How These Black Founders Are Building Startups Without Investors


Research shows that black founders face disproportionate barriers to funding despite enormous economic potential. But here’s how several are pushing ahead.

As a woman of color, Janine Truitt was intrigued when she met an investor last winter whose “whole schtick” was to help underrepresented minorities raise money for their companies. But she was skeptical.

The owner of Talent Think Innovations, a consulting firm she founded in 2013, Truitt had bootstrapped her business and wasn’t initially convinced that venture capital was the best way to grow it. “I was thinking about my business as a legacy that I would build and pass down,” she tells Fast Company, “and that is not something investors love. They want to know if it’s a solid idea, [that] there’s a need for it in the market, and how quickly you can get out of it and pay [them].”

Many black and Latinx entrepreneurs feel more congenial about venture capital than Truitt does, but most have disproportionate trouble accessing it all the same. Those who struggle to get funded typically need to find other ways to innovate and grow. Here’s how.


Women entrepreneurs launched some 3.5 million new businesses over the past decade, according to the most recent “State of Women-Owned Businesses” report, with as many as 78% of them owned by women of color. By 2016, an estimated 1.9 million firms owned by black women employed some 376,500 workers, generating $51.4 billion in revenue.

Yet despite all this combined economic clout, venture capitalists have largely stayed away. A 2014 Babson College study found that most women-led businesses have been funded by the founder herself or by friends and family. Only 4% of women-owned businesses and 13% of minority-owned businesses received VC funding last year. Part of the reason is that less than 3% of VC funds have black and Latinx investment partners, according to analysis by Social + Capital.

Despite these long odds and her own reservations, Truitt knew how helpful investor backing might be for getting the tech solution she was working on off the ground–a multi-sensory platform for jobseekers with disabilities–around the time she met the equity-minded investor. So after a little encouragement, Truitt pitched her product. Impressed, the investor team offered her another meeting, so she spent the month of December hiring and leading a team of developers to build out the product, then sent off schematics for feedback.

Shortly after New Year’s, Truitt says she received an email from one of the partners saying they’d need to see the technology gain at least six months of traction in the market before deciding whether to invest. He also asked if she’d thought more about their earlier suggestion that she turn the business into a nonprofit. That wasn’t a route Truitt was initially planning to pursue, although she was open to it. Nevertheless, she’d wished their interest in investing in nonprofits had come out on the table earlier. “[My product] was always a solid idea,” she maintains, adding, “They may have the money, but it’s a partnership.”

The VC firm granted Truitt another meeting, but she hasn’t heard anything since. “I am just moving forward on my own,” she says.

Continue onto FastCompany to read the complete article.

New Doctors Break Barriers in Engineering

Women Engineering Graduates

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), minority women comprise fewer than 1 in 10 scientists and engineers in the United States. Studies from researchers around the world reveal that one antidote to this disparity is to ensure there are more role models in underrepresented communities.

Three Florida A&M University (FAMU) female doctoral students, who are also best friends, recently received their doctorates in engineering. They endured setbacks, including the loss of a classmate, and overcame financial hurdles to ensure that they join the next generation of engineering leaders who will help close that gap.

On April 29, Miami native and Fulbright Scholar Renee Gordon, pictured left, received her doctorate of philosophy in mechanical engineering; Miami Beach native and Winifred Burks-Houck Professional Leadership awardee Shannon Anderson, pictured right, received her doctorate of philosophy in civil engineering, with a concentration in environmental engineering; and Birmingham, Alabama, native and NSF International Research Experiences grantee Marcella Carnes received her doctorate of philosophy in civil engineering with a concentration in structures.

Each earned their doctorate degrees under the guidance of FAMU’s School of Graduate Studies and Research and through support as participants in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Title III Funding Program. They are considering next steps, including job offers and research opportunities. In the meantime, Gordon and Anderson will spend the summer teaching and helping to recruit the next generation of engineering students, while Carnes prepares for her wedding.

“We realize that we’re breaking barriers when it comes to minorities and also women in STEM fields,” Gordon said. “I feel like it’s really important for our young Black and Brown boys and girls to know that they can aspire to be whatever they want to be, including engineers.”

Carnes added, “I feel proud to be an African-American woman in the STEM fields. There’s not that many of us (women). We’ve been challenged because STEM is male dominated, (but) we are examples of the things that you can set your mind toward and finish. We are no longer ‘Hidden Figures.’ We have definitely been revealed.”

In addition to inspiring the next generation to break barriers, the trio wants to encourage them to pursue careers that will improve our way of life. They say the best place to develop a career that makes a difference is at FAMU.

“Not only did we receive the financial support, but we also received emotional support; we received the bond that we share in this community and a family that’s striving to achieve the same goal. We have a shoulder to lean on when we feel like we can’t move on,” said Carnes, who also enjoyed unique opportunities when she studied abroad in Poland as a part of a program that allowed her to study civil engineering at campuses in four countries.

“FAMU’s programs have been a tremendous help in assisting us both academically and professionally. The faculty and staff have been amazing,” Gordon said.

Anderson, who completed two engineering fellowships in California, including the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium Summer Fellowship at the University of California, explained how her experience at FAMU empowered her to embrace her culture and who she is as a scholar.

“The most important thing that FAMU has taught me is confidence in myself. My education process from middle school all the way up to my bachelor’s was at predominantly white institutions where I felt like the odd one out in honors classes, gifted classes and advanced placement classes,” she said. “At FAMU, I felt like ‘I am actually supposed to be here,’ and everyone is on equal footing, not just skin color-wise but also education-wise.”

The women agree that confidence helped the trio work through system crashes, equipment failure, multiple trials and errors, and even with overcoming tragedy, as they all worked toward the finish line of their education.

In 2014, they suddenly lost colleague Tarra M. Beach, an environmental engineering doctoral candidate. She passed away before she received her doctorate. Her goal was to “contribute to the sustainability of the environment and work on STEM education with underrepresented children.”

