Culture

3 Women Founders on Building, Leading, and Supporting Black-Owned Businesses

Black Entrepreneurship Panel speaker profiles
Posted In
Culture
Published
Mar 30, 2021
Written by
Walter Prince
Walter is an Implementation Specialist at Attentive. He spends his logged off hours fostering dogs, searching for the spiciest cuisine, and playing pickup basketball and soccer.
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Startups led by Black women receive less than 1% of venture capital funding. What does it mean to be a part of that statistic, and how do we actively support Black-owned businesses to grow the next generation of Black entrepreneurs?

I recently joined three leaders of Black-owned businesses—Beatrice Dixon, Co-Founder & CEO of The Honey Pot Company; Amanda Johnson, Co-Founder & COO of Mented Cosmetics; and Kimberly Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO of CurlMix—to discuss the importance of entrepreneurship and purchase power in the Black community. Here are some highlights from their conversation.

On serving customers

For Amanda Johnson, Co-Founder & COO of Mented Cosmetics, finding the perfect product came out of informal conversations with her business partner, KJ Miller. Johnson mentioned that she had spent years looking for the perfect nude lipstick—an experience Miller shared.

“That was our light bulb moment,” Johnson said. “We are two deeper-skinned Black women who are beauty enthusiasts and have the discretionary income to purchase products. We were wondering, ‘How is it that this global, billion-dollar industry has left us out?’” They immediately decided to create a solution for women facing the same problem.

After launching CurlMix as a DIY haircare box, Co-Founder & CEO Kimberly Lewis paid close attention to what her customers were ordering. She soon realized that CurlMix’s top-selling product was solving their customers’ need for an exceptional wash-and-go experience. The brand pivoted and launched a four-step wash-and-go-process as their core product.

At first, I was making things that I wanted to see in the market. It’s not about that—it’s about making things that other people need, solving problems for them, and delivering products they want to see in the market.

– Kimberly Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO of CurlMix

On creating an equitable color cosmetics space

Mented Cosmetics is pioneering the color cosmetics industry. The brand is founded on the statement that “nude is a concept, not a color.”

Beauty—specifically, color cosmetics—has traditionally centered on white women. Brands base their product lines on fair-skinned complexions. This disconnect is what drives Mented Cosmetics to create a more fair and equitable beauty industry.

We came into this space saying, ‘But what about me? And what about the millions of women who look like me?’ Half of the world looks more like me than the basis of a white woman, but that’s the world of beauty.

– Amanda Johnson, Co-Founder & COO of Mented Cosmetics

Mented Cosmetics flipped the paradigm and caters to women of color. “Our product development is about bringing in Indian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern women—all kinds of women that look all kinds of ways—that the foundation of beauty doesn’t traditionally represent,” Johnson said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s center you.’”

On getting funded

Black and Latinx women combined only received 0.64% of total venture capital funding raised between 2018 and 2019.

To put that into context: In 2017, Johnson and her co-founder were the 15th and 16th Black women to raise over $1 million in capital publicly. Johnson and Miller were shocked by this headline. This moment intensified the women’s dedication to leaving a new legacy by mentoring the next generation of female founders.

Johnson faced challenges pitching a beauty brand that prioritizes women of color to primarily white men. Knowing that money talks, Johnson leaned into data.

“They were blown away by how much more money Black and Hispanic women spend on beauty products,” Johnson said. “It’s not just because we’re enthusiasts—although yes, we are—but because we have to buy more to mix them to find something that works for us.”

Lewis found that impressive data wasn’t enough to convince investors. In just one year, CurlMix went from making $1 million in online sales to $5 million in online sales. Yet time and time again, investors told her they weren’t sold on the idea.

On creating fundamental change

In February 2020, Target featured The Honey Pot Company in their Black History Month commercial. Soon after, some consumers left a slew of racist reviews on The Honey Pot Company’s products. In response, supporters flocked to Target and bought all of the brand’s products they could find.

“Everyone is beholden to customer demands,” said Johnson. “When there are customers who say: ‘I want this, and I am actively not buying this other thing.’ That’s when things will start to change.”  

Consumers want to feel included. That demand will resonate through the financial chain. Brands will have to respond by building products for these customers. VCs are only going to fund those brands, and retailers will have to stock those products.

– Amanda Johnson, Co-Founder & COO of Mented Cosmetics

Consumers aren’t the only ones responsible for creating demand. “I think everybody needs to play their part—leadership, owners, crowd-funders, and equity investors,” Lewis said. “You need rich people to tell firms, ‘Invest in Black entrepreneurs that you think will return the most money.’ You need leadership to hire Black people because they’ll help make better decisions about how to move companies forward.”

Take me being Black and a woman out of your mind. I’m a human being who’s running a business and knows how to scale it.

– Beatrice Dixon, Co-Founder & CEO of The Honey Pot Company

On supporting Black-Owned Businesses

There are tactical, tangible ways we can immediately create change.  

Voting with your wallet is essential to fighting systemic racism. Purchasing products from Black-owned companies makes it clear there’s a demand for what these businesses are selling. If a product isn’t for you, recommend it to someone you think may like it.

Voting with your dollar says, ‘This company is valuable. This company should grow. I want to see them succeed.’

– Kimberly Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO of CurlMix

Dixon wants consumers and investors to look at Black-owned businesses as businesses. “We don’t need anything other than to be treated like human beings and for our businesses to be looked at as businesses,” Dixon said.

Our color may be Black because that’s what society has called us. Our businesses may be run by women. But at the core, we are companies who are willing to take risks daily and put action behind them.

– Beatrice Dixon, Co-Founder & CEO of The Honey Pot

As consumers and professionals, we have a significant opportunity to change the world we live in—whether you’re purchasing from Black-owned brands or investing in Black entrepreneurs.

Want to hear directly from Dixon, Johnson, and Lewis? Watch the full panel.

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