50 Black Women Founders To Watch

Marquita K. Harris Oct, 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.


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Shoccara Marcus

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

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Jonathan Heisler

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

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Matthew Sprout

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

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Amy Troost/Milk Makeup

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


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Courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic

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

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Shawn Theodore

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

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Bre'Ann White

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

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Adisa Sobers

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

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Courtesy of Impact America

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

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Beny Ashburn

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

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Islandboi Photography

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

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Pilot ED Schools

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

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Jean-Christian Bourcart

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

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Nkumah Farrar

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

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Courtesy of Subject

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

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Anseye Pou Ayiti

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

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Joel LaFortune

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

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Hanh Nguyen

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

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Justin Milhouse

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

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Andrew Bartolotta

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

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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

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Sheldon Bolter/Worldsheldon Bolter Photography

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

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Courtesy of Subject

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

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Backstage Capital

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

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Sarra Idris

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

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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

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Anastasia Gentry

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Ashley Batz

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

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Tech Cocktail

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

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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

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Jen Trahan

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

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Benji Aird

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

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Getty Images

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

34 of 50 Mario Mastroianni

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

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Holland Reid

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

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Celine Elise

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

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Toni Riales Photography

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

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GSE Media

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

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Courtesy of Subject

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

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Keith Major

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

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Steven Menendez

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

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Aevum Images

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

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Lisa Itabashi

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

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Itaysha Jordan

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

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Chris Daniels

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

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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

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Me & The Bees

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

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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

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Courtesy of Subject

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

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Eshama John

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