When it comes to female entrepreneurship, women are coming into their own.
Today, 1 out of every 11 adult women is an entrepreneur, according to a recent study. This seems especially true with black women-owned businesses, which grew by 74 percent between 1997 and 2015. More black women are embracing entrepreneurship, making them one of the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs.
I spoke to five black female entrepreneurs about what inspires them and advice they have for aspiring women looking to forge their own path to success.
Ayanna Howard, Founder/CTO of Zyrobotics
Dr. Ayanna Howard is a rarity. In the White, male dominated field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Howard is a respected roboticist. She is also the Linda J. and Marks C. Smith Chair in Bioengineering in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Dr. Howard has not only designed robots that can think for themselves, she’s worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion and uses technology to help children of all disabilities.
BCB: What was the inspiration behind Zyrobotics?
Dr. Howard: Zyrobotics was started based on an unexpected journey. I had received a grant a few years ago that, through working with children with vision and motor impairments at a children’s robotics summer camp, led to the development of an input device that would allow kids to access tablets for robot programming activities. Then, in 2012, I participated in an NSF-program called i-Corps, which is a National Science Foundation program that helps researchers learn about starting up a company – and by talking to potential customers, determine whether there’s really a market for what we’ve developed. From that experience, I learned that there was a real need for what I had developed and that the market was even larger than I had imagined, extending to adults with disabilities and potentially even persons with Alzheimer’s. In order to be able to commercialize the lab prototype, Zyrobotics was born.
BCB: How many years has Zyrobotics been in business and what sort of impact has it had in schools and on children with disabilities?
Dr. Howard: Zyrobotics was incorporated in September 2013. We have currently released 9 iOS and Google Play apps focused on children with special needs (in the education and therapy domain), and have released an accessible learning system called the Zumo Learning System that has been picked up by Amazon. Our impact has primarily been on children with developmental disabilities (which includes Autism, physical disabilities, and ADHD, among others). The focus is to ensure that children with special needs are provided the same access to education as typically-developing children.
BCB: What advice would you give an up-and-coming female entrepreneur?
Dr. Howard: Be open to finding mentors and don’t be afraid to ask other people for their help or advice. Most people, typically, want others to succeed – just ask them for their help. There’s a lot about starting a new business that’s uncertain. Don’t let the unknown immobilize you and be okay with pivoting if your current direction isn’t panning out.
Celeste Croxton, Owner of Lyndigo Spice, LLC
By day Celeste is a Boston Police officer, and over the years she’s worked as a patrol officer in various districts of Massachusetts. By night, Celeste is an entrepreneur making chutneys, relishes and fruit spreads for Lyndigo, a food based business. Between taking care of her two sons and becoming a police officer, to managing Lyndigo, Celeste always knows to keep it real in the kitchen.
BCB: What inspired you to open a line of chutneys, relishes, fruit spreads and spices?
Celeste: I knew I wanted my line to be flavorful and healthy and different from what’s on the market, hence my different flavor combinations. My line is all natural, low in sodium and sugar, vegan, gluten free, fat free and “full of flavor with a spicy attitude.”
So, between getting my sons off to college, testing recipes, working midnight shifts I started building my brand. Everything came together November 17, 2014, a week before Thanksgiving.
BCB: What are some of the pros and cons of becoming a female entrepreneur?
Celeste: Pros: You are doing what you love, you are loving what you do, you are calling the shots, you make your own hours, and you are making money (not in the beginning though) doing what you love.
Cons: You are going to be tired until you can find your rhythm, not everyone is going to be happy for you. Let your haters be your motivators. Also, you are calling the shots. Any mishaps will be on you.
Yetunde Oso, CEO and Creative Director of The UpperRoom Events
Yetunde started The UpperRoom Events with one mission in mind: turn dreams in to a reality. Simply put—she creates, designs, plans, and coordinates hundreds of events every year. But it’s so much more than a business, it’s her passion. For Yetunde, planning events is a wonderful opportunity to showcase creativity and allow guests to come together to enjoy a celebration with amazing foods and great company. In addition to being CEO and Creative Director, Yetunde works as an Infection Control Practitioner for three hospitals and 90 outpatient centers in New Jersey.