“She would have been the first woman to graduate with her engineering Ph.D., from the Title III program at FAMU. So, we were next in line to just follow her example, her dedication, her passion and drive,” Anderson said.

Beach’s legacy helped motivate the young women to complete their goals.

Gordon explained the loss of Beach and earning a degree in a field where women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented taught her and her friends the lesson of a lifetime: Nothing is impossible when you persevere.

“It was tough, but we had each other. We stayed connected. Just keep on going. Be determined. Be persistent,” Gordon said.

Photo Credit: Adam VL Taylor/FAMU

One of The Largest Black-Owned Airlines Is Being Run By A Savvy 29 Year-Old Woman


You may not have known that there are black-owned airlines, but guess again. Sherrexcia ‘Rexy’ Rolle is the Vice President of Operations and General Counsel for Western Air, a Bahamas-based black-owned aviation business. Although the company was founded by her parents Rex and Shandrice Rolle, Rexy has led the charge in expanding her family’s privately-owned business which has been in existence for approximately two decades. With a net worth of $90+ million, Western Airlines has been steadily increasing its routes across the Caribbean, including direct flights to Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and soon Florida. In this interview, Rexy describes how Western Air came to be and shares advice on how to make it in the aviation industry as a person of color.

Let’s get into the history of Western Air. What prompted your family to delve into the business of aviation?

Rexy: My parents were very young and just started out their lives when they had me. My mom was 17 and my Dad was 18,  just beginning his career as a pilot. We are from a small town called Mastic Point, Andros in the Bahamas. My father started his career in the aviation industry as a private pilot by trade, however, owning his own airlines and developing it in the Bahamas was a lifelong dream of his. My parents worked tirelessly and persevered in developing this business by saving their money and doing their research with various aircraft brokers. My parents were eventually fortunate enough through faith, their persistence and dedication in their business plan to [receive offers] from two aviation investors from the U.S. From that moment moving forward, Western Air Limited was a dream that is now a reality.

Developing an airline is a lucrative but very competitive industry. What were the market gaps that your family wanted to bridge when developing Western Air Ltd.?

Rexy: With any business, it is all about knowing your industry and what particular problem you are solving for the consumer. In the Bahamas, there are over 700 islands and many Bahamians usually take small charter ferries as transportation to the other islands. Even though we have a very efficient government airline in the Bahamas, there were certain islands that were not being targeted for our consumers to have a convenient way to travel. This is where our airline comes in and once we recognized those gaps in the market, we were able to convince our investors why our airline is needed.

Continue onto Bauce to read the complete interview.

This Simple Exercise Will Help You Make Better First Impressions

Making good firt impressions

Like it or not, the world’s built on first impressions. People’s perceptions of you—how much they remember or pay attention to you, whether they’re engaged by you, whether they’ll have or even want another conversation with you, what they’ll tell others about you, and why they may seek you out in the future—are all based on their initial encounter with you.

And knowing what kind of first impression you make involves a little self-awareness. But obviously, being self-aware doesn’t magically occur overnight. It requires you to understand the ways you shine and the ways you suck. You have to know your pitfalls and shortcomings. (We’re sure you don’t have many, but we all have things we can work on.) It’s worth taking the time to become though. Because when you’re self-aware, you learn to play to your strengths and minimize or eliminate your weaknesses.

This takes practice, of course. So, that’s why we suggest people start by taking inventory—as in make a list, check it more than twice, and write down your answers on a piece of paper. When you’re forced to write it down, you’re forced to be truthful with yourself.

This is for your eyes only (unless you want to share it with someone else), so we encourage you to be honest. By looking into yourself, you can determine what needs adjustment, what calls for just a little tweaking, and what works in your favor:

-Do you understand the concept of personal space?
-Do you exude confidence or arrogance?
-Are you a listener or a talker?
-Do your words carry weight or air?
-Are you a good public speaker, or are you better online?
-Are you comfortable walking up to a stranger and striking up a conversation, or would that give you a panic attack?
-How do others really see you upon first contact?
-What sorts of things are you really bad at when it comes to meeting with people?
-Do you need help getting organized?
-Are you a good decision maker?
-Do you take time getting back to people?
-Do you hate conversations that aren’t about your interests or matters of importance to you?
-Do you like small talk?
-Are you naturally inquisitive or close-minded?
-Have you ever changed your position on a deeply held belief?
-Do you lie? If so, why? Is it because you want to feel self-important or because you feel like you need to keep up and fit in?
-Finally, are you okay with what you’ve learned about yourself? Is there anything that bears correction?

So, now what?

Well, we’ve done this ourselves, by the way. And what we learned has helped us immensely in our own lives.

Scott, for example, often makes business decisions in the moment, but sometimes that’s been a negative in his life. Earlier in his career, acting quickly on introducing people backfired. He skipped critical thinking steps that could have avoided burning bridges or turning people off. After doing this inventory and realizing this, he’s changed the way he makes decisions. While he still makes business decisions daily, he rarely acts impulsively anymore.

Ryan, on the other hand, is a better listener than talker in group situations. This can be a strength and also a weakness, especially when more outgoing people are involved in a group conversation and his instinct is to take the backseat and let them tell their stories. “It’s great to be a good listener, but difficult for me to make an impression and drive the conversation in these situations,” he says. To compensate, he often carves out one-on-one time with the people who matter to him. Sharing a cup of coffee at a cozy café is probably more valuable than an open bar at a group networking event.

Try this exercise out for yourself and use it as a jumping off point to decide in what situations you shine, and in which situations you might not. The more you understand about yourself, the easier it’ll be for you to create those powerful connections and become a superconnector.

Originally posted on The Muse

What to wear to work

Work Attire

For six months, Edward Rangel excelled as a waiter at a Red Robin in Bellevue, Washington. Customers and supervisors might occasionally notice the small religious inscriptions he had tattooed around his wrists, but no one complained about them, and they didn’t interfere with his duties serving food.

