By just about every measure, Black women are the most entrepreneurial demographic group in the U.S. Yet companies led by women of color CEOs score far less than 1 percent of all venture capital funding. The numbers don’t add up, and in a very unfair way – leaving many black women entrepreneurs scrambling to find other sources of financing.
The encouraging news is that more companies realize they can play a role in reversing inequities rampant across the U.S. economy. They also understand that action requires more than writing a check and issuing a public proclamation that they stand with women of color.
One such company is American Express, which last fall announced a $1 billion slate of programs seeking to boost racial, gender and ethnic equity for all of its stakeholders – from employees to customers to the communities in which it conducts business.
Among those programs is Amex’s “100 for 100” program, which in November selected 100 black women entrepreneurs to receive grants $25,000 and 100 days of access to resources. The latter part of the program kicked off last month and is teaching and mentoring on such topics as managing cash flow, maintaining business relationships and navigating through this current economic environment.
Amex is partnering with organizations including IFundWomen (IFW), a social enterprise that works with women entrepreneurs to provide opportunities for capital, business coaching and a network of mentors and other professionals willing to share their expertise.
One success story coming out of this program is LaToya Stirrup, who founded Kazmaleje (pronounced “cosmology”), a manufacturer of hair accessories. Stirrup and her two sisters launched the company in 2019, only to be thrown a huge curve ball last year as the pandemic wreaked havoc on new companies. Amex’s 100 for 100 program counted Stirrup among this group of Black women entrepreneurs, and the new funding and mentorship has allowed her company to course-correct and continue to grow.
Furthermore, Kazmaleje has been able to entrench itself in the hair accessory market for a couple reasons. As Stirrup recently explained to Yahoo Finance, first, the company was able to show it was an essential business. As many women could no longer go to the local salon due to lockdowns, those with curls needed something to help them deal with the fact their hair was growing out. In addition, Stirrup and her company has since partnered with Repurpose Global, a platform that works with companies like Kazmaleje to go plastic-neutral and reduce waste within their supply chains. Judging by the company’s Instagram feed, the company is thriving.
Companies like Kazmaleje had the vision and knew their target market. What they needed was a lift in the form of capital and resources that could get them over the proverbial hump – access long granted to plenty of companies over the years, but often denied Black women entrepreneurs because they didn’t quite have the right connections and networks.
Image credit: Brandy Kennedy/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.