February 2017 

Every year, we recognize February as Black History Month – an opportunity for the Council to commend the momentous achievements of African-Americans in our country, particularly the Black women entrepreneurs and business owners who ideate and innovate every day.

Black women entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders have been a strong economic force since the foundations of America, operating their own businesses and making up a large segment of the early labor force alongside their counterparts. Black entrepreneurship thrived during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, particularly in places that were deeply segregated, where they served predominantly Black communities and networks. This history birthed the rich entrepreneurial journey of Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C.J. Walker – who used her personal hair experiences to invent the Madam C.J. Walker Laboratories and Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Walker’s enterprise made its mark creating African-American hair care products, manufactured cosmetics, and launching beautician trainings that filled the gaps in the beauty marketplace for African-American women and women around the world. By her death in 1919, her sole proprietorship was worth more than $1 million, and Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy still remains as one of the first American and the first African-American self-made millionaires[i].

As one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in the United States, Black women entrepreneurs continue to contribute to the socioeconomic growth and vitality of this country. According to the most recent Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons (SBO), there are more than 1.5 million black women-owned businesses across the United States, a near 67% increase from 2007; displaying the dramatic increase in entrepreneurship among women of color in our time.[ii]

The story of Madam C.J. Walker also paved the way for generations of past and present Black women entrepreneurs in various industries such as National Women Business Council Members, Lisa Price and Kimberly Blackwell. Former Council Member Lisa Price is the founder and president of Carol’s Daughter, a groundbreaking modern-day hair and skin line geared towards women of color. Kimberly Blackwell is a current Council Member and Chair of the NWBC Communications Committee. She is the CEO of PMM Agency, which originated in her own home, and quickly scaled it to the multi-million dollar brand strategy firm that it is today. The successes of Black women entrepreneurs, far and wide, are definitely something to celebrate. From the coast of California to our nation’s capital, Black women-owned businesses have generated $42.2 billion in receipts in a multitude of industries such as health care and social assistance, educational services, and construction, according to the 2012 SBO.[iii]

Though there are many reasons we applaud the successes and economic growth of Black women business leaders and entrepreneurs, there is still a ways to go. Black women entrepreneurs are still trailing behind their non-minority and male counterparts in terms of revenue, business expansion, employment, and average income for themselves and their families. As presented in the NWBC Black Women-Owned Businesses Fact Sheet, the average receipts for Black women-owned businesses are $27,753 – the lowest for all major racial and ethnic sub-groups, underlined in the 2012 SBO, although they represent the majority of Black businesses in the U.S.

This month, and the months ahead, present a time for critical reflection and opportunities of growth for women entrepreneurs. It is important to continue to research, learn, and work towards viable solutions for equal access and opportunity for Black women entrepreneurs – as their success has always been foundational to America’s success. Here at the National Women’s Business Council, we are committed to conducting vital research and finding data that can drive true, actionable policy change. To learn more about our research on Black women small business owners and entrepreneurs, make sure to check out our Black Women-Owned Businesses Fact Sheet, in addition to our research on Black Women Entrepreneurs: Past and Present Conditions of Black Women’s Business Ownership, commissioned by NWBC and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy, prepared by Walker’s Legacy. Also, if you have not already, check out our Statistic of the Day on Black women small business owners for #BlackHistoryMonth on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Author: Shannon Trudge, Special Assistant at the National Women’s Business Council.

[i] “Madam C.J. Walker Biography,” Biography,  http://www.biography.com/people/madam-cj-walker-9522174, (February 2017)

[ii] Walker’s Legacy (2016) “Black Women Entrepreneurs: Past and Present Conditions of Black Women’s Business Ownership,” National Women’s Business Council Solicitation No. SBAHQ-16-0016, https://www.nwbc.gov/sites/default/files/Black%20Women%20Entrepreneurs.pdf

[iii] Walker’s Legacy (2016) “Black Women Entrepreneurs: Past and Present Conditions of Black Women’s Business Ownership,” National Women’s Business Council Soliciation No. SBAHQ-16-0016, https://www.nwbc.gov/sites/default/files/Black%20Women%20Entrepreneurs.pdf