Then a new manager started at the franchise. Displeased by the tattoos, the boss told Rangel to conceal the ink, citing company policy. Rangel explained his belief that covering the tattoos violated his Kemetic faith and asked the company to accomodate his religion. Management refused to make an exception on the grounds that changing its dress code policy would undermine its “wholesome image.” So Rangel was fired.

That’s when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stepped in, filing a suit to defend Rangel’s right to an accomodation. Red Robin eventually agreed to settle the case, paying Rangel $150,000 and making policy changes to protect the rights of other employees.

Choosing work attire poses a perennial puzzle. Companies often have both explicit dress code policies and unspoken rules about the unofficial office dress code, but as Rangel’s story demonstrates, those rules can’t infringe on workers’ rights. And just because an outfit is allowed at the office doesn’t necessarily mean it will make a good impression on your boss or clients.

What’s legal at work?

Companies are legally allowed to implement and enforce a dress code as long as it is reasonable and tied to a legitimate business purpose, says J.J. Conway, an attorney who specializes in employment law.

What’s appropriate for the office?

Choosing appropriate work attire depends on your industry, company and specific job function. The key consideration? “Dressing for your audience,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach.

People who work in creative fields, like media, advertising, entertainment or cosmetology, may have more freedom to express their personalities in their clothing, Whitmore says. In those careers, bright colors, funky accessories and innovative hairstyles may be acceptable or even expected.

Conversely, employees in conservative fields like wealth management or a government agency often must dress more formally, sometimes in suits.

No matter your general industry, your company will likely have written or unwritten corporate culture rules for what to wear to work. Figuring out what’s acceptable may take research and a bit of inference. When you first go into an office for a job interview, make sure to look at what your interviewer and the other employees are wearing and take mental notes.

After you’re hired, if your workplace lacks a written dress code policy, or if you want more clarification, it’s best simply to inquire with the human resources department, says Edward Yost, manager of employee relations and development at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Ask the questions rather than blindly roll the dice and send the wrong message,” he says.

Even if your company has a general set of guidelines, what you should wear depends on your particular job responsibilities. People who work in customer service jobs, for example, should dress for the comfort of their clients and in ways that project competence, Whitmore says.

Regardless of the particulars of your company dress code or office culture, office clothes should fit well, be clean and cover what children call “private parts.”

“Presentation is the most important,” says Bridgette Raes, personal stylist and author. “No matter what you’re wearing, make sure it’s in good shape, well cared for and you look groomed.”

What is business casual attire?

Many office environments call for business professional or business casual attire. That typically means slacks, khaki pants or modest skirts or dresses; cardigans, blouses or button-down collared shirts; and closed-toe dress shoes. Raes suggests putting thought into work bags, too: “Don’t take the same grubby backpack you carried all over your college campus.”

In terms of what not to wear, it’s important not to distract others with your outfits, Raes says. “You want to make sure you’re standing out for the right reasons,” not because your clothes call attention to you, she explains.

There are two universal “don’ts” for how to dress business casual: no shorts and no flip flops. Beyond that, Raes advises against casual sandals, sweatshirts, any type of “athleisure” wear and clothing that is distressed or ripped. Outfits that are too revealing are not appropriate for the office.

Dress for the job you want

It may sound trite, but experts agree that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Taking clothing cues from your boss could help you attain his or her position in the future.

You never want your manager to question your professional capabilities because of your outfits. Supervisors sometimes have to “fight the stereotype or that silent judgment that’s been formulated” because of what a worker wears, Yost says. “People who don’t work with the individual on a day-to-day basis may see the tattoos, piercings, vintage clothing that’s not your standard business casual, and when they’re up for a promotion, the question will come: ‘How serious are they?'”

This also means to think carefully about what to wear to an interview. It’s important to dress to impress when you’re hoping to get hired, so even if the company usually follows a business casual dress code, consider donning formal business attire. For example, after a period of job seeking, one of Raes’ clients changed the outfit she wore during interviews and saw immediate results: She received three job offers in one week.

The lesson? “When we change how we present ourselves, we send our message more effectively,” Raes says.

What happens if you violate the dress code?

If you had to wear a uniform in school, you’re probably familiar with the impulse to disobey the dress code. And although your boss probably won’t make you stand up in front of your co-workers while she measures the length of your hem, employers may take punitive action against workers who repeatedly violate the office dress code.

There’s usually a “progressive discipline process,” Yost says, meaning that a manager or HR representative may treat a first-time violation as a learning opportunity: “We’re not going to send you home today, but going forward, we would prefer you not wear jeans with rips and holes in them.”

If someone continually flouts the rules, an employer might send him or her home and dock pay. And if the problem continues, the employee may be fired.

What’s appropriate for the office gym?

Office gyms are popular perks, but they are also landmine fields when it comes to clothing. Employees who work out at the company gym should remember that they’ll likely run into their co-workers while putting in miles on the treadmill or lifting weights. Avoid wearing T-shirts with offensive slogans or outfits that are excessively revealing, Raes recommends: “You’re still in the workplace; this is not personal time.”

What’s appropriate for the office holiday party?

Similarly, treat your office holiday party as a work experience that requires appropriate dress. Your boss will take note if you wear anything too revealing or silly.

“You want to continue to send a professional and positive message,” Yost says. “People make silent judgments all the time. They’re not going to come up and tell you, ‘That tie you wore was stupid and I lost a lot of respect for you,’ but it still may be happening in their minds.”

On Halloween, if your workplace permits employees to wear costumes, keep yours reasonable.

What about tattoos and piercings?

Attitudes toward tattoos in the workplace and piercings in the workplace have changed in the past few decades, but not every employer will be happy to see them, Yost says.

“[Tattoos] are generally more accepted than they would have been 10 or 15 years ago,” he says. “However, there are going to be some ‘family-run’ environments, or ‘family-friendly’ environments who may be a little more rigid: ‘Sure you can have your tattoos, but we’re going to ask you to keep them covered while at work.'”

If you’re wondering how to cover up tattoos for work, Yost recommends long-sleeved shirts, strategically placed Band-Aids or applying foundation makeup that’s the same color as your skin tone.

Continue on to to read the complete article.

