American culture is known for distinct characteristics, including independence, hard work, and a belief in opportunity. Our society also rewards entrepreneurship, although it is by no means a simple path. And it certainly is not easier for Black entrepreneurs. Many challenges come to anyone running a business. However, Black business owners must also navigate obstacles related to historical inequities in education, startup capital, geographical location, among others.
Unfortunately, racism has often been at the foundation of many of these injustices. And unfair lending and financing practices mean that many African American entrepreneurs do not have the resources to withstand the adversities that almost all businesses face at some point. However, as our society continues to focus on breaking down unjust barriers and unconscious biases, more black-owned companies are beginning to benefit.
The U.S. Treasury Department recently launched a new program to inject nine billion dollars into minority and community banks to increase financing for small businesses in low-income communities. In addition, there is an emergency support program for minority enterprises suffering from the pandemic (predictions are that half of the black-owned small businesses will fail as a result of COVID).
Despite the challenges, there is a reason for optimism. There are many examples of black entrepreneurs who are not only surviving but thriving. BCT Partners recognizes three that are leading the way in their industry.
Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, Urban One Inc is a publishing and broadcasting conglomerate. Urban One has average revenues of four-hundred and forty million dollars with roughly one-thousand and fifty-eight employees. The primary audience of Urban One is African Americans, as their mission is to become the "most trusted source of information within the African-American community."
Urban One was founded as Radio One in 1980 by Cathy Hughes (at the time- a recently divorced single mother). She purchased the Washington, D.C. radio station WOL-AM for $995,000. She changed the station's format from all-music to one that explored politics, culture, and the African American perspective.
Since then, Urban One has become the largest distributor of urban content in the country since 1980. They also hold the title for the largest local urban radio network , the largest syndicator of urban programming and the largest Black-owned broadcasting company in the United States. Urban One owns fifty-three radio stations, cable network T.V. One, digital media company iOne, and news provider NewsOne.
Thompson Hospitality Corporation is a food and facilities management company. Thompson Hospitality Corporation was initially founded as a restaurant company in 1992 but has currently branched out to offer hospitality services. Thompson Hospitality now operates in 45 states and six foreign countries, providing a wide range of services. The company has thrived by buying restaurant chains, and their yearly revenue is seven-hundred and sixty-million dollars.
Beginning with a $100,000 personal investment, Warren Thompson pursued his vision of becoming a restaurateur and created Thompson Hospitality in October 1992. Thompson expanded the company into the contract foodservice arena. By 1997, Thompson created Hospitality Services, LLC by forming a strategic partnership with Compass Group (the world’s largest foodservice company).
Since then, Thompson has been recognized for his commitment to promoting diversity and philanthropy in business. His company was recognized as "Company of The Year" by Black Enterprise Magazine in 2010 and is ranked 7th among Industrial/Service companies on Black Enterprise’s "B.E. 100s" list.
Modular Assembly Innovations (MAI) is one of the largest black-owned businesses in the United States. MAI is based in Dublin, Ohio, and is a supplier for the automotive industry in the United States and abroad. MAI is the majority shareholder of certified, minority-owned subsidiaries including Great Lakes Assemblies, Gulf Shore Assemblies, Indiana Assemblies, and North American Assemblies.
MAI specializes in designing and implementing sub-assembly modules for all areas of the automotive manufacturing process. They emphasize their ability to provide high-quality machinery, advanced technology, and innovation. Their workforce consists of 280 highly skilled professionals, and their clients include Honda and Acura.
Since 2011, MAI has rapidly grown with yearly revenues exceeding one billion dollars, making it the fifth-largest black-owned business in 2019.
In conclusion, despite the many obstacles, black entrepreneurs are making headway. However, without continued support, many will not have the chance to become as successful as possible if they were empowered with a strong foundation. Consumers must seek out and buy from black-owned businesses, banks need to provide capital, and companies should make a point to support minority vendors. Now is the time to close the racial wealth gap, and it starts by advocating for black-owned and operated businesses.
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