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50 Black Women Founders To Watch

50 founders
By Marquita K. Harris · October 30, 2017

These days it seems as if “wantrepreneurs” are everywhere, looking to claim their piece of the proverbial business pie. But if you want to know what it really takes to launch, run and grow a business, just watch Black women work. Despite the fact that over the past five years Black women have received less than 1 percent of all venture funding for their businesses, we still represent America’s fastest-growing entrepreneurial demographic, navigating hurdles with aplomb and paving our own pathways to success.

Ahead you’ll find 50 founders selected and vetted by our advisory board of curators. Some founders are young, others are seasoned. All of their ventures have shown a steady level of growth. You’ll want to keep your eye on each and every one of these women.

This feature originally appeared in the November 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.


Zuvaa, which means "sunshine" in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, is an online destination spotlighting African fashion. The idea was born in 2013 after Anyadiegwu noticed a gap in the market for African textile prints and fashion. Since her launch, she's already made the Forbes "30 Under 30" list for retail and e-commerce. zuvaa.com

Shoccara Marcus

Via facial photos, Ahmed's Plum Perfect beauty app uses innovative technology to analyze a person's skin, hair, eye and lip colors to discover the perfect products for their complexion. The app also takes swatching to a whole new level. plumperfect.com

Jonathan Heisler

After receiving her master's degree in interior design from Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, Arps has flexed her design muscle for a number of unique projects. Her signature aesthetic is a mix of eclectic with a dash of industrial. Lauded high-profile start-ups including Venmo, Contently and Gilt have put their spaces in Arps's deft hands. daniarps.com

Matthew Sprout

Ever since she could remember, Ahmed has loved bringing people together. What started as a monthly brunch party in downtown New York City has blossomed into a nationwide gathering of food, fun and music. In 2016 Ahmed and her crew took their party to Barbados. Surely world domination is next! everydaypplnyc.com


Amy Troost/Milk Makeup

Banks owns and operates an auto care clinic staffed by female mechanics. It caters to women especially by offering automotive repair services as well as educational resources in person and online. girlsautoclinic.com

Courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic

This entrepreneur's story began in her mother's tiny kitchen in Ghana. At a young age, Bartels could not get enough of spices and flavorful sauces. As she grew older and her travels expanded across 27 countries, she began concocting her own condiments and rubs, first for herself, then for friends and now for everyone. essiespice.com

Shawn Theodore

It was a lack of bold hues and the presence of unnecessary chemicals in the cosmetics aisle that drove Butler to start The Lip Bar. The Detroit native began crafting cosmetics in her kitchen in 2010, then followed with a full-fledged beauty business in 2012. thelipbar.com

Bre'Ann White

Figuring out one's next career move can be daunting. Her Agenda aligns ambitious-minded folks with content, community and inspiration so they can take strategic steps toward their goals. On Byng's platform, women share relatable stories about their successes and the challenges encountered along the way. heragenda.com

Adisa Sobers

As her family's first college graduate, Cash established this impact-focused venture capital fund to transform the economic livelihoods of underserved communities. Here investors are given the chance to support frequently overlooked market opportunities. impactamericafund.com

Courtesy of Impact America

After being laid off from her corporate job in 2012, Clark began spending more time in the kitchen. Despite her lack of formal training, the longtime cook turned a knack for creating healthy dishes into a full-time gig. Clark counts professional athletes and a number of public figures among her clients. simplyputt.me

Beny Ashburn

Curlfest is the largest natural beauty festival in the world. The collective consists of Charisse Higgins, Gia Lowe, Melody Henderson, Simone Mair and Tracey Coleman. They all run the ship at this blossoming company, which produces innovative experiences that uplift and harness the energy of the natural hair lifestyle. curlygirlcollective.com

Islandboi Photography

Cofounder Dandie spearheads this emerging network of elementary schools serving K-8 students. Using research conducted by The University of Chicago, the NAACP and pilotED's founding team, the school immerses students in an educational model with race, gender and social identity at its core. piloted.org

Pilot ED Schools

Braven is a nonprofit that works with underrepresented college students so they can thrive after graduation. Davis's personal philosophy is that the next generation of leaders will emerge from everywhere. And it's Braven's job to ensure they're equipped with the skills needed to flourish. bebraven.org

Jean-Christian Bourcart

Day's publication engenders a progressive dialogue about natural hair and the lifestyle of the many women who wear it. Although CRWN is in its infancy, the magazine's diverse depiction of young Black women has garnered quite the following. crwnmag.com

