PHOTOS BY TAMARA BECKWITH, COURTESY OFO EZEUGWU, COURTESY KAI FRAZIER, COURTESY OF JY MAZE
The United States is home to three million Black-owned businesses, 88% of which are sole proprietorships, according to the Census Bureau. And yet, these businesses generate more than $150 billion in annual revenue, per the Minority Business Development Agency.
When Covid-19 started to spread across the country last year, it took a disproportionate toll on this community, with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reporting the number of Black-owned businesses dropped a whopping 41% from February to April 2020—marking the worst decline among all demographics during the darkest months of the pandemic.
Still, these entrepreneurs have remained resilient, and entering 2021, nearly half say they expect revenues to increase and the economy to improve, according to a Bank of America study. Moreover, nearly 25% expect to hire, a surefire sign of optimism.
With this in mind, it should come as little surprise that Black business owners shone brightly on Forbes’ inaugural Next 1000 list of small-scale superachievers redefining what it means to build and run a business today. They represent nearly 32% of applicants (thus far—nominations are open year-round) and 20% of our first group of 250 honorees.
Here, we take a look at 10 standouts.
Sector: Food & Drink
Hella Cocktail Co. started with Pinkard, and two friends, figuring out how to kick their drinks up a notch. Support from the cocktail community rallied them to transform their pastime into a business. The hobby-turned-venture offers inventive products to devise new cocktails or improve on old ones. Pinkard and Co. bootstrapped the business with $2,500, which now boasts seven figure revenues and has Delta Air Lines and Madison Square Garden as clients.
Cofounder, Praxis Labs
Sector: Social Entrepreneurs
Smith and Heather Shen cofounded social impact venture Praxis Labs, which partners with organizations to increase diversity and inclusion outcomes through research-backed immersive learning experiences. The business has eight clients, including Google, Target, Amazon, eBay and Uber, and eight full-time employees. Prior to Praxis Labs, Smith invested in and coached entrepreneurs developing D&I solutions. Smith previously worked at IBM Watson where she developed Watson for Education products, led B2B sales and edtech partnerships.
Cofounder, Deep Root Record
29-year-old Kambon partnered with DJ and producer Francis Mercier in 2015 to launch Deep Root Records, an independent record label that offers artist management, event production, music distribution and publishing. Deep Root found its groove with its synchronization and licensing division, which has landed song placements in movies, ads, TV shows and more with industry giants like Spotify, Nike, Steve Madden and Netflix.
CEO, Hello Tractor
Sector: Manufacturing & Industry
Tractors can make a significant bottom line difference for small-time farmers, improving efficiency and reducing labor constraints. But buying them is expensive and access to financing is not readily available. Seeing the untapped commercial potential, Oliver founded Hello Tractor, which facilitates on-demand tractor services between owners and small-time farmers. The business, which operates primarily in Nigeria, has raised more than $1.5 million since 2014.
Disappointed by not being able to attend her dream university due to lack of financial assistance, Michele, 25, founded data-driven scholarship marketplace PeduL alongside cofounder Chisa Egbelu in 2016. The platform allows students to apply to thousands of scholarships at one time through one universal application and last year started helping students find internships as well. PeduL has approximately 1.4 million users and counts major corporate partners like Viacom, Paramount Pictures and Juniper Networks as clients.
Sector: Real Estate
While attending Temple University, Ezeugwu says he heard horror stories from students living on and around campus, ranging from female residents being harassed by landlords to students living in infested apartments. So, he decided to take action by creating WhoseYourLandlord, a multipurpose platform that allows users to submit landlord reviews, increasing housing literacy in communities. Since 2016, WhoseYourLandlord has raised $1.1 million and reviewed 22,000 landlords across more than 300 U.S. cities.
CEO, Official Black Wall Street
Sector: Retail & Ecommerce
Bowman was inspired by the legacy of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street—destroyed in the 1921 race massacre—to set up Official Black Wall Street, a digital platform helping consumers find, review, and support Black-owned businesses. First launched in 2015 as a website followed by an app two years later, the platform has placed Bowman at the forefront of the #BuyBlack movement. Business has grown sevenfold between 2019 and 2020 and the team now counts seven members.
Founder, Kai KR
Homeless at 16, Frazier overcame her circumstances to not only earn a college degree but to launch a career in education that would fuel an entrepreneurial vision. Frazier is the founder of Kai XR, a virtual reality platform aimed at making education accessible to all. A pre-seed round of funding for Kai XR was oversubscribed; the service has also won Frazier every pitch competition she’s entered, including ones at SxSW and AnitaB.org.
Cofounder, WHTWRKS Inc.
Sector: Marketing & Advertising
A Nigerian immigrant, Ekechukwu cofounded WHTWRKS with two goals in mind—to break his family’s cycle of poverty by creating generational wealth and to help change the perception of people of color by using and telling their unique stories. Founded in 2013, WHTWRKS is an entirely Black-owned marketing strategy consulting firm that writes creates content and writes strategy for brands looking to reach Black audiences.
CEO, Maze Freight Solutions
Sector: Manufacturing & Industry
Maze, 40, is CEO of Kansas-based shipping and logistics startup Maze Freight Solutions. Founded in 2017 after working in transportation and supply chain management for over 12 years, her company is completely self-funded and was recognized locally as one of Kansas City’s top minority-owned businesses by the Kansas City Business Journal last year.