6 Pieces of Career Change Advice You’ll Regret Ignoring


Have you reached a point in your career where the thought of continuing the same work for the rest of your life is more frightening than the thought of starting something new? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone!

It’s time to seriously consider that career change you’ve been fantasizing about. Many have gone before you and felt the same concern you’re feeling. But they overcame the obstacles and never looked back. We asked a few of these pioneers to share their best career change advice. Keep reading and prepare to be empowered.

Words of wisdom from successful career changers:

1 Your age is only a number.

“It is never too late to explore another career,” says Nancy Irwin, who made the leap from stand-up comedy to psychology at age 44. Her decision was spurred by her volunteer work at a shelter for sexually abused teenagers. “It woke the healer in me and prompted me to return to school,” she recalls.

Irwin is now a doctor of psychology and the author of You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife. When people asked her exactly how old she would be when she finally entered the workforce in her new career, she answered, “Exactly the same age I’ll be if I don’t!” She encourages anyone considering a career change to ignore the inevitable nay-sayers and adds that in some careers, like psychology, your age is actually an asset.

2 Do your homework.

Making a drastic change doesn’t mean you have to proceed recklessly. Any potential new career should be thoroughly researched, according to life coach Tom Casano. You can learn a lot from a little research. Do you need more school or a different degree, certification, or experience? Casano’s own career path transitioned from music to finance, before finally launching his company Life Coach Spotter. His experience taught him to do a test drive with the new career before diving in headfirst.

“Shadow someone, go to his or her work environment and see how you like it. See if you can intern for a few weeks,” he advises. Even if you can’t commit many hours to investigation while holding your current job, he believes coordinating with someone in your desired new field and visiting his or her workplace for an afternoon is worth the effort. Since you spend so much of your life in a job, it’s important to be sure it’s something you enjoy.

3 Be open-minded.

Marisol Hernandez changed from a career in mechanical engineering to one of entrepreneurship. She recalls attending a presentation about careers in which they said the average person will change careers seven times. The thought seemed absurd to her at the time, but it stuck with her until she eventually took a leap of faith and started her own window fashion company, Exciting Windows.

Hernandez’s best piece of advice is to always keep an open mind. “Realize that doing what you love might come in different ways and not be limited to the field you graduated from,” she says. She advises others to strive to make their career a piece of a larger goal to lead a satisfying life.

4 Develop a skills-based resume.

One of the barriers with a career change is representing to potential employers that you possess the skills they’re seeking. Vern May worked as a professional wrestler for years under the name of Vance Nevada before an injury forced him to look elsewhere. His background in wrestling was so unique that employers couldn’t reconcile his past experience with the job he applied for.

“I applied for more than 40 jobs and didn’t get a single interview until I took the emphasis off my work history and developed a skills-based resume,” May says. He realized that the marketing, writing and administration abilities he developed while balancing many different jobs over time was a more marketable way to promote himself as a professional. Just three weeks after giving his resume a makeover, he found employment in economic development.

May suggests tailoring your resume to highlight the skills you have that will most benefit the organization for which you’re applying.

5 Make a detailed game plan.

Gregory Cumberford went from electrical engineer to dentist when he realized he wanted to be in a career that helped people. Since the industry of electrical engineering is quite different from that of dentistry, he made a detailed plan of attack for his career change.

“I put down a spreadsheet of all the requirements and goals. Then I broke the tasks down into small, manageable steps,” he explains. Start with your big-picture goals and whittle each part down until you have a step-by-step strategy to accomplish it. This helps change your mindset from viewing it as a big obstacle to viewing it as a progression of steps.

Cumberford believes careful planning and hard work are the most important aspects of reaching your goal, along with believing in yourself. After hearing people try to dissuade him from making his career change, he decided to adjust his language. “I stopped saying I’m trying to go to dental school. I told people, I am going to dental school.”

6 Master the art of communication.

No matter what field you plan on transitioning into, strong communication is a must, according to Hernandez. “Communicating and learning to sell yourself are key in any career you are in,” she says. This applies both vertically and laterally. You want to be able to represent yourself to employers, but strong communicators can also make use of networking to achieve their goals and gain support in a career change.

Hernandez joined an association of business owners to gain mentors and resources during her entrepreneurial venture.

If you don’t know anyone in the field you are breaking into, Casano recommends reaching out via LinkedIn and asking people about their jobs. It never hurts to ask, and you might forge a useful connection down the road.

Author:  Brianna Flavin

About the Author
Brianna Flavin is a freelance writer for Collegis Education and writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry in 2014 and looks for any opportunity to write, teach, or talk about the power of effective communication.


“America’s Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities” Announced


Today, OMNIKAL announced “America’s Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities”,  known as the “Omni50.”

The Omni50 represent the top 50 U.S. organizations who are awarding the most business to the growing culturally diverse marketplace. These same organizations are also successfully appealing to the growing millennial generation, which, by 2020, will be the largest diverse market segment in America (a market segment that is forcing brands to evolve from minority/diversity paradigms to inclusion).

Apple Inc. was named the #1 Organization for Multicultural Business Opportunities in the United States. Other companies at the top of the winners list include: Walmart Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation,AT&T Inc., IBM, The Coca-Cola Company, Bank of America, Raytheon Company, Verizon, General Motors Company, Time Warner Inc., PepsiCo Inc., United Parcel Service, Cisco Systems, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, Altria Group and The Kroger Company.

Who are the Omni50?

The Omni50 represents the voice of OMNIKAL’s 2,100,000 members. The list is circulated by over 1000 organizations, which reaches millions of consumers every year. Since 1999, it has become a highly valued metric of excellence in reaching the diverse and inclusive majority marketplace.

The Omni50 Awards is the most recognized honor for diversity and inclusion in the country.  These award-winning companies truly differentiate themselves in the marketplace in a time when inclusion has become one of the most important goals of every organization. It is also at a time when public recognition is key to ongoing financial, ethical, social and cultural success.

