Category Archives: Entrepreneurs

The HBCUpreneur Corner – Huston-Tillotson University’s Jasmine “Bobby” Oliver & VYRL Co. Design


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Name: Jasmine “Bobby” Oliver

Alma Mater: Huston-Tillotson University, Class of 2015

Business Name & Description: VYRL Co. Design began from an honest place of desiring to have an opportunity to explore all that it means to be a creative entrepreneur, but also to showcase recent photography and web/graphic design projects that I have done. VYRLCoDesign.com became a space of passion, honesty, and inspiration where you can see a deeper side of a creative black-woman entrepreneur living, traveling, and pursuing a beautiful and fulfilling life that inspires others to do the same.

What year did you found your company? I first began as VYRL Media in 2010, then sometime in 2015 I started dabbling into design and the name evolved into VYRL Co. Design.

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? The most exciting and most fearful moments itself are when I realize that others are paying attention to my work and start asking me to do more challenging projects. Each and every project has allowed me to come out with a learning experience that I can take onto my next project.

What made you want to start your own company? Financial independence. Let’s be honest, this is probably the biggest reason people get into business from get-go. Which is a good thing! However we define ‘financial independence’ – retirement funds, unlimited cash potential or having the money to buy/do what you want….. entrepreneurship can allow you to achieve it. Another reason, I wanted to start my own company was because I had a hard time finding many places where myself, an African American creator/creative, could go to after graduation. So I figured that I would start small, build my own company and eventually hire other designers like myself.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? Jeff Wilson and Clara Bensen. Jeff, the dean of our college, and Clara Bensen, local Austin writer.

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How do you handle complex problems? Creatives are wired uniquely. As such, I think we have to navigate the world in a slightly different manner than non-creatives. How I handle complex problems is by trying to slow down. This is one I’m still trying to work out. While i think that multitasking can be useful, sometimes it does more harm than good. This causes my creativity to plummet as well as my mood. So as a resolution I try to get a firm grip on my schedule. And I only take on what I can do. Next I prepare for disapproval. I don’t know about you, but for some reason, I’m always looking for validation. I suspect this has something to do with a lack of self-confidence. However, it’s important to recognize that some people ‘just don’t get it’. I am a Cancer sign which means I am a very emotional person. So I also try to keep my emotions in check. I have this habit of always dissecting my thoughts which tends to lead me to second-guessing myself. So, what seems like a good idea today, feels like a disaster later. Plus, I’m overcritical of myself. So I tend to try to remind myself that not every thought needs to be evaluated.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? I wish I had known how much entrepreneurship consumes your life. This has became something that has consumed my thoughts. You start with an idea then a hailstorm of ideas on how you could possibly execute the idea begins… and it never ends. You just keep thinking and doubting and thinking and execute.

Many African American companies and organizations suffer from a poor digital presence. Why do you believe there is not more investment in this by African American entrepreneurs and companies? I’m not particular sure about this. My guess is economics plays a part. It would be interesting to know how many of our businesses get e-commerce business. That certainly could play a role in how serious they take their web presence. If they are not getting much of their business from the web, then they may not think it is worth having much invested in it. However, these days the web is serving as the store front most customers encounter even before they get to your brick and mortar. A strong presence though is not cheap and as I stated, economics may play a major role in the lack of investment in this area. Do I as an entrepreneur invest more in my product or my web presence? It is a decision we are faced with more than other groups unfortunately.

Digital designers certainly get influence from a myriad of different places. What are some of the things that you believe influences your design personality? Things that influence my design personality kind of derives from my first experience as a photographer. I have always noticed that I was drawn to clean spaces and I’ve noticed that in my photography that I was always drawn to photographing in unison with landscape and architectures. I love clean lines.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I would love to see HBCUs encourage students to step out more and challenge them to find their passion, their why, and assist them in starting their own business even while in school. Not only should HBCUs provide the fundamentals, but provide them with hands-on tools and resources to develop action plans.

I’ve also noticed that many HBCU’s do not have many arts programs. I want to see more photography and design programs that are infused with business.I would be super geeked if I had seen a “Visual Identity and Creative Branding” course on my curriculum.

How do you deal with rejection? Bah! Rejection. It’s easy to say ‘don’t take it personally’ but it’s not so easy to do when you put your heart and soul into your work. I am still learning how to deal with rejection quite honestly so I don’t have an amazing answer but what I can tell you is that I try to respond to it by experimenting with new influences and making my work more unique.