Nkumah Farrar

DeBaun is a serial entrepreneur whose career began in Silicon Valley. She's passionate about bridging technology and culture and she's doing just that with Blavity, her millennial-focused media company. blavity.com

Courtesy of Subject

Anseye Pou Ayiti, which means "Teach for Haiti," is an organization that seeks to train 250 teachers to work in the beleagured country. By doing so, Deroly and her team will impact the lives of 16,000 students in disadvantaged communities. After training, educators will be placed in classrooms and receive continued support. anseyepouayiti.org/en

Anseye Pou Ayiti

As a young Haitian immigrant, Desir never forgot the difficulties she faced learning a new language. After giving birth, she knew she wanted her daughter to be multilingual. So she started Smart Coos, which equips parents and educators with the tools to teach young children a range of languages. smartcoos.com

Joel LaFortune

A Fulbright Scholar, Dyson has a Ph.D. in physics from MIT and a number of degrees in science and mathematics. She's using that foundation to augment traditional practices in agriculture. Her venture, Kiverdi, uses technology in new ways to feed and power a growing world. kiverdi.com

Hanh Nguyen

Turning a side hustle into a profitable business is no easy feat, but that's just what Ellis-Brown did when she went from selling tea from the trunk of her car to running a bottling plant. The all-natural, antioxidant-rich hibiscus tea, which uses a recipe from her great-grandfather, is brewed and bottled in Detroit. ellisislandtea.com

Justin Milhouse

Fitzpatrick's MentorMe employs innovative cloud and mobile technology to make mentorship easier—and more productive. The company offers an intuitive platform centered on unlocking opportunities within organizations, businesses and communities. getmentorme.com

Andrew Bartolotta

Foster's digital community reaches more than 2 million readers each month and functions as a must-visit digital media destination for Black women. The Harvard graduate founded the then blog when she was still a college student in 2010. Since then it's sprouted multiple Web sites. forharriet.com

Goddess went from being a starving artist to a thriving socially conscious biz guru. Move The Crowd is an entrepreneurial training company that engages a "whole self" approach and goes beyond textbook-learning, conventional business teachings that abound. movethecrowd.me

Sheldon Bolter/Worldsheldon Bolter Photography

Grieco brings us beauty secrets that have been passed down to her through the generations, and her products are "clean and green." The soaps, oils, balms and masks are all formulated without sulfates, parabens or other harmful additives. ulta.com/brand/nyakio

Courtesy of Subject

Hamilton’s Backstage Capital supports female, minority and LGBTQ business owners. Its portfolio boasts 50-plus headliners. To date, Backstage Capital has invested more than $2 million in more than 50 enterprises.backstagecapital.com

Backstage Capital

The burgeoning Brown Crayon Project serves up an all-natural, certified organic line of skin and hair care products for babies and children of color. Idris launched her business with the desire to give her kids a fresh start. thebrowncrayonproject.com

Sarra Idris

The name Mercaris is a portmanteau of two Latin words: Mercatus, meaning "a gathering for the purposes of commerce or markets," and Mercari, meaning "to trade." James's outfit aligns both for a unique service geared toward sustainable agriculture. mercaris.com


Anastasia Gentry

When it comes to getting fit, who wouldn't want the inside scoop from top-notch athletes? With Kunst's Proday app, users can see the workout routines of their favorite sports stars. Exercise options are both in-home and gym-based. proday.co/app

Ashley Batz

Lampkin's Blendoor platform grabs data from existing job boards and tracking systems and then delivers candidates without a name, photo or dates. This method, in turn, minimizes the opportunity for unconscious bias among hiring professionals. blendoor.com

Tech Cocktail

To help the city of Boston reach its full potential, Lazu and her cohorts formed Future Boston Alliance, now known as Epicenter Community. The organization seeks to make one of America's oldest cities the premier hub for arts, culture and innovation. epicentercomm.org

The Brooklyn creative, who produces prints for the home goods and apparel industries, has partnered with the likes of West Elm, Crate & Barrel and The Gap. christinejoydesign.com

Jen Trahan

While there are apps and services alerting us to discounted airfare, sometimes we don't have all the funds up front. Enter Marfo's Airfordable. On the Web site, travelers can locate the flight they want, make a deposit and set up a payment plan. They will receive their ticket after the final payment. airfordable.com

