Though attending many higher education institutions is a great accomplishment, there’s something special ingrained in HBCUs that provides a level of confidence and perseverance that in my opinion is unmatched. As a woman of color entrepreneur, it hasn’t been easy to stay afloat, especially within the past couple of years. Per theNew York Fed, Black businesses experienced the most acute decline during the pandemic, with a 41% drop. Latinx business owners fell by 32% and Asian business owners dropped by 26%. Though we are making strides, the access to capital for minority women is still in the single digits percentile! But with many of us who attended HBCUs, we don’t give up!
We’ve witnessed big success stories like Florida A & M University grad Melissa Butler and The Lip Bar; being once called a cockroach on Shark Tank to now closing a $6.7 Million funding round! With Homecoming at the peak of this season, we wanted to take a moment to share stories of both triumph and appreciation, to celebrate entrepreneurs who stem from HBCUs.
Mimi Johnson, Founder of The Glamatory - Clark Atlanta University
Find a way or make one. This is my alma mater Clark Atlanta University’s motto and will be forever in my mind as I take my journey through life. To be honest, I was already struggling financially in 2019 with my business The Glamatory. The business had great clientele, the social media following, the branding, it had a 6 figure revenue stream, but I always struggled to make a profit because we never had the working capital to begin with! So when the pandemic hit in 2020 we had to close our Atlanta based brick and mortar, and I was devastated. What I built over the last 5 years abruptly came to an end and I felt like I had failed. But after the pity party, I pivoted to focus on digital experiences and e-commerce. I also found out that my lip potions were so long-lasting that they weren’t coming off much on masks! It became a hero product and revived my entrepreneurial spirit. The Glamatory now is on Amazon, Salon Centric, Aspire Marketplace, Marjani Beauty and Flourysh and has collaborated with notable celebrities like Angela Simmons and Pretty Vee! Though some of the fight and confidence came from my spiritual beliefs and my upbringing, I also cherish my experience at CAU and know that it has also shaped me into the strong woman that I am today. Check out some other HBCUpreneurs that I wanted to highlight and share their businesses and stories in hopes that it also inspires you!
“Howard University - The Mecca! The educational and interpersonal skills I developed at Howard are priceless. Howard University is known for its dynamic academia, groundbreaking centers of excellence, and esteemed faculty. But I also learned that you have to work very hard, prepare and have creative thoughts with solutions. You are bred to be a leader! As an entrepreneur, these are skills that I hold in high regard.”
Crystal DeVone akaC.DeVone is a multimedia professional, DJ and Mental Health Advocate. She specializes in events, wellness, music, marketing and audio. She’s been seen on Bravo’s Blood Sweat and Heels, Fox News and spinning star-studded events like the super exclusive Google Zeitgeist, Youtube Awards, Verizon Wireless events, Saks exclusives and Cosmopolitan Magazine events.
“Depression is something I have dealt with, and as an entrepreneur with the ups and downs of business can be challenging. I take my mental health seriously and understand grace and healthy work and life balance. In my career pivoting from DJ to event planner, and becoming a Senior Podcast Producer for major companies was not an easy feat. But I found a way to combine and leverage my skills. Sometimes, your vision for your life does not always make sense. Many doors didn't exist! But I have always been driven by passion and creativity and once I trusted myself, the process, and my faith, I was able to find "success" within my industry.
Ja-Leta, Founder of Just Jai Wear - Alabama A&M University
“My HBCU experience taught me how to be creative, innovative, and identify my support system. As I cultivated my relationships and became an entrepreneur, I had the same group of people who believed in me utilizing their skills to help enhance my business.
Just Jai Wear is a high-quality fitness apparel line, inclusive of gear that accentuates your figure and provides convenience and comfort.
“As an entrepreneur, I quickly learned I can not be the master of everything in my business. As a result, I hired my best friend, who was a financial consultant, to have a laser on budgeting. Then, I hired my mom as Inventory Manager and outsourced other positions. It is extremely important to understand what skills are in your will house and hire other resources to free you up so you can perform the tasks that you are passionate about.”
Chantel Powell, Founder of Play Pits - Clark Atlanta University
“I attended theillustriousClark Atlanta University and we have by far the best Motto of all time. "Find A Way or Make One" this is something that was instilled in the fabric of who I became once enrolled in CAU. I have always been driven but my natural born drive combined with the ethos that giving up is NOT an option is what makes me shine as a woman. You have 2 options in life: Find a way or MAKE one. My HBCU experience made me resourceful, sharp, and determined. I have been able to take this journey as a Mompernuer because I went on a hunt to find something for my smelly kid. I didn't find anything that would address my son's need for Deodorant that would make him excited to use it because everything on the market was boring. Sosince I couldn't Find a deodorant for my baby, I made one... My HBCU taught me that!