“The inclusion practices of the “Omni50” Awardees have changed the course of our current economy and as a result, the world as we know it” said Kenton Clarke, CEO of OMNIKAL. “The changing multicultural and multi-generational landscape of our country has demanded this evolution. OMNIKAL is proud to have been a force in the business world for such positive change. Our mission and goal is to equalize, broaden and level the playing field for both brands and an increasingly varied vendor/supplier marketplace.”

Top Honors for Top Organizations Who Do the Right Thing

Most “top” lists honor companies for traditional economic growth, shareholder returns and similar metrics; however, the Omni50 awards are an indicator of which organizations provide the best business opportunities to the increasingly inclusive majority marketplace. This, in turn, influences more organizations, as they compete for market share in multicultural and multigenerational communities.

The Business Power of Inclusion

As the culturally diverse market gains more buying power, corporations have to focus their efforts on rebranding and reorganizing to avoid losing market share and to remain current and relevant.

The Omni50 list has therefore become the most critical guide for businesses as well as consumers. “As a business owner, I appreciate the business we receive from corporate buyers; and in turn, when I buy either personally or for my company, I am more likely to buy from the same companies that support my business or are supporting businesses like mine,” said Kathy Steele, principle of Red Caffeine headquartered in Elmhurst, Illinois.


OMNIKAL was founded in 1999. Now the Nation’s largest inclusive business organization, OMNIKAL promotes entrepreneurship and the belief that entrepreneurs create real world solutions to today’s business and economic challenges. By fostering deeper and broader collaboration between business owners and entrepreneurial support organizations, the OMNIKAL network fuels healthier ecosystems through job creation, professional development and drives innovation resulting in strong economic growth.


Click here to see the full list of companies

Black Accessory Designers Alliance Fashion Week Pop Up Soiree-Wrap Up


New York, NY – On Monday, February 12, 2018, the Black Accessory Designers Alliance™ (BADA) presented the designs of several accessory designers at their bi-annual New York Fashion Week Pop Up Soirée. The event, established nearly three years ago to raise the visibility and celebrate the creativity of talented, yet undiscovered artisans of color, was held at The LGBT Center at 208 West 11 Street in the Lerner Auditorium.

The organization hopes to not just capitalize on the media presence during New York Fashion Week, but to generate excitement with communities that are not necessarily invited to some of the exclusive shows by the industry’s top designers. “This is our way to democratize this week long tradition and be more inclusive,” admits the organization’s co-founder Wilbur Pack, Jr. Velvet Lattimore, the owner of Vedazzling Accessories Boutique in DUMBO, Brooklyn and co-founder of BADA agrees, “It’s thrilling to be an agent for positive change. A majority of our participants are accessory businesses owned by women and that makes for a real sisterhood, too. With BADA and Vedazzling Accessories, I am able to introduce their work to the buying public and press.”

Ursallie Smith, the interior design dynamo behind Rococo Design Interiors and the mastermind behind Pillow Throw and Tuck™ broadened her home décor focus this season. The designer, known for her luxe use of fabrics, also presented a series of reversible outwear vests crafted out of Mongolian lamb fur that coordinated with her patented decorative pillow designs. Smith demonstrated just how closely related apparel and home décor really are. You can shop her line at Vedazzling Accessories Boutique or on the website

Keena Driver, the designer of Urban Turban, knew she was onto something when she established her brand of “crowns” in 2016. The goddess had been complimented by women of all ages and ethnicities for her dazzling headwear and realized that beyond beauty, her crowns fostered a sense of sisterhood and love. The designer reveals that her inspiration is women, like her, who refuse to conform to society’s standards of beauty. “We are ALL queens and EVERY queen deserves a crown.” At the pop up, the designer gave techniques on how you can crown yourself using Urban Turban. Visit to get fit with your crown.

Markisha Velazquez is the designer of Junior Baby Hatter, a new American heritage brand that specializes in handcrafting Tiny Caps for Tiny Chaps. Markisha’s collection of vintage inspired caps makes classic style easy and accessible to the modern family. Since launching in 2014, Junior Baby Hatter’s signature matching father & son hat sets have appeared on: Humans of New York “Today in Microfashion”, “Baby Must-Haves” on Mornings on FOX 58, and have been featured multiple times in Little Hoboken Blog. Markisha has also been featured in Forbes and guest blogs on Maker’s Row where she shares her secrets to other fashion startups of how to maximize brand exposure on a small budget. Find the perfect accessory for a little gentleman’s wardrobe at

With her eponymous line of covetable hats, Lisa McFadden’s mission is to offer dimensions of custom craftsmanship to the fashion ready to wear environment. Ms. McFadden’s millinery confections and capsule collections fuse vintage inspiration perfectly with contemporary style creating hats that will compliment your individuality. Namely, her popular and versatile “CRUSH” styles proved to be of great interest to attendees of the Pop Up Soirée who were drawn to the colorful display of textures and silhouettes. For more, visit her website or contact her at

N’tasha is the newest goddess in a group of first name only powerful women, like Beyoncé and Cher, using her creativity to bring joy and beauty to the world. Her handcrafted jewelry line, House of Kaluaah, is comprised of bold earrings and necklaces the designer describes as “extravagantly gaudy, futuristic, and urban unique”. With her cascading white mane like the Marvel Comics® heroine, Storm, this New Jersey native is a force to be reckoned with. N’tasha’s design mantra is, “Be unique, be you, and you shall outshine the rest.” Her fantastic African and Middle Eastern motifs, metallics, and bright colors were an attention grabber. You can visit her company’s website 7wondersofeleven. to shop more of her singular styles.

Kay Makishi is the mastermind behind Little Bamboo Dress, an innovative, ecologically friendly system of dressing. LBD is comprised of timeless, functional, chic dresses that convert into bags. Now ladies who are always on the go can toss their “Bamboo Bundles” into a suitcase or gym bag as they make their way through the day’s experiences. And with a quick transition, the Little Bamboo Dress becomes the Little Bamboo Bag. All pieces are made out of bamboo fabric – super soft to the touch, comfortable fit for any body type, lightweight, and odor and wrinkle resistant. It’s a new day and “Bamboo is the New Black”. By the way, the Little Bamboo Dress is available in black, too. Visit the website at  to see more.

