As we near the end of what has been traditionally known as Black History Month, it’s a good opportunity to talk about the people shaping Black Futures. The Movement for Black Lives defines Black Futures Month as “a visionary, forward-looking spin on celebrations of Blackness in February… using this time to both consider and celebrate our Black radical history, and to dream and imagine a world in which we are free and self-determined.”
As an impact investor, the very nature of my role is to constantly be evaluating talent — in 2020 alone, my firm Candide Group supported close to $50M of investments into companies and funds. The majority of these are led by women and people of color — with over $20M to Black and Indigenous-led organizations. And yet, as a white woman, I didn’t feel comfortable that I would be the right person to select a best-of list of entrepreneurs who are building Black Futures. So, I asked eight Black experts in their respective fields — entrepreneurs, investors, creatives and activists — to name an entrepreneur they would like to honor for Black Futures Month. From sustainability to culture to business, their list highlights the great diversity of Black contributions to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“I appreciate how she cares about living her values and keeping Black and brown people alive, well and thriving. She is an angel investor and human rights technologist committed to leveraging innovation as a tool to unlock opportunity and dignity for all. She does this through her work in technology, media and investments.
As Chief Executive Officer, Sabrina leads Be Bold Media; a global strategy and innovation agency that works with companies and organizations on strategic transformation initiatives, scaling teams, global growth, policy innovation and movement-building. The agency leads award-winning innovative work building digital, technology and media for healthcare, press freedom, humanitarian relief and refugee services and produces the Movement Security Summit, a digital security summit for movement technologists. She organizes The People’s Iftar, a campaign to gather community and raise funds for grassroots organizations serving Muslim communities and Rights x Tech, a forum for technologists and activists.
She’s also been phenomenal about uplifting women in tech as founder of the Bold Prize, and outspoken about, recent clear incidents of discrimination against Black women in tech. She was the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at New Media Ventures, a venture firm supporting a portfolio of entrepreneurs tackling the biggest challenges facing democracy today. Sabrina is also the founder of Survivor Fund, a political fund focused on championing the rights of survivors of sexual violence and building political power for survivors.”
2. Stefanie Thomas, Investor at Impact America Fund, named Ashley Edwards, CEO & Founder of MindRight Health –– a culturally sensitive, trauma-informed text based mental health support platform for low-income youth of color.
“Ashley Edwards is charting a path for the future of Black teens by empowering them to prioritize their mental health through her digital coaching service. The idea for her text messaging company was sparked when Ashley realized the great need for it while working as an administrator for Newark Public Schools. Often filling the void of mental and emotional support for her students, Ashely soon became motivated to take up computer programming night classes and to eventually leave the education field in order to pursue an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and begin building what is now MindRight Health. In 2018, Forbes recognized Ashley in its prestigious 30 Under 30 List and, by 2020, she became the first Black woman from New Jersey to raise $1 million dollars in venture funding, 35th nationally.”
3. Charlese Antionette is one of the nation’s top costume designers, recently showcasing her skills as lead designer for Judas and the Black Messiah. She is also the founder of the Black Designer Database. Her pick: Aaron Clanton, founder of 9toFive.
“Started in Brooklyn by CEO Aaron Clanton, 9tofive is revolutionizing the way you buy suits. Their mission is to make the suit buying experience convenient and uncomplicated. With a network of tailors servicing customers in their own neighborhoods, 9tofive makes getting suit measurements, size alterations, dry cleaning, and making returns local and easy.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Clanton pivoted 9tofive from suit making to producing face masks, and in Spring 2020, he started the Buy One Give One Program. With the purchase of one of their designer masks, 9tofive makes a donation to essential workers at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx or The Equal Justice Initiative. In late Spring, Clanton shifted focus to PPE supplies and launched 9tofive Supply, which was awarded over $1,000,000 in government and hospital contracts.
2021 has brought a new focus to 9tofive, and the company is setting their eye on retail space. ‘We are making the bet that the post-pandemic future of retail will be local, and to that end, we are doubling down and expanding the 9tofive tailor network’ says Clanton. Today 9tofive has 50 tailor locations in markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Nashville, and Omaha with an ambitious aim to have 500 locations by the year’s end.
Next up for 9tofive: Clanton aims to open his innovative platform to other brands. This means a client in Nebraska can go to his local tailor and be fitted for a fashion company that operates anywhere in the world. Through these cutting-edge partnerships, 9tofive is creating a new way of shopping that meets the needs of people today. Clanton is elevating the way we shop to incorporate local, in-person connection while making online shopping stress free and accessible.”
