On Starting a Black women centered business (Part 1)

Originally posted on BossiThoughts (Medium)

Entrepreneurship. What is that?

I’ve wanted to start my own business since I was a kid. I thought about having a bakery business, a tailoring business, a creative production company, owning a theater building and renting out spaces for theatre companies to use, having my own bank, running my own school, a private investigator company; I ran the gamut.

I was always very creative and imaginative and ambitious and driven, but never took myself down the road of entrepreneurship. In reality, the first time I ever heard the word ‘entrepreneurship’ I was an incoming senior in high school working at McDonalds as a crew trainer and one of my fellow colleagues, a young Black woman, was telling us what she planned to study at university, as we stood around the fryer.

She said: “I’m going to study entrepreneurship”

One of our managers replied: “You can’t even spell that word…that is not real.”
(This theme would come back into my life later on…)

I didn’t think twice about it… ent-tre-par-noor-ship? Like what is that?! I had my sights set on going to university for theatre management (which I did, with a scholarship, mind you). I didn’t think about entrepreneurship again. Even though, I played ‘entrepreneurial actions’ to build my professional ideal. I took initiative, I innovated, I push boundaries, I organised new teams across fields towards a singular vision, I embodied the essence of entrepreneurship, I generated project-incomes, I applied for and received funding (within a team) without the concreteness of ever building my own things for profit and passion. I played in the realm of nonprofits for about a decade, feeling fulfilled by mission-based work but disappointed by the lack of resources available.

Social enterprise, Black feminism, and Scotland?

I was exposed to social enterprise as an Americorps member (shout out!) at a medium-sized nonprofit in the Midwestern south. I found it intriguing: making money for a…mission? How? I carried this curiosity with me to Chicago in my master’s degree and ultimately to my master’s thesis which focused on social enterprise in the creative industries in the UK.

Simultaneously, I decided to explore my own understandings of Black womanhood through poetry, literature, and a bit of community-organising. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Because these two interests, at the time, seemed so far from each other. What does Black feminism and Womanism have to do with creative social enterprise? Again I brushed off any suggestions to merge them together. Partly, maybe, because I hadn’t fully understand the power of either as their own entities. But I kept exploring, I kept the curious door open.

This curious open door led me to Scotland, of all places. And by the grace of the universe, I placed myself into a phd program where I continued the exploration of social enterprise in the creative industries. I also started to find my Black women’s spaces, which helped me to explore global Black womanhood… I was finding more Black women who were like me: high-achieving, emerging leaders, from diverse Black backgrounds.

I was challenged by this, by my own biases which developed from a sense of being an inadequate Black woman (an ‘Oreo’ as many Black kids called me throughout my formative years, which is really a way to highlight the awful feeling of imposter syndrome). Suddenly, though, I was meeting like-minded people, I was surrounded by a rainbow of intelligence.

There this feeling when you’re a young Black girl becoming a woman, a sense or maybe a desire to fit in with whatever is around you. I had conflicting views on this growing up, because I never fit in with any group… and I wasn’t affected enough to truly wear the badge of misfit (if that makes sense). Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had challenges, as many teenagers do, and I struggled with coping with anxiety which led to a whole host of mental and physical tribulations. But moving to the UK I found that fitting in, I didn’t have to because I was already part of a quite welcoming group for smart Black women, anyway.

This gave me energy. It helped me to change my mindset around myself and my capabilities. “Black girls don’t have PhDs…” is what white western society would have us all believe. Or if we do, it’s an anomaly, a glitch in the system to be corrected. This change made me think about business and Black-owned and centred businesses.

It made me think about Black women-centred businesses. Do they exist with some abundance? Where are they? Can we normalise the Black woman leader across fields? Or is she destined to be tokenized? How does a creative social business centred on Black women’s empowerment transpire? (See what I did there?) I’ve been curious about this open door for a little over a year. I started one company, a t-shirt brand, that I could bear to continue (more on that in another post), but the sentiment never left. So I pivoted and centred myself into the business: BossiRainbow. Bossi (derived from and pronounced like ‘bossy’ and Rainbow, which is a nod to that intelligence rainbow I spoke of earlier.

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