Apr 18 2022
From developing a vending machine full of beauty supplies to creating a homework-assistance app, here are six BIPOC young entrepreneurs who started their own ventures in recent years…
YPulse’s What’s Next for Work trend research found that being a business owner / entrepreneur is a top dream job for young people, and they’re doing everything they can to make that dream a reality. The New Yorker previously reported that instead of showing off SAT scores, some teen entrepreneurs are making sure college admissions know about the companies they’ve started. However, inequity in the entrepreneurial field means that not everyone is receiving the funding and resources they need to make their businesses thrive. Though our Life Plans, Rewritten trend research found that the majority of Black, Hispanic, and Asian young consumers aspire to be an entrepreneur, the path to self-employment is not easy for them. The Federal Reserve found that while 80.2% of White business owners receive at least a percentage of the funding they request from a bank, just 66.4% of BIPOC business owners do. Meanwhile, a McKinsey report found that, on average, Black entrepreneurs start their companies with just $35,000 in capital, while their White entrepreneur counterparts typically start with $107,000. And in the first half of 2021, Black entrepreneurs received only 1.2% of the $147 in venture capital invested in U.S. start-ups.
Clearly, BIPOC entrepreneurs are facing an uphill battle when trying to get their businesses off the ground. But in recent years, more companies and venture capital firms have turned their focus on investing in Black and BIPOC-owned brands, leading to a surge in brands founded by BIPOC teens and college students, which aim to help those in their respective communities. Here are six BIPOC young entrepreneurs who have launched their own businesses:
Mia Wilson & Rico Ozuna-Harrison’s YOUniversity Beauty Vending Machine
When Mia Wilson and Rico Ozuna-Harrison, both 22, struggled to find beauty supplies near their campus, they connected with other students of color on group messaging apps like GroupMe to talk about the lack of options, and to help each other find barbers and nail technicians in the area. Wilson said she also used to go to nearby cities or drive an hour back to her hometown to stockpile products due to the lack of local options near campus. The collective experience inspired the duo to come up with the YOUniversity Beauty vending machine, which sells hair oils, do-rags, bonnets, hair ties, brushes, and other items their community lacked, all with prices similar to beauty stores. To develop the idea, the two joined their school’s OptiMize’s Social Innovation Challenge, which helped them sculpt their plan and receive a $10,000 grant to launch the venture. The first vending machine was installed on campus in the fall and, earlier this year, Ozuna-Harrison showed it off in a TikTok video.According to Wilson, the two entrepreneurs put a lot of time into developing their business, from setting up an LLC to receiving their sales tax license to surveying students on their campus to gauge what was missing on campus, and drafting an executive business plan. Ozuna-Harrison told Insider: “One thing I really appreciated was that the university supported our idea. As a minority attending a predominantly White institution, I feel like you have to fight to be heard, and it feels like the people we were in contact with were all for it.”
Datreese Thomas’ The Melanie Dolls
Following the death of Breonna Taylor, University of Houston student Datreese Thomas wanted to find a way to honor her memory—and empower Black girls everywhere with a message of self-love. So she started The Melanie Dolls, a collection of Black dolls, including one modeled after Breonna Taylor herself. Thomas launched The Melanie Dolls last year with money saved up from an internship after applying for funding that didn’t come through. And after a TikTok post featuring her product went viral earlier this year, Thomas’s Breonna Taylor doll sold out almost immediately. Currently, the site is taking pre-orders for the Breonna Taylor doll, and the second doll will be inspired and designed after author and civil rights activist Angela Davis. YPulse’s Causes/Charity & Activism report found that two in five Black young consumers want brands to get involved in Black Lives Matter—and a portion of profits from the dolls will go toward Thomas’ nonprofit The Melanin Movement, which aims to financially empower and assist creative talent in Black communities. According to Thomas, she’s glad that people are becoming more aware “of the lack of Black representation in retail,” and in an Instagram post, she wrote that she loved being an entrepreneur and that “life is too short to do things you don’t absolutely love.”
Abbianca Makoni’s AWP Magazine
Last October, 22-year-old journalist Abbianca Makoni, who previously worked for the Evening Standard and The Independent, soft-launched AWP Magazine, an investigative journalism publication that seeks to give a voice to reporters who don’t have formal journalism training and gear those stories toward a younger audience. While the publication has fun, lifestyle pieces about things like dating to appeal to Gen Z and Millennials, it also covers current events and voices from communities across the world through long-form features and deep-dives, including a three-part investigation into the rise of drug use in Zimbabwe, and a docuseries about girls in gangs. Influencers are essential to the magazine’s marketing strategy to maintain engagement with young readers, with YouTube being a “point of focus” for the publication. Recently, travel vlogger Tanaka Travels was featured on AWP Magazine’s channel to talk about mental health. According to Makoni, she wants to “build a loyal community that will open up display advertising and sponsorship opportunities with particular brands as revenue streams,” and is also looking at the possibility of offering affordable subscription models for readers, with a premium option for events and masterclasses.
Devin Green’s Slight Work
With the average cost of coding boot camps often too high for students of color, Devin Green taught himself coding with a combination of manuals downloaded off of iBooks, watched YouTube tutorials, and scrolled through Reddit to teach himself programming languages and so he could develop his own app. Cue Slight Work, which is a homework management app “that helps students lighten their workloads.” It’s especially made for high school and college students who want to manage homework on top of extracurricular activities. To use the app, users can enter their class schedule and label it. From there, each class will be assigned a designated color. Students can add reminders about homework, tests, and school activities so they can stay on top of their tasks and events. Green entered the app into the WWDC20 Swift Student Challenge when he was a student at Stanford University, and was one of the winners that year. He told Newsweek: “When I developed the app in high school, my friends and I struggled to keep track of everything and finish assignments promptly. While I figured I’d use the app to help me get through the rest of high school, I never thought that something I made in my bedroom could help propel me this far forward in college.”
Abinaya Dinesh’s Gastro at Home & Impact AI
Green isn’t the only BIPOC young student who used their self-taught STEM skills to start their own venture. 15-year-old Abinaya Dinesh used Khan Academy and Coursera to teach herself data science and computer programming in order to develop Gastro at Home, an app that “offers people with gastrointestinal disorders a way to access information and resources, especially because those types of conditions can sometimes be sensitive to talk about.” Like Green, she was a winner of the WWDC21 Swift Student Challenge—and she plans on officially launching the app this summer. She also runs Impact AI, a nonprofit that offers events, programs, and resources on artificial intelligence and careers in the field. So far, it has coordinated a hackathon with over 300 attendees and a speaker series featuring 12 panelists. One of the organization’s flagship programs is the four-week Girls in AI program which helps young women learn about the key functionalities and use-cases of artificial intelligence (including machine learning and data science), develop pitches, and hear from experts in the tech industry. YPulse’s Self-Taught trend report found that a quarter of 13-39-year-old BIPOC consumers have researched computer skills in their free time, indicating that more young people of color are taking an interest in the field.
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