4. Marlon Nichols, Founding Partner at CrossCulture Ventures and MaC Venture Capital, named Zuleyka Strasner, founder of Zero Grocery.
“Zuleyka Strasner is the Founder and CEO of the world’s first zero waste online grocery store. Zero Grocery has been able to offer the same SKUs that are found on other online grocery platforms, in most cases at lower prices, while eliminating the need for packaging that cannot be reused. They are essentially reducing the negative effects that food packaging has on the health of the planet without sacrificing selection or quality of service. “ Zuleyka is one of those rare founders that have equal parts of passion for what they’re building, charisma to attract and retain top talent, deep knowledge of their industry, and tenacity to see the vision through. I have no doubt that Zero will become a multi-billion dollar company that positively affects our planet in a significant way.”
5. Shimite Obialo, founder of the Suites, a business community for executives and entrepreneurs of color, named Tai Beauchamp, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of BROWN GIRL Jane.
“Tai Beauchamp is a TV host, producer and serial entrepreneur and is Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of BROWN GIRL Jane, a luxury, plant-based wellness collection centering the needs of dynamic women of color. Tai’s work ethic, positivity and passion is an inspiration to all, and at BROWN GIRL Jane, she has spearheaded unprecedented partnerships with Unilever’s Sundial Brands and Birchbox which have garnered more than 2 billion media impressions. Together with co-founders and sisters Malaika and Nia Jones, the BROWN GIRL Jane collection harnesses the power of Broad-Spectrum CBD and other plant-based magic and was recently awarded the coveted Refinery29 2020 Innovator of the Year Award.”
6. Stacey Walker King, Chief Brand Officer of MACRO, named Eunique Jones Gibson, founder of Because of Them We Can and #CultureTags.
“Eunique Jones Gibson is a creative powerhouse for good. She develops award-winning campaigns and products that ignite conversation, introspection & social change. In 2013, after a successful career in online advertising, Eunique launched Because of Them We Can®, a multimedia platform that reaches millions of people monthly with content that amplifies positive Black news. Her mission to celebrate culture and community extends beyond the Internet. In 2018, Eunique opened a physical space for like-minded individuals to build their dreams and their village called, Dream Village. And in February of 2020 she took another leap for the culture with her latest product, #CultureTags, a spirited game for people who love hashtags and the culture. Less than one year after launching the game was made available in Target
7. Jewel Burks Solomon, Managing Partner at Collab Capital named Tracey Pickett, founder of Hairbrella, the reinvented rain hat.
“Tracey Pickett is a former IP attorney and current founder of Hairbrella. She invented Hairbrella to solve the problem of protecting hair from the elements. In the midst of the global pandemic, she continued to innovate to meet the needs of customers, launching the Hairbrella Pro, protective head covering with an extended visor that can serve as a face shield. The product has proven to be the perfect accessory for essential workers everywhere.”
8. Adenah Bayoh, Co-Founder of Cornbread, named Eda Henries, Founder and Principal of Henries & Co.
“She’s essentially an ‘entrepreneur’s entrepreneur’ in helping others thrive. Her work is grounded in the belief that broad and responsible financial inclusion is the cornerstone of just and vibrant societies.
Eda has 15+ years of entrepreneurial, advisory and investment experience in the U.S. and Africa and is the founder of a boutique financial services firm that provides mission critical capital advisory and financial management services to small and emerging privately held companies.. While building Henries & Co., Eda has served as Chief Financial Officer of Cornbread Farm to Soul, a venture-backed, multi-unit fast casual concept with locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Her past roles include Principal at an early stage investment firm, Vice President in Citigroup’s
I admire Eda’s lifelong commitment to public service and volunteerism. She is a mentor to teens, startup advisor, angel investor and a board member of the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society. During the coronavirus pandemic, Eda was Founder and Volunteer Coordinator of Covid19BizRelief, a volunteer group that directly helped over 150 (mostly minority and women-owned) small businesses across the U.S. access federal, state and local emergency relief programs. Her work and insights were highlighted in Forbes and The Washington Post and she contributed to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s research on the disproportionate distribution of small business pandemic relief.”
Thanks to Jasmine Rashid for her contributions to this piece. Full disclosures related to my work available here. This post does not constitute investment, tax, or legal advice, and the author is not responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided herein.