André Pierre’s passion for design was ignited at an early age when his maternal grandmother taught him his first stitch on fabric swatches. With determination and a focus on his studies at the New York Interior Design School and Atlanta Metropolitan Technical College, André soon became a sought after set decorator with over 75 Hollywood films to his credit including The Hunger Games series, Selma, and Baby Driver. André’s work can also be seen on the OWN cable series Greenleaf and several commercials for Samsung. Twelve years ago, this interior design dynamo established A Pierre Design, LLC decorating dozens of model homes and creating sought after home accessories. This season the designer evolved his brand of luxurious wine bags to include a bold black and white print. It was all glam gorgeousness that appeals to the serious wine drinker and the discerning gift giver. To see more about André, please visit his website

Over half a decade ago, Velvet Lattimore made a decision to have a baby.  She was tired of nurturing other people’s fashion dreams and gave birth to her own. She named her baby Vedazzling Accessories Boutique and it’s become the destination place for interesting and captivating pieces. Located at 145 Front Street in the heart of DUMBO, Brooklyn, Vedazzling Accessories is also a retail platform for emerging accessory designers of color. “This industry is cut throat and it is especially hard on African Americans who are typically undercapitalized and have difficulty securing orders from mainstream retailers,” admits Velvet. So, to some degree, she still nurtures other peoples’ dreams, but now she simultaneously nurtures hers, too.  Part cheerleader and part den mother, Velvet’s style is to guide the designers she carries so that they achieve a greater sell-through. She has also recently opened the boutique as a Pop-Up Shop venue which allows designers to get first hand feedback from customers.

In 2015, Velvet co-founded the membership organization Black Accessory Designers Alliance, Inc., or BADA for short, to elevate the profiles of emerging accessory designers of color. She helped develop the New York Fashion Week Pop Up initiative where traditional media, bloggers, fashion influencers, and the public are invited to meet, shop, and mingle with a select group of designers in an effort to introduce the work of under-the-radar design talent to a broad spectrum of people.  The organization is also involved in community outreach and partners with NYC area public schools for student internships and mentoring. To help solidify networking opportunities and build relationships which are so important to emerging accessory designers of color, BADA hosts a handful of panel discussions throughout the year. You can also shop the store’s offerings at vedazzlingaccessories. com

Fashion design veteran and BADA co-founder, Wilbur Pack, Jr., began his journey in 1998 when he introduced SK WiLBUR, a contemporary line of clothes for the working woman. In 2013, after being consistently asked by curvy women to offer his elegant designs in larger sizes, Pack set his sights on creating better wardrobe options for the full figured fashionista. He is now winning over both men and women with his line of handcrafted bags made in NYC. Classic shapes comprise the collection. Rendered in leather, suede, and natural fabrics, the tote bag, backpack, messenger, and cross body styles are sold in small shops around New York City and on the designer’s website The designer presented his collection titled “Insta BAG Story” at this season’s Pop Up Soirée. Inspired by Instagram with bag design as his canvas, he used affirming hashtags to empower and invoke positivity during this turbulent and divisive moment in history. One design dubbed “The Hashtag Bag” embroidered with popular social justice hashtags is already being sold exclusively on his website with 15% of the proceeds being donated to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).

Pack’s work has received numerous accolades. He was chosen by Supima Cotton as one of the select participants in their 2008 Runway Challenge and received much fanfare for his contributed piece, an elegantly constructed denim evening gown.  The designer counts R&B music legend Patti LaBelle and actress/entertainer Lonette McKee as clients.  Pack created a custom beauty bag for Taraji P. Henson, the actress who portrays Cookie Lyon on the hit FOX TV series “Empire”. Most recently Oscar© nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe carried one of his bags for the 2017 NAACP Image Awards.  He has been profiled for fashion trade publications such as WWD, featured on E! Entertainment Television’s Fashion File and his unique approach to showing during New York Fashion Week has been the subject of many articles in several daily newspapers and web sites across the country, including The Los Angeles Times,, and Pack was profiled for JET magazine and was photographed for the October 2015 issue of Ebony magazine.  For the 2015 Emmy Awards, Pack was commissioned to create a special, one-of-a-kind evening clutch carried for the red carpet. He was also a featured competitor on the fashion design reality series 24 Hour Catwalk that aired on Lifetime.


Black Accessory Designers Alliance, established in 2015, addresses a crippling divide in the fashion industry caused by a lack of meaningful opportunities for minority designers. We seek to elevate and increase the visibility of accessory businesses owned by designers of color by increasing opportunities for them to network with industry leaders and others. Our five main initiatives are:

  •        The Bi-Annual New York Fashion Week Pop-Up Soiree

During NY Fashion Week, we present the work of emerging and established accessory designers of color and invite fashion industry leaders, traditional press, bloggers, and the public to become acquainted with them and their designs. The event and participating designers have been featured in respected publications, both online and print.


  •        Panel Discussions and Networking Mixers

We host panel discussions and mixers throughout the year featuring up-and-coming designers and trailblazers who promote community development, collaboration, and cultivate networking opportunities. Handbag designer Monica Botkier, vintage style guru Jonathan Bodrick, celebrity wardrobe stylist Wouri Vice, and many others who are well-regarded in fashion have participated.


  •        Internships and Mentoring

Because of the importance of demonstrating to young designers the viability of their art as a career, we offer internships to NYC-area high school and college students. We have fostered relationships with the High School of Fashion Industries, Harvey Milk School, Harlem School of the Arts, and Henry Street Settlement.


  •        The Database of Accessory Designers of Color

As members of the community we serve, we often hear from potential consumers that they don’t know how to find products by designers of color. We are creating an online directory of designers in all accessory disciplines—including bags, contemporary jewelry, and millinery—that will be featured on our website


  •        The Store & E-Commerce Site

Items created by participating designers are sold at Vedazzling Accessories Boutique and on vedazzlingaccessories. com.