Benji Aird

With less than $3,000 in the bank, Jennifer, her older brother, Jeff Martin, and his wife, Teresa Tsou, founded the "mini popcorn" company and began handing out their goods in hand-stamped Kraft bags at farmers' markets. An appearance on ABC's Shark Tank by Jennifer and Jeff opened new doors for the start-up. pipsnacks.com

Getty Images

Marshall-McKinley's company produces a wide array of quality aromatic beauty products. Her artisan soaps, sugar scrubs, moisturizing body butters and nail and hair oils are made with natural and organic ingredients. keepyourselfsmellingsweet.com

Mario Mastroianni

When it comes to bespoke travel, Morales knows her stuff. The travel industry vet with nearly 20 years in the game manages the everyday details of both entertainment industry professionals and discerning clients. thetravelgoddessnik.com

Holland Reid

Have an event idea that you're not quite sure how to execute? From Beyoncé-themed birthday bashes to breast cancer awareness fund-raisers, Nobles is armed with ideas and the vision to get it done. amberscraftcornernyc.com

Celine Elise

When we consider the wealth gap, tapping friends and family for seed money isn't an option for many Black wannabe entrepreneurs. With Norwood's The Runway Project, she and her team want to solve the problem by helping budding business owners secure capital. therunwayproject.org

Toni Riales Photography

Global Startup Ecosystem (GSE) hosts the largest three-day digital accelerator program for start-ups across seven continents. In addition to her work at GSE, Ntim can also be found speaking at more than 20 global conferences a year about digital entrepreneurship, start-up hacking and beyond. globalstartupecosystem.com

GSE Media

It's not every day that a media company can captivate Black audiences like Nwandu's The Shade Room. The online news destination's ability to command the attention of millions of followers on Instagram is pure genius. @theshaderoom

Courtesy of Subject

This beauty editor turned CEO parlayed her journalism background into an independent digital marketing and public relations firm. She also added a charitable layer to her business model with First and Last PR Foundation. The nonprofit offers scholarships and professional development opportunities to men and women working in the communications and beauty industries. firstandlastpr.com

Keith Major

Twine's Briogeo is a natural hair care company with three core beliefs: No two strands are the same, natural formulas should not equal neutral performance, and everyone should be able to maintain beautiful, radiant hair without sacrificing a healthy or ecochic lifestyle. briogeohair.com

Steven Menendez

Pierott's IUrban Teen gives Black youth a leg up. Its STEM + Arts education program helps teens and adults in career exploration in Seattle, Richmond, Los Angeles, Houston and Portland, Oregon. Mentoring services, career prep and college readiness are also offered. iurbanteen.org

Aevum Images

If you need to fix your credit score, this is the place to do it. Sanchez's Credit Hero helps you reach your financial goals and correct errors on your credit report, which can often feel like an overwhelming task. getcredithero.com

Lisa Itabashi

Testing new hair products shouldn't be an expensive burden. Teele's subscription-based service sends you four or more hand-selected hair care products a month. Subscribers can look forward to sampling products from both established and up-and-coming brands. curlbox.com

Itaysha Jordan

The master strategist partners with various artists and organizations. Formerly known as Eloveate, Troutman's company has recently expanded services to include more technology-based campaigns. anasatroutman.com

Chris Daniels

This seasoned lawyer advises early-stage start-ups. Clients at Ukuku's boutique law practice are small-business owners, tech geeks, artists, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs. venturegainedlegal.com


After a painful encounter with a couple of angry bees when she was 4½, Ulmer, now 13, became fascinated with the insect. Then she became obsessed with her great-grandma's flaxseed lemonade recipe. The rest is herstory. meandthebees.com

Me & The Bees

After spending nearly a decade as a public finance attorney, Verdejo is now the owner of an e-boutique brimming with must-have beauty items specifically for women of color. Shoppers will find luxurious hair, makeup and skin care products from niche brands. vivrantbeauty.com

The Tinsel team balks at the "make it pink" modus operandi often seen at a number of bigwig tech companies designing for women. Williams want to make top-tier electronics that are as functional as they are stylish. tinsel.me

Courtesy of Subject

Williams's enterprise is unlike the numerous stuffy candle companies clogging the home decor market. Each of its high-quality candles is hand-poured, packaged and shipped from its Brooklyn base. From sweet and earthy blends to exotic florals, there's a scent for everyone. litbklyn.co

Eshama John