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? I try to stay as far away from my desk and computer as possible. I love being outdoors so I may go on a quick trip to Conroe or Austin to visit friends for a day or two, go running with my dog, check out the museums downtown or simply do nothing. There are days well I feel mentally exhausted and I’ll opt to a movie on my iPad in bed and order a pizza and gather some snacks for easy access while in the bed. I’m keeping it simple these days.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? Being apart of the student organization, Green is the New Black at my alma matter (HTU). GITNB is a organization that was created tin 2013 that tackled both environmental issues and race. We had events, raise funds and were advocates of environmental awareness in areas that weren’t particularly apart of the “sustainability conversation”.

The biggest moment was when I was even won first place prices for a $85,000 grant from Fort HBCU Challenge against much bigger named HBCU’s.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs?

Be focused. Very obsessively focused.

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Three HBCU Cities Rank Among World Economic Forum’s Best Cities For Women Entrepreneurs


Everyone wants to thrive, but what makes some places better than others? According to the World Economic Forum, it is a mixture of technology, culture, capital, market, and good old fashioned talent. The study was limited to 50 cities globally and for women overall, so it should be noted that there of course will be limitations of what constitutes “best”. We will be providing some additional commentary as it relates to each city’s capacity for HBCU women.

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1. NEW YORK CITY

HBCU(s) in city: Medgar Evers College

City Analysis: The city that never sleeps certainly is hard to argue with in terms of the five pillars of entrepreneurship. In the Dell Women Entrepreneur Index it ranks number two in culture, number one in capital, number one in market, and number four in talent. No other city shows up in the top five of each pillar like New York, who shows up four times. However, it is not all sunshine when it comes to being an entrepreneur in the Big Apple. It is also listed as the city most expensive in the world to start a business, something that would obviously disproportionately impact African American women since African America is the poorest group by median net worth. Ultimately, there is no doubt though that New York City presents a breath of international opportunity in one of the world’s most global cities.

7. WASHINGTON D.C.

HBCU(s) in city: Howard University; University of D.C.

City Analysis: America’s capital affectionately known as Chocolate City. It shows up as number three in talent and number five in capital. The number seven city in the world for women entrepreneurs leads all states and territories with percentage of the population with a graduate degree which bodes well for a strong talent base. Some of the headwinds facing entrepreneurs in D.C. is their primary customer being Uncle Sam. With a culture of shrinking the federal government it would be of value for women entrepreneurs to focus on ways to help the government run more efficiently. The cost of living in Washington D.C. is also a barrier and having enough disposable income to actually get a business off the ground could be a real challenge in America’s third most expensive city by the cost of living index. However, where the heart of political power lies there is money nearby and if the right connections are made, then opportunities abound.

12. AUSTIN

HBCU(s) in city: Huston-Tillotson University

City Analysis: Austin has become the tech capital of the southern United States. The capital of Texas, also the economic bellwether of the south, it has seen a heralded growth over the last decade in terms of technology development. A large reason it shows up as number four in the world in the technology pillar for women entrepreneurs. This Texas city is more affordable than the previously mentioned cities, but not by much. The boom has led to massive gentrification in the African American neighborhoods there, so the feeling of community maybe hard to find for an HBCU woman in the city. Huston-Tillotson’s presence there while important is acutely dwarfed by the flagship of the state, University of Texas. Annually the city is home to the SXSW conference which brings even the big whigs from Silicon Valley and other tech giants from around the world. The city can be lonely culturally, but if one can navigate it opportunities for women entrepreneurs without forsaking poverty are available.

 

The HBCUpreneur Corner – Howard University’s Michiel Perry & Black Southern Belle


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Name: Michiel Perry

Alma Mater: Howard University

Business Name & Description:  Black Southern Belle, Lifestyle Brand Focused on Showcasing Weddings, Fashion, Home Decor, Food and all things Southern!

What year did you found your company? 2015

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career?  Deciding to do Black Southern Belle full time versus part time. I knew this was something that needed a full time role, but I also had a mortgage and a husband. It all worked out, but not without some serious scary days.

What made you want to start your own company? I was planning my wedding in Charleston, SC where I am from and decorating my home in Maryland and looking for lifestyle inspiration that was both African American and Southern. After looking with little success I realized this needed to exist and started Black Southern Belle.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? I had a constitutional law professor who went above and beyond. He let me miss classes for internship interviews and even passed along my information to senior level executives. From him I learned the value of helping people who aren’t even asking.

How do you handle complex problems? As I am a hot head, I often handle complex problems by first relaxing and then reaching out to my mom or husband who are much more calm than I am and often view something very differently than I would.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? To reach out to my personal contacts more. I built a large network from my past careers but was afraid to reach out as to seem like an opportunist, but so many people I reach out to want to help even more than I ever thought they would. If you are genuine about your business and really want to make the relationship mutual most people want to help you row.