Meet Janice Bryant Howroyd, the first African American woman to run a $1-billion business

CEO of Act 1 Group

Janice Bryant Howroyd, 65, is founder and chief executive of Act 1 Group, an employment agency that also provides consulting and business services, including background checks and screening. She’s the first African American woman to operate a company that generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue, according to Black Enterprise Magazine. Act 1, which includes other brands such as Agile 1, A-Check Global and AppleOne, has contracts with 17,000 clients in 19 countries.

“If you visit any of our offices,” Howroyd said, “you’ll see that we live by the mantra that ‘the applicant is the center of our universe.’ It’s always been our belief that if you get that applicant in the right job, then they will be the best representation of who we are as a company.”

Early lessons

Growing up in Tarboro, N.C., as one of 11 children, Howroyd had early lessons in team building. Each sibling was assigned an older one to act as a mentor.

“My sister Sandy was my appointed guardian angel,” Howroyd said, “so it was up to her to see that I’d gotten my homework done, my hair was done, and my thoughts and process were in line with what the family wanted. We were very organized.”

Big move

After studying humanities and English at North Carolina A&T, Howroyd faced culture shock when she moved to Los Angeles in 1976 with just $900. Her older sister again provided welcome advice to “settle myself into knowing who I was, learning the power of that and understanding it.”

Brother-in-law Tom provided a temporary job at Billboard and saw entrepreneurial talents in the way Howroyd interacted with clients. Even when she was ill at ease, “I would revert to what I do well, which is strategize. I love to look at a problem, break it apart, find the better potential, knowing when to eliminate what doesn’t need to be there.”

Word of mouth

Howroyd, who didn’t even own a fax machine, opened Act 1 in a small office in Beverly Hills in 1978. She started out by making full-time job placements for companies needing workers, then shifting to temporary placements. Pleased clients were her best advertisements.

“It still matters in business more what someone else says about you than what you say about yourself,” Howroyd said. “You can have the best advertising, but unless someone else certifies what they are saying, you won’t last long. Word of mouth has always been my best referral system.”

Standing out

Early on, Howroyd employed a strategy that allowed her to compete against bigger companies, preparing her prospective hires by training them in what their employers were looking for in new workers.

“It always works best when you can tailor a hire to fit into a company’s philosophy,” Howroyd said. “They walk in better prepared and it’s more likely to be a very good fit for your client.”

Standing up

Whether it was dealing with racist students and teachers in her youth or businesspeople who uttered the most stunningly insensitive remarks, Howroyd said there were times when she was forced to bite her tongue and muddle through and other times when it was clear a stand had to be made, as frightening as that might clearly be.

“In order to be outstanding, sometimes, you’re just going to have to stand out” and not hide, Howroyd said. “My personal business protocol, my life mantra: Never compromise who you are personally to become what you wish to be professionally.”

Continue onto the LA Times to read the complete article.

Let Me Tell You About Athalie Range…

Mrs. Athalie Range and Santura Pegram

By Santura Pegram

It was once said that boxing great Muhammad Ali believed parents should be very careful when considering the name of their newborn child(ren), because that name will follow the child throughout their lifetime and often serve as an introduction to an unfairly judgmental world.

The late boxing-civil rights icon felt a name should serve as an ‘honorable title’ to be remembered by, as opposed to being a discriminatory reason to dismiss someone from a particular subject matter. Therefore, this belief should’ve served notice to those who initially questioned the name M. Athalie Range.

Unusually small in stature, yet awe-inspiring and captivating in presence, Mrs. Mary Athalie Range of Miami was a giant in a small body. A profoundly impactful political visionary, effective civil rights trailblazer, and successful black female entrepreneur, she had no choice but to be a person of significance with a unique name like Athalie.

Long considered the Political Matriarch of the State of Florida, a trusted advisor to President Jimmy Carter and several governors in Florida and from other states too, those who were blessed to know her understand why it was so easy for people of all generations and backgrounds to adore this sweet little woman. She had a magical presence about her that even melted the hearts of the most hardened politicians and business leaders, and won her favor among countless notable figures throughout the U.S. When she entered a room—whether it was a corporate board room full of high-powered executives or the political chambers of government buildings throughout the State of Florida—she characteristically had the E.F. Hutton effect upon most people: “when Mrs. Athalie Range talked, everyone listened.”

Mrs. M. Athalie Range
Mrs. M. Athalie Range

Commanding such respect and admiration from people came natural for her, which explained why she had over 125 local, statewide and national awards and honors covering every space on one wall of her office. Additionally, it’s also why she was blessed to see the main branch of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Miami, and a public park and swimming pool named after her long before she died in 2006. Since her passing, a special group of local leaders, which includes her grandson N. Patrick Range II., are preparing to spearhead a multimillion-dollar capital investment campaign to build a state-of-the-art museum educating people about the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, once the only public beach in Dade County, Florida open to African-Americans (

In 1999, after years of being closed and virtually abandoned, it was Athalie Range’s final mission when she, Gene Tinnie, and a small group of progressive minds prodded the City of Miami to not only eventually re-open the park, but also agree to designate it to the National Register of Historic Places list. A few years later, the park officially re-opened to the public and is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful, serene beach locations in the entire U.S. today. Unfortunately, most tourists visiting South Florida don’t realize that a breathtaking pristine beach is available to them just a 15-minute drive from downtown Miami and is a far more relaxing option than the typical overly-congested beachfront, streets and sidewalks of South Beach.

Residents of South Florida and visitors alike should forever feel indebted to Athalie Range because without her selfless endeavors and tireless advocacy, one of the last remaining examples of paradise on Earth simply would not exist.

To see a woman of her caliber evolve from fighting for the rights of children as the PTA President of her son’s school, to becoming a political and civil rights legend known for advocating for fairness among people, one can not help but wonder what Mrs. Range would’ve voiced about the current dynamics surrounding the senseless killings of black people by black people and black males by police officers.

