances made him desperate for a better life and future. His drive and determination to turn a new path in life lead him to apply to college.
During college, Michael created a sales funnel process to sell offline high ticket cars. Little did he know, this would lead him to unlock his first business idea. He soon developed his own high sale tickets for digital products, courses, and consulting.
In 2015, Michael paved his path to success when he opened
Michael’s Secret to Success
“My secret to success is the fact that I was starving for success,” said Baptiste. “My starvation for success and to be the best is what drives me. That hunger has led me to be able to create two successful companies from scratch that have been feeding me, helping others, and expanding worldwide for years.”
During networking events, Michael often faced racial discrimination. Caucasian attendees would ignore him or walk away. Despite this undeserving and disrespectful treatment, Michael continues to respect and treat everyone equally.
“I’ve experienced racism at live events when I would speak to some of the Caucasian attendees,” said Baptiste. “They would ignore me or go the other way. Networking successfully with other entrepreneur who are not people of color can also be a challenge.”
Michael also faced financial challenges when starting his business. Coming from a financially unstable family didn’t provide him with the necessary business funds. In the end, Michael saved money, invested in his business, and came out on top.
“Solve a real life or business problem. If possible solve a real need that people have so you’ll always be in business,” said Baptiste. “Seek a guide, or counsel, or a coach, or a mentor who can show you the ropes on how to become successful in this business as an entrepreneur of color.
Can creativity aid harmony? Can originality and individuality lead to togetherness? Alicea Davis believes it can. Determined to racially heal and unify our nation, Alicea opened Esteem Builders Production in 2010 to reach her audiences through spoken word poetry and art. After years of public speaking, writing books and creating artwork, Alicea was ready to venture into a new way to transform her community.
Wanting to do more than just speak about change, last year Alicea
founded the non-profit, Friends of Reconciliation, Inc.- a nonprofit organization that is committed to racially healing and reconciling the Detroit Metropolitan community. Currently, Alicea provides social skills workshops to help the Detroit community pursue healthier relationships with others and themselves.
Alicea’s Secret to Success
“The secret to my business success is to have the perseverance that does not allow disappointments to stop forward motion,” said Davis. “There will be ups and downs in any business but having a positive mental attitude helps us to never give up. Also telling yourself, ‘Good job, today,’ can go a long way.”
In the business industry, you rely heavily on your relationships with customers, staff, and partners. When Alicea began networking with different communities, she often faced discrimination.
“I live in the Detroit area, which has a lot of racial segregation,” said Davis. “I would commonly hear the question, ‘Where do you live?’ as opposed to, ‘What do you do?’ I would sense with some people that their interest in networking with me would depend on my answer.”
Alicia didn’t let these negative racial encounters sway her. Instead, she let these experiences inspire and fuel her passion for racial healing, harmony, and unification, and continued to network and grow her business.
“My advice for Black entrepreneurs is that no matter the past or present, expect much abundance and ample opportunities,” said Davis. “If and when obstacles come, know that they are temporary hurdles in your race. Also, it is important to launch your business before you expand it. Keeping your vision clear and concise helps to communicate the needs you are addressing and/or the problem that you are solving.”
There’s the saying, your life can change in an instant. And it’s true. Your life can change, but what if you could change millions of lives along with yours? What if you can bring happiness, laughter, and joy into a child’s life during one of their most difficult times? Kevin Gatlin did just that.
During a hospital visit to a friend’s sick son, Kevin immediately noticed the hospital’s monotonous atmosphere. Many children like his friend’s son were ill and confined to beds day and night. Seeing the circumstances for these children inspired Kevin to invent a product that would bring joy, education, and playtime all in one.
After consulting with teachers and parents, Kevin designed Playtime Bedsheets, an interactive bedsheet with over 50 games for kids to learn and play; Playtime Slumber Bags, a sleeping bag and playmat with over 25 games; and Playtime imagination pillow, a pillow cover that helps children create their own stories with images and sentences. Kevin opened his company, Playtime Edventures, in 2014 in Monroe, North Carolina.
Overnight, hospitals all over the nation were swapping their bedsheets for Kevin’s kid-friendly and engaging sheets. Last year, Playtime
Kevin’s Secret to Success
“I believe the secret to my business success is having a high tolerance for the word ‘NO,'” said Kevin Gatlin. “You will need to have a high tolerance for this because you will hear the word ‘NO’ every day once you start your business! I live by the saying, ‘God will never put more on me than I can bear. I just have a high tolerance level for pain!'”
As a new entrepreneur, Kevin faced lacked the resources and information about how to start a business. Determined to make a difference, he began teaching himself about patent attorneys, trademarks, and product manufacture outsourcing. Once he learned the ins and outs of his business, everything took off.
“Remember that our ancestors [African American] were inventors and entrepreneurs and they paved the way for us,” said Gatlin. “So, we have to pave the way for the ones coming up behind us. We cannot quit!”