Some would say that today’s playing field is more leveled with media companies like yours not having to focus on print and being able to be exclusively digital. Do you think that is true and do you have any plans to do anything with print? I would agree. You can grow your brand digitally pretty quickly, you don’t even need a website at this stage, just a large Facebook or Instagram following can help you grow. Just build an audience and the business will come. I have a tech/digital background. The main print I deal with is stationery. If I did something print it would be a partnership, not just myself. I love paper but not enough to launch a magazine but I appreciate those who fulfill that goal as I have more subscriptions than I like to tell my husband.

Pinterest has had a significant impact on lifestyle sharing and your company is very active there. What do you think has allowed that platform to set itself apart from all others in that respect? I think it grabs your attention and is beautiful. It’s first focus was the beauty and then technology which is rare to see.  Often times tech comes first then aesthetics but Pinterest took a different approach.

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We often talk about the need for African Americans to manufacture more products. Being a lifestyle company affords you all to potentially engage a myriad of products with your own brand attached. Do you think this is something your company will pursue? Or are there other avenues of opportunity that you feel are unexplored by lifestyle companies? I love products and I love supporting small businesses. I currently have a signature product line of select items and would love to grow that business more with partners. I think there are so many opportunities and I am all about partnering to help not only myself but other brands grow.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I would say they can develop mentoring programs for students who want to be entrepreneurs. Like develop an alum system for entrepreneurs like myself to help current students. I also think adding it to the curriculum is an important thing. We already have the network, just need to utilize it more.

How do you deal with rejection? I have always had roles building partnerships and relationships. Most of the time you hear no. I am very used to it. Often times no is temporary and not because of you but because of other factors. I say no is just for now, not permanent so there is really no true rejection in my opinion just bad timing.

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? Antique shopping and watching historical documentaries. I am a serious history buff.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? Having a Howard Alum find me on the first day of my internship on Capitol Hill. Howard Alum are crazy and will always find you. I do that now and I hope it makes the students feel as special as I did that day.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Take the risk and do full time if you can. If you can’t, don’t be afraid to outsource some work to keep your business growing. Just because you can’t do it full time doesn’t mean it can’t be done but you should find the resources to move forward.

 

The HBCUpreneur Corner™ – Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M University’s Johari Mills & FlowerChild’s Studio Salon


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NameJohari Mills

Alma Mater: I attended Texas Southern University for my undergraduate degree and graduate school at Prairie View. I like to claim both to piss people off, but I’m a Tiger at heart.

Business Name & Description: FlowerChild’s Studio Salon. Houston’s premier & most unique boutique coiffure salon. Flowerchild’s stylists are skilled to set the trends. It is a privatized haven for clients to feel secure, relaxed & confidently rejuvenated to conquer the world with stress free hair.

What year did you found your company? I’ve been a stylist for eighteen years and a salon owner for five years. I opened FlowerChild’s Studio Salon in 2011.

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? The day I decided to quit my career as an educator, along with teacher benefits and a consistent paycheck, to invest all my money and time into building and opening a salon was the scariest moment ever. I wanted to see if that movie Field of Dreams was correct: “If you build it, they will come.” So I built it – and they came. I’m grateful.

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What made you want to start your own company? Two reasons. Honestly, I was juggling a lot at the time. I just had a baby, teaching and doing hair at a salon after I left the schoolhouse. I wanted time to spend with my baby boy and I wanted to call the shots. The moment finally came where I felt I had to choose, so I figured I had to give something up and since giving up being a mother would make me a dead beat (joking-calm down), I gave up teaching. Giving up being a stylist was never an option. The other reason was because I knew there was something bigger in store for me. My mother was a teacher and it’s an honorable profession, but it wasn’t enough for me. I was raised under a spiritual system that helps practitioners follow their destiny and through divinations as a child I was told I was to be a boss and carry on the legacy of many entrepreneurs in my ancestral lineage.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? I will narrow it down to one professor I had. Her name was Professor Oates. Forgive me because I think she became Dr. Oates, but this was a lady who saw who I was and saw what I was doing to hide who I was from others. She dropped a book down in my face one day called the Isis Papers by Francis Cress Welsing and told  me to write her a paper on it. By pen and paper, my upbringing was unleashed. I knew I was different but she made that okay for me and as she would put it, “They just gonna have to understand.”

