feature: feed the hungry black female entrepreneurs

August 5, 2014

I’m sitting in the library of my university when my best friend Josh walks up to my table and starts unloading his books beside me.
“Sup?” he asks as he glances at my screen.
“Just putting together a mission statement for Black Hair Spot.”
“Black Hair Spot? What’s that?”
“Oh it’s this start-up I’m helping to build with my boss Nyssa. It’s going to be an online community for Canadian black women.”
“Oh really? Explain it to me a bit.”
“Nyssa, and I are starting a website to engage Canadian black women in conversations around blackness and keeping coily/kinky hair healthy, no matter what its form. Our website will include a Hair Journal for people to share images of their hair, a user-generated Salon Directory where people can review various salons across Canada, and a robust Online Publication–sort of like a magazine for black hair.”
He stares at me blankly.
“Right, so. Are you sure that’s necessary?” he asks cautiously.
I shake my head, “never mind Josh. It’s just a fun project.”

By Reakash Walters, AFROPUNK Contributor *

My close friend and mentor Nyssa Cromwell has always been interested in the black hair industry but as a software developer she didn’t necessarily know her place in it. Then she found that finding a salon or stylist she could trust was extremely difficult. So she went online. To Nyssa’s dismay there were no Canadian resources online that focused on black women’s hair experience. So she decided to create her own. In 2011 www.blackhairspot.com was born.
While there are millions of products, thousands of Youtube videos, and hundreds of blogs dedicated to the maintenance of straight hair, black women can feel invisible, unrepresented and excluded from discussions about hair and beauty. Like our coily, kinky hair has no place in these conversations. Sort of like we don’t matter or our abnormal hair type is not important enough to cater to. Validation only comes when you are sitting across from your African sister and the topic of hair is raised. Both your faces illuminate with hunger for hair knowledge. We are chomping at the bit to talk and relate to someone who understands “the struggle.”

Like any other effective business person, Kathryn Finney saw a problem and came up with an industry solution. Kathryn understood the struggle. Kathryn Finney is an African American entrepreneur, Yale Graduate, and named on Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 of 2013. She pitched an idea for an African American beauty production company to angels in Silicon Valley. She educated them on the fact that black women in America were purchasing 40% of all hair products in the United States. No dice. Despite the facts, no business/company believed that the demand was high enough to undertake the expansion of Finney’s concept.
That is my every day. When I tell my white friends about Black Hair Spot they sort of raise their eyebrows and peer at me for some indication of how they should react. When I tell black women about Black Hair Spot they are ecstatic. I had a meeting in June with T’keyha of I Heart My Hair to discuss a partnership with the popular Toronto based natural hair website. At the end of my elevator speech she looked at me, grinned and said, “I’ve never heard of anything like that in my life.”

The excitement and passion of black women is the reason I log onto my computer every day and continue to build this start-up. Even though I am about as common in this industry as a bamboo lemur in the wild.

In the tech industry the demographic is overwhelmingly white and male. Black female workers account for less than 2% of the workforce of companies like Apple, Amazon, Cisco, eBay, Facebook, and Google. Some might like to make the case that black women aren’t pursuing work in the start-up industry, but the reality is that black women are starting businesses in the United States at six times the rate of the national average. Yet, black female entrepreneurs start their businesses with a mere fraction of the funding and money from private investors than their male counterparts. That’s why my job can at times be hard. Despite the lack of support outside our community the fact is that female-run start-ups are more successful. In 2012 a study by Dow Jones revealed that 61% of female-run start-ups are successful and just 39% fail. If we were to zoom out and look at all start-ups, only 25% succeed.

Thankfully, my social circle makes me feel like the luckiest bamboo lemur in the world. There are some things I’ve learned throughout these short years of mine that keep me happy and make me feel successful.

• I was raised to believe that no one is going to take care of me but me. (Well except for my daddy but he might not live forever) So I work hard because I feed myself.

• I am surrounded by strong black women who don’t waste time deeming themselves go getters but instead go and get the things they want.

• I talk too much to too many people. Networking is a scary word filled with high expectations. Just do it. The truth is–the person you think is really smart and successful sitting with their coffee and a notebook in your favourite coffee shop really wants to talk to you.

• Team up someone who believes in you. Nyssa Cromwell gave me a chance. She trusted me to manage her brain child.

• Love failure. It hurts and it’s good. When things don’t work out it is an opportunity improve on what you know did work and get rid of what didn’t.

• Look at what everyone else is doing in your field and then do it better. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm–but you don’t have to try to reinvent the wheel. Use other people’s ideas and refine, refine, refine.

• Take a day off. On Saturdays I let all the massacre and mayhem continue without my input. I take 24 hours to spend time with the people I love. I do yoga, ride my bike, go to a festival, or just sleep.

• Spirituality is important. To me anyways. Meditation and prayer keep my ball rolling.

I believe in our idea. I believe that Canadian black women have been waiting for Black Hair Spot. Ultimately, black businesses and angel investors need to support one another. We must truly invest in each other however we can. May it be with our talents, time, or hard cold cash. We have intelligent, hard-working, perseverant black women in our ranks. Feed our community. Feed each other.

Emily Oud Photography

Want to join a community of strong black women? Visit our website www.blackhairspot.com Follow us on twitter: @BlackHairSpot Like us on Facebook: facebook.com/BlackHairSpot



http://kathrynfinney.com/ http://www.blackenterprise.com/small-business/angel-investors-seek-women-owned-startups/


http://www.dowjones.com/collateral/files/WomenPE_report_final.pdf http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390443720204578004980476429190

* Reakash Walters on Twitter and Instagram: @Reakash