President Jimmy Carter & Athalie Range
President Jimmy Carter & Mrs. M. Athalie Range

Her grandson, N. Patrick Range II., recently expressed, “my grandmother would have been very disturbed by the violence and senseless killings taking place in our inner cities today. She always fought for blacks to have the same rights as others. During her lifetime, she dealt with issues like racial profiling and police violence in the inner cities. As an example, she was very vocal and extremely active during the killing of Arthur McDuffie. She was a loud and calming voice during the Miami riots, too. She urged blacks to stop the violence because we were only destroying our own community.”

He went on to say, without a doubt, Mrs. Range “would be unhappy with the lack of progress in community relations with police all over this country. She also would be equally concerned with the amount of black-on-black violence in every urban neighborhood and the proliferation of guns as well. She actually helped to start a program to encourage violent youth offenders to change their ways.

The program is called GATE and was designed to help minors avoid being convicted and carrying a record before they are adults. If the minor offender completes the coursework and program satisfactorily, then they have an opportunity to have their case dismissed. She was always proactive in doing things to resolve issues as opposed to sitting back and merely talking about the issue(s). She knew she could effect change with the right approach and that was always her goal.”

While many communities have never had the chance to learn from someone like M. Athalie Range, there’s always hope that the youth of today will grow into a modern day version of her. And, just maybe, help to make the world a far better place today and tomorrow than it has been for most disadvantaged people of color.

After all, we only live once. Why not make your life as meaningful as Athalie did?

• (Santura Pegram is a freelance writer and a business professional in South Florida. A former protégé – aide to M. Athalie Range – Santura often writes on topics ranging from socially relevant issues to international business to politics.)

Laila Ali: Be Unique and Pursue Your Dreams

Laila Ali

Laila Ali developed the values of hard work, determination and courage growing up as the youngest child of the legendary boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali. Her own record of 24 wins—21 of which were knockouts—and zero losses has made her the most successful contender in the history of women’s boxing.

The boxing world champion, TV host, author, and speaker, said, “I like to live my life with an ‘All In’ attitude. I’m always asking myself, ‘What more can I do?'”

Most recently, Ali partnered with T.J.Maxx to launch “The Maxx You Project,” encouraging women to let their individuality shine. In response, T.J.Maxx is launching The Maxx You Project—aimed at helping women break those stereotypes by embracing the personal aspirations or lifelong dreams that make them each one-of-a-kind. Ali has overcome adversity, defied expectations and pushed herself beyond her comfort zone—to help 80 women to do the same.

“As a woman, I know there are ‘boxes’ the world might try to place us in and go-to labels often used to describe us: mother, sister, boss, friend, etc., but they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of who we truly are at our core,” Ali said. “From ‘Mom Boss’ to boxing world champion, entrepreneur to cooking enthusiast, author, speaker and TV host, there is no one role that defines me. That’s why I’m really excited to partner with T.J.Maxx to inspire others to break through those labels and pursue what’s inside them.”

Dollar General Announces Call for New Vendors


Suppliers, companies and manufacturers with exciting new products who want to reach millions of consumers and partner with one of America’s fastest-growing retailers that is currently listed #128 on the Fortune 500 list and posted $22 billion in FY 2016 sales, listen up!

Dollar General (NYSE: DG) is encouraging new suppliers and those who have not sold products to the Company within the past 18 months to apply to attend its inaugural Innovation and Supplier Diversity Summit in April 2018. The event aims to pair potential new vendors with respective Dollar General buyers and category managers. Suppliers must sell items in at least one of the following categories to be eligible to attend:

  • Beauty, Personal Care and Over-the-Counter/Wellness
  • General Merchandise/All Non-Food
  • Grocery.

“As part of Dollar General’s continual commitment to provide quality products at everyday low prices to our diverse consumer base, we are thrilled to announce our first Innovation and Supplier Diversity Summit scheduled for this spring,” said Jason Reiser, Dollar General’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. “Having the right products to best meet our customers’ needs is a foundational cornerstone at Dollar General. As such, we look forward to meeting with potential new vendors, learning about relevant products for our customers and expanding the number of unique and specialized offerings available in our stores.”

To apply, interested suppliers, companies and manufacturers may submit their product information at Tuesday, January 30 through end of day on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. Selected companies will be subject to a $500 participation fee and notified via email by Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM) of the time, date and location of their meeting with a member of the Dollar General merchandising team.

Continue onto Business Wire to read the complete article.

Airbnb Adds Outgoing American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault To Board of Directors


Airbnb is adding its first-ever independent director to the board of the nearly decade-old company. On Thursday, Airbnb announced that Kenneth Chenault, the outgoing CEO of American Express, will be joining its board of directors.

“I’ve been inspired by the way Airbnb has turned a simple, yet powerful idea – opening the doors to strangers – into a global movement that has brought millions of people together and I am looking forward to working with Brian and the entire Airbnb team as they build for the future,” Chenault said in a statement.

Chenault announced in October 2017 that he planned to leave American Express on February 1. Chenault, 66, first joined the company in 1981 after graduating from Bowdoin College and Harvard Law School. He quickly climbed the ranks and was named president and chief operating officer in 1997. He has held the top job since 2001 and is one of the country’s most prominent African American business leaders. He is also one of the best-paid executives in the financial services industry, taking home $22 million in 2016.

Chenault clearly plans to stay busy following his retirement. Airbnb is the second tech company board that Chenault has joined in January. Last week, Facebook announced that it was adding Chenault to its board, the company’s first non-white board member in its history.

Airbnb’s board of directors also faces a similar diversity challenge with an all-male board. Despite pledging for years to hire a female board member, Chenault’s appointment will only increase Airbnb’s board to six male directors. Airbnb says it will be adding a female director later this year, but declined to comment on how many men currently serve as observers on its board beyond the six directors.

“We are in serious discussions with a number of incredible people about joining our board. The next member will be a woman, and she’ll be joining later this year,” said Airbnb spokesman Christopher Nulty.

Read the complete article on Forbes.

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