How do you handle complex problems? I have not mastered this at all. As I mature though I notice the first thing I do is consult a close friend or my YeYe (mom) to make sure I’m not turning something simple into something complex. Often times people do that without noticing just how simple it could all be. Once deemed complex, I become introverted. I like to say I try to find resolve immediately by thought first and then action, but I’m not perfect. I like to fix things as soon as the problem arises because my grandmother made it apparent that you don’t put things off for tomorrow because tomorrow has its own set of tasks. However, depending on the matter I feel it best to consult spirit for a solution. After all, I am only a spiritual being in a physical vessel. This is key to me in all things and it proves to be beneficial to remember that when problems arise.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? How strong and capable I am. Every loss cannot be prevented. Eventually we have to experience downfall in order to know what it feels like on the upside. I know I cannot prepare for everything – there just isn’t enough preparation in the world for what is predetermined to happen. That being said, I wish I would have known that while I was worrying, crying, and sweating, that this too shall pass and I’ll land on both feet soon. I wish I had known that going in because then I believe I would have had tougher skin. Then again, those experiences, that blood, sweat and tears are what gave me a thick coat – a catch 22.

Operation Blossom, which your site talks about as a day for underprivileged young girls to experience pampering and luxury they might not otherwise have an opportunity too, seems especially near and dear to your heart. What prompted this project? How do you see it evolving in the coming years? My YeYe taught us that giving is the ultimate way to receive. I like to think I have a talent, so I plan on using my talent if nothing else to be of service to others. I really haven’t thought of where it’s going as much as I want to make sure it continues to keep going. For the foreseeable future, I just want to focus on being consistent and Que Sera, Sera (whatever will be will be).

The African-American hair care industry, especially as it relates to women, has become something of a battleground over the past few decades with African-American ownership within the industry on what has been a precipitous decline. The move toward more natural hair seems to have potentially stemmed that tide. Is there an ownership renaissance happening in African-American hair care and can the natural hair care movement take credit for it? No, because there really hasn’t been an increase in ownership. However, there has been an increase in nonprofessionals profiting off of the movement. Like anything else that’s hot and popular everyone saw a trend and saw dollar signs. Now you have more people making products, starting blogs, posting Youtube videos that have never even been active in the industry. But because the focus is on natural hair now – everyone is trying to get a piece of the pie cause they figure, “Well my hair is curly – I guess I have some experience enough to talk about it.”

Very rarely do we see African-American owned hair salons grow into multi-city chains, but with natural hair care appearing to be a trend on a continued rise across the country it seems as if the opportunity is there. Do you believe this national scale could happen or are African-American salons not interested in this type of size? I actually have never met a salon owner that says they want a chain of salons. You know why? It’s work! And I don’t mean just work. I mean work work. It’s enough to try to juggle your clients, your stylists, your stylists clients, and the upkeep of one building. To add multiple locations to that dynamic? Whew! I find the reason it’s difficult is because it’s hard to find people (managers and stylists) who are like-minded in terms of how you see the businesses’ vision and as honest as you. You get the feeling that if you want it done correctly, then you have to do it yourself and that’s challenging. Luckily, after years I have found a professional group of ladies who respect this profession just as much as I do. So most salon owners I know are proud to say they are keeping one salon a float. That’s a huge accomplishment in these times.

Outside of the obvious (money) is there anything else you believe is holding back more African-American ownership or growth in natural hair care industry? The industry is no longer professional and those who get into the industry don’t treat this industry as a serious career. Hairstylist use to be looked up to and stylist conducted business like they were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This generation can’t even show up to work on time, are unorganized and don’t feel like they have to work hard, which is why there is not a growth in ownership. However, “Keke” can hook you up in her kitchen sometime on Saturday, when she puts her kids to bed or she will post a how to video on Youtube for you to do it yourself.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I always believed schools are too caught up on books. It’s been proven that black children learn best when they can move around, touch and experience things. That’s why our boys struggle with being still in classrooms, but that’s a whole other story too. I believe every major needs a requirement to go out into the field and witness the work under an owners tutelage. The worst thing they could have done (but by design) was take learning a skill out of high schools. Classes like sewing, cooking, auto shop, and wood shop took away the chance for kids to explore and discover what they are good at. If you throw an aspiring journalist into an office from the start, they may find out it’s not for them.

How do you deal with rejection? I take it and move on. Lesson learned.

When you have down time, how do you like to spend it? What is down time? Where does that exist? Just kidding. I try to travel, I try to make efforts to dance, and I have a non-profit called JLS Events that promotes African dance and drum in Houston and surrounding areas. Lastly, I love to catch up with friends to re-energize my spirit.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? First thing that comes to mind, non- academically, is pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. And taking over the line after mine.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Be true to yourself and be willing to walk your own path even when others may not understand.