BCB: Your work is exquisite. Talk about The UpperRoom Events and your inspiration behind it.
Yetunde: My company offers exceptional event planning and creative design for celebrity events, local and destination weddings, social events, private affairs and corporate functions.
Our focus is on the authentic desire to make clients and guests feel calm, comfortable, appreciated, and welcomed. Every successful event begins with precise planning, meticulous communication and by working closely with diverse teams, we execute exceptional events that meet and exceed our client’s expectations—all with seeming ease and efficiency. Our motto is “The Philosophy to making our clients happy is simple- – give them a successful event!”
BCB: What advice would you give other female entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Yetunde: 1. Believe in yourself and your brand because if you don’t, no one will. Stay confident and don’t leave any room for negative influences who sow seeds of doubt. Entrepreneurship is not an easy road but it’s absolutely worth it.
2. Do extensive research in your business of interest- You will make many mistakes down the road, but research will help you get on the right path. The key thing is to make sure you learn from those mistakes. Seek advice from reputable organizations such as Small Business Association (SBA). You may also seek advice from professionals who are experienced with your line of business, but remember not all advice is good advice, so be very careful to weed out the ones that may not work in your favor.
3.Never give up-Success is in your hands-If you give up on your dreams you’re living a life unfulfilled. I can’t imagine not being passionate about The UpperRoom Events. I work daily on building my company. If you don’t have a mission -if you don’t have any goals- if you don’t have a purpose you’re wasting great potential. Live life with purpose and you will succeed.
Denise Zannu, Owner of Black Mermaid’s Natural Bath & Body Products
It began in her kitchen, where Denise was making natural products like soaps, candles and oil for friends and family. Her passion for creating a natural product that doesn’t contain chemicals, is good for the skin, and actually works resulted in the successful launch of Black Mermaid. Now in its third year, Denise admits that things can get a bit overwhelming, but she’s excited to do more with her company.
BCB: Talk about Black Mermaid’s Natural Bath & Body Products and your inspiration to start your own company.
Denise: My product line grew as customers began asking for specific items or identifying skin problems that had been causing them chronic problems.
I decided that I wanted to focus the company as a manufacturer versus a retailer in response to the increased market demand for natural bath and body products crossing into more mainstream venues.
BCB: Name some of the pros and cons of managing Black Mermaid.
Denise: Pros: Being responsible for your own success, contributing viable products, making your ideas/concepts a reality, and the flexibility of being your own boss.
Cons: Being responsible for your own success, being responsible for others’ lively hood, and managing your time, resources and finances.
Deirdre Huger, Owner of Dxine Crux
The only way to be happy is to be fulfilled. So to have a happy life at home, Deirdre followed her passion and dream of creating a classroom at home to utilize her skills and discover the artist in her. In 2008 Huger made the bold decision to leave teaching, and instead manage Dxine Crux and take care of her seven children. Since her big leap into entrepreneurship, Deirdre has worked with small businesses in South Carolina to create logos, flyers and graphics that are as effective as they are beautiful.
BCB:What has been one of the hardest challenges managing a business and being a stay-at-home mom?
Deirdre: The hardest part is I work with what I have. Even though I’d love to have an office- I do have a space in my home that has lots of windows, pictures, glassware, magazines- anything that will take me into my zone- my own space that will say ‘you are at work now’ not at home.
BCB: Do you have tips or advise you want to share with future female entrepreneurs?
Deirdre: Number one reason we start and stop is that we’re afraid of going out there and trying. It’s just like riding a bike; if you don’t start or don’t go you’ll stop yourself from going.
Don’t listen to your fear and your doubt. Even sitting down and creating a plan of action. Nothing is perfect. Whatever plan you create it might not go your way. You have to have a passion for what you do. Let go of fear.