By Julie Bawden-Davis, American Express
This Black Business Month, we asked business owners to reflect on what inspired them to start their companies.
As we celebrate Black Business Month this August, Eudell Watts, IV is grateful to his family legacy. He runs Old Arthur’s Barbecue Sauce with his father, Eudell Watts, III. The company produces and sells barbecue sauces and rubs made from heirloom family recipes dating back to before the Civil War.
“A few years ago, I realized that I’d been gifted a commercially compelling hobby worth sharing in the form of heirloom family recipes,” says Watts of the barbecue recipes passed down over six generations and more than 160 years.
Old Arthur’s Barbecue Sauce’s namesake and creator is Arthur Watts, who lived to the age of 108. Born into slavery on a Missouri production farm in 1837, the elder Watts tended cooking fires starting at the age of 6, eventually supervising open pit barbecues. When emancipated at age 27, he took the recipes with him and earned a living as a highly regarded pit master.
“Starting from humble beginnings, our patriarch pushed forward and established himself,” says Watts. “I started the business because I wanted my children to learn that regardless of where you start, you can work to own your destiny. Running the business teaches self-empowerment and keeps alive a powerful family story of perseverance and self-determination.”
Robin Sirleaf’s company also looks to preserve a legacy. Sarep + Rose, the leather accessories brand she founded, features the work of artisans in Africa.
“At the core of what we seek to do is preserve, promote and ultimately invest in traditional African craftsmanship,” says Sirleaf.
Having visited Africa since she was a child, Sirleaf decided to start her company after seeing a great deal of quality artisanal African goods featuring handwoven textiles and traditional leatherworking gathering dust.
“I decided to help market these incredible products,” says Sirleaf. “It keeps me connected to the continent. It also gives me the opportunity to shift preconceptions of African products and the Black business owners and creatives behind them.”
While the following Black business owners were all compelled to a certain extent to start businesses in order to earn a living, many had additional reasons for building their own legacies. Here nine more Black business owners share their top reasons for opening their own businesses.
Celebrate Diversity and Inclusion
“When building my own company and selecting companies to work with, it was essential to establish an environment that fosters diverse perspectives and inclusion. I was able to build an organization that at its core leverages different perspectives to provide higher quality to our clients.”
—Stacy Kirk, CEO, QualityWorks Consulting Group
“Last year I founded a gender-fluid streetwear label, because I felt I had a unique viewpoint to share with the world through fashion. I had also reached a point in my fashion design career where I felt prepared and confident enough to branch out on my own. As a young, Black, queer male, I want to share my unique experience with the world and hopefully inspire other young Black and/or queer minorities to pursue their dreams.”
—Kadeem Alphanso Fyffe, founder and creative director, Muxe New York
Make the World a Healthier Place
“My business partner, Precious Hannah, and I wanted to bring health consciousness to Black communities in our area and to ensure that our children are in healthy, chemical-free environments. It started when Precious took her newborn son to the doctor, and he said the baby was suffering from respiratory issues. The candles she’d been burning were the problem. We discovered there were few Black business owners in the candle-making market, so we decided to create a product that’s a healthy, chemical-free alternative.”
—Devon Horace, co-founder, Mister OK’s Essentials
“I wanted to be a mental health resource for the Black community. In my opinion, the mental health agencies where I worked prior didn’t competently meet the mental health needs of my community. By owning my own private practice, I’ve been able to eliminate the stigma of seeking help for mental health concerns. My goal is to engage, inform and support other Black business owners as they manage the business of work. My podcast provides a space for Black business owners to check in on their mental health and each other.”
Level the Playing Field
“Black-owned restaurants are often an afterthought in the overall culinary industry. We wanted to create a platform that elevates Black culinary professionals and brings them to an equal playing field. As a result, we’ve cultivated a sustainable campaign that offers more than a typical food festival. Participants walk away from Black Restaurant Week with the resources, knowledge and revenue to build a legacy.”
—Derek Robinson, co-founder with Falayn Ferrell and Warren Luckett, Black Restaurant Week
“I was motivated by helping others succeed and creating tangible change in the lives of Black business owners in my community. Hairstylists and the salons and barbershops where they work are cornerstones of our communities. They deserve to profit from the spending power that they generate. When I learned about the lack of representation and support in this space, I knew there was a need to break and rebuild the system, which I did with my business model.”
—Diishan Imira, CEO and founder, Mayvenn
Empower and Inspire Others
“When I struggled to get my screenplay Hollywood Chaos produced, rather than becoming disheartened, I produced it myself, and it got picked up by Hulu. My experience exposed a void in the entertainment industry, where the needs of aspiring and rising talent were not being met. My primary motivation was to inspire the creative community-at-large and give them the necessary tools to achieve their career dreams.”
—Angela Marie Hutchinson, owner, Create Your Yes!
“Prior experience as an attorney representing startups exposed me to the high cost and high value of great legal advice, and the number of people priced out of justice. I started my company to deliver legal services at a price nearly everyone can afford. My wife Monique thought she was marrying a young lawyer on the lucrative partner track, only to watch me quit my job a week after our honeymoon and work on a startup in our loft. She rolled with it, though, and we’ve been entrepreneurs together ever since.”
—Charley Moore, CEO, Rocket Lawyer
“I opened my college admissions consulting firm in order to provide a holistic approach to college admissions and college funding. My main motivation for doing this is seeing the impact that sound college advising has on a family.”
—Pam Andrews, founder, The Scholarship Shark