Play Pits is a 100% all-natural deodorant, free of aluminum, parabens, synthetic fragrances, and other harsh chemicals. Play Pits is a mother's solution to providing a kid-friendly, all-natural hygiene option for youth with active lifestyles.Not only is Playpits an amazing deodorant line for active kids, they also have expanded to products for adults. But there’s a bigger story that we want to bring to your attention below.
“Imagine starting a business out of your home kitchen, you and your family spend nights, days, and years building that business that eventually grows out of your home kitchen to a 2500 Square foot facility. This new space becomes your Headquarters. You invest in equipment, inventory, office supplies, marketing materials, etc. You and your team work out of this space weekly for 2 years shipping your product to thousands of families all over the country every month...and one night at 2:45am you get a call informing you that your building is on fire and by3:30am you are outside watching that beloved Headquarters in flames. Well that's what I am currently dealing with, Ijust lost my warehouse and everything in it, in a fire Mid-September. It was one of the hardest things I have experienced since becoming an entrepreneur. As I overcome this situation a few things I know for sure...One, I can't give up and I must move forward because too many people are depending on our product and Two, This is just a small part of my story, I am not sure yet but i know God is preparing us for something new and my assignment at this time is to be obedient and not allow the sadness of this setback to distract me. “ - Chantel tells Grind Pretty.
To find out how support Playpits in their time of need, please visithttps://playpits.com/pages/recoveryinitiative
Tracey Kearse, Founder of AcArre - Hampton University
“My HBCU experience helped me break out of my shell and better network. As an entrepreneur, networking is key to growth.”
Tracey is an esteemed chemical engineer who has worked in product development and marketing for over eighteen years. She developed this multi-use bioactive product made from natural ingredients for balance to the skin, for the beauty minimalist. Based on modernized African and Pacific Islander ancestry elements delivering multi-level benefits, the product helps to re-balance the microbiome, for healthy scalp and skin.
Tracey tells Grind Pretty, “An obstacle I faced was running low on inventory and my packaging supplier was out of my package and didn’t know when they would have inventory. I had to resource my packaging as if I was just launching which took some time to find. Fortunately, I found an alternative supplier but it is not a place I want to be in again. From this experience I have more than one supplier to not run into this issue again.”
Ashley Jones, Creative Director and CEO of Tones of Melanin - Norfolk State University
“My HBCU helped shape me into the entrepreneur I am today by showing me how to be a leader. It taught me how to be a servant leader by putting my customer and community needs before mine. It also showed me the importance of networking.”
Tones of Melanin features premium quality apparel from the best black colleges and universities along with Divine 9 greek apparel. “Tones of Melanin aims to create clothing to bring awareness to HBCUs. We are not only an ally to HBCUs but also a modern-day revenue-generating marketing tool,” says Ashley.
“An obstacle that I am overcoming is overworking. I am learning how to overcome this by delegating to my team. You can’t do it all by yourself!”
Dr Ashley Little, Creator of The HBCU Experience Movement - North Carolina A&T State University
As the CEO and founder of the first Black-owned company to launch books written and published by prominent alumni throughout the world that have attended HBCUS, Dr. Ashley Little credits a lot of her success to North Carolina A&T.
Dr. Ashley is a serial entrepreneur, speaker, investor, philanthropist and 19x bestselling author with a host of accolades! A natural born leader and has been recognized as such.
"I wouldn't be the person I am today if it was not for North Carolina A&T State University," Dr. Little told Grind Pretty. A&T taught me that I can walk into any room and own the room and to always serve, reach back and give back. The lifelong friends who turn into family, my mentors who are still my mentors today, professors who all knew me by my name and not my social security number, and most of all being surrounded by Black excellence from all walks of life nationally and internationally."
Regan Farley and Deja Cromartie, Founders of Intel Media Group - Lincoln University + Clark Atlanta University
The co-founders of this Public Relations agency that is at the helm of influence, impact and ingenuity are a two for one when it comes to being the products of HBCUs. With co-founder Regan Farley being a Lincoln University graduate and Deja Cromartie as a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, they were already equipped with a recipe for success.
"Our business allows us to set into the zone of genius and work on projects that are making an impact," Cromartie told Grind Pretty. "We help people whose stories are overlooked build a platform."
At Intel Media Group, it is pivotal that they help and encourage other HBCU students. "The moment I meet another HBCU grad or student, I ask, 'How can I help?' We also make it a point to hire and mentor HBCU students."
For her co-founder Farley, "being an HBCU graduate means standing on the shoulders of giants and moving the need to inspire the next generation." She also added that it's about "stopping at nothing to make your dreams come true."
Written by By Mimi Johnson & Shanique Yates