The HBCUpreneur Corner™ – Prairie View A&M University’s Marcus King & Hardly Home


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Name: Marcus Lamont King

Alma Mater: Prairie View A&M University – Mechanical Engineering B.S.

Business Name & Description: Hardly Home, LLC. The coolest travel blog, brand and booking agency there is.

What year did you found your company? May 2013

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? The most exciting part of my HBCUpreneur career has been watching the growth of my idea and seeing pictures of people traveling all over the world wearing apparel I’ve created. The support I’ve received from all over has truly been amazing.

What made you want to start your own company? I dreamt I was on vacation in Jamaica and woke up to an alarm and the reality that is was 5am on a Monday morning and time for me to get ready to go to work.

Do you have a favorite travel memory from childhood? Surely exploring Cancun with my brother and parents while on vacation when I was just 5 or 6 years old. It was a blessing to experience a different culture at such a young age and see with my own eyes how beautiful another part of the world is.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? All my friends are people I look up to and have to say they were the most influential people for me during my time in college. They’ve taught me much about myself and are a big part of my success today.

How do you handle complex problems? I always always always, take a step back and look at the big picture to understand what the problem is at its root. I’ve found there’s often many solutions to a problem and it helps for me to start at a point where I can simplify it in logical terms and attack it from there one step at a time.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? I wish I had known earlier in life that I would eventually become an entrepreneur and business owner. I feel as though my whole life I was taught to go to school, make good grades and get a good job. Well, I did that and found I would much rather be the master of my own destiny choosing with how and where and with whom I spend my time, perhaps what I consider my most valuable resource.

Having had this mindset at an earlier age, I would have read and studied more the fields it takes to run a business, such as accounting, marketing, taxes etc.

Only 28 percent of Americans have a passport and the number drops even more significantly among African Americans. How would you spur more passport acquisition by African Americans? It starts by raising awareness in our community, the world that exist at our footsteps and how important and beneficial travel is to one’s own personal development. Many travelers I’ve met have often expressed how much travel has changed their lives for the better and taught them things they could never learn in a classroom.

There is an underuse of America’s national parks by African Americans. Two of the primary attributes to this according to the New York Times is that there is very little African American presence among national park employees and therefore creates a hesitation by African American families engaging and little familiarity with the parks themselves. Aside from those, do you believe there are other reasons our families do not engage the outdoors and national parks specifically? I have to suggest exposure and economic equality as the leading causes for the underuse of America’s national parks by African Americans. Unfortunately, there are also a large number of us who have been raised in broken homes mostly by single hard working mothers in inner cities. I believe it takes a certain level of grit to explore the outdoors and with today’s modern society I don’t believe many of us are raised in environments where we can take advantage of the American outdoors.

There are a lot of different aspects to travel. What are some areas of the travel industry that HBCU students and alumni should be focused on as moving forward that will present opportunity in your opinion?In hindsight I wish I could have had the opportunity to live and study abroad and learn a different language. As a young black male born and raised in the states, it hurts to watch the news and see the systematic injustice continually being done to my people.. I would encourage others to travel internationally and not live inside this box that is America.   Now more than ever, with the internet, we can connect with people at a moment’s instance, clear across the world. The globe is full of opportunity and there are more places to make a living than in the U.S. Get your passports and consider life as an expatriate.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? As mentioned prior, I feel as though I was taught such that obtaining a good job was the end all be all goal. Today, I feel that couldn’t be more false. It would be nice to see professors teach from a perspective that students can take the knowledge they gain in their classrooms and apply it in an entrepreneurial sense.

I believe the lack of black businesses in America is the leading cause for economic disadvantage in our communities and it would be nice to see HBCU’s address this idea in their curriculum.

How do you deal with rejection? Rejection really just adds fuel to my fire and motivates me to keep pushing. You could make a case my self-confidence is through the roof, there isn’t much that I feel I can’t do and so when I’m rejected I instantly mark it as a loss for the person doing the rejecting. I’ve a long list of rejecters and non-supporters I go hard for every single day.

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When you have down time how do you like to spend it? Friends and family without a doubt, I love getting together, playing sports, eating, laughing, dancing and having a good time.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? PV Homecoming without a doubt is the most highly anticipated and epic event I look forward to every year. Outstanding memories, although some blurry, have been made year after year since I began attending Prairie View in 2006. Everyone should attend a PV Homecoming, no questions about it.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Do good and be great! Keep God first, follow your passion and don’t ever give up! Read or listen to the audible version of “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. Let’s also put to rest the notion we do not provide good customer service by providing excellent customer service and make sure you visit HardlyHome.com for all your travel needs.

Peace and Blessings!