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African American Entrepreneur Success Stories

For the past few years, the greatest growth in business creation has been for businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color. African Americans have faced generations of institutional barriers to wealth-building and social and economic mobility. Despite this, their entrepreneurial spirit has made them one of the fastest-growing segments in business ownership.

This African American History Month, we celebrate black and African American entrepreneurs who, with the help of our member organizations, have turned their business ideas and passion into bonafide success stories.


Candance Pilgram-Simmons, All That & MORE Boutique

Candance Pilgram-Simmons and a partner opened All That & MORE Boutique, a women’s clothing and accessories store, in Culver City, California more than three years ago. The boutique features contemporary fashions, accessories, handbags and men’s accessories. She also takes consignments from fashion and jewelry designers.

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Kelly Carlisle, Acta Non Verba

After serving as an Operations Specialist in the US Navy and Navy Reserve, Kelly returned home to East Oakland, CA where she found gardening to have a therapeutic effect.

In August of 2010, Kelly founded Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, a non-profit urban farm that focuses on serving at-risk youth from kindergarten to 8th grade, and their families. 

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Bethany Smith, B Team Solutions

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but if you ask any inventor, they may say the real devil is noticing that need. Then, of course, you have to do something about it.

That’s how it was for Bethany Smith of B Team Solutions, LLC, who turned concern for worker safety into a booming $250,000 business projected to grow even bigger thanks to a recent national distribution deal and another in the works.

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Unita Parnell, Caribbean Day Spa

From a young age, Unita Parnell knew that she wanted to take a different path. “I had no footprints to follow,” Unita shared about her childhood. “Many people around me lacked the motivation to boost their own economic situation, choosing to not further their education nor pursue avenues of self-improvement.”

After receiving a very memorable massage, Unita was inspired to become a massage therapist. 

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Chiefo Chukwudebe, Chiefo’s Kitchen

Chiefo Chukwudebe launched her West African catering business – Chiefo’s Kitchen – in 2009 at La Cocina‘s Street Food Festival. It was one of the busiest booths! But in order to sell so much food, Chiefo also had to spend quite a lot of money to prepare for it – so much, in fact, that when 2011’s Street Food Festival rolled around, Chiefo was apprehensive about whether she would have enough capital to secure a booth and purchase the necessary ingredients.

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Tyrone Botelho and Tiffany Hoang, Circle Up Education

How do you turn a deep-seated passion for peace, justice and community engagement into a living?

This is the question Tyrone Botelho, 31, and Tiffany Hoang, 26, were asking themselves in 2014, huddled over a computer and educational materials in Botelho’s rented room in Oakland.

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Donald Jacko Sr., DAD Services

DAD Services of Oakland, California is a janitorial company that specializes in providing top-notch commercial cleaning for San Francisco Bay Area businesses. The company was established in 1998 by Donald Jacko Sr., a native Oakland resident, and has always been a minority-owned, family-run business. DAD Services serves a diverse group of clients including medical institutions, investigative services, and security companies at their various locations. 

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Judi Henderson, Mannequin Madness

When Judi enrolled in Renaissance in 2000, she thought she would join the 21st-century version of the San Francisco Gold Rush and build another dot com start-up. While many dot-commers lost fortunes when the bubble burst, Judi credits the class with preventing her from “making a bad dot com business decision.”

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Melissa Elia, Mayssa Fragrance

Melissa Elia is building a fragrance empire from San Francisco, and Women’s Initiative is helping her get there. In 2009, Melissa launched Mayssa Fragrance, a fragrance and body soap business. Mayssa means “beautiful girl” in Arabic. Melissa first heard about Women’s Initiative from her entrepreneurial mother, who attended an open house. In 1999, Melissa graduated from Women’s Initiative’s 11-week business training program. 

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Melvina Hill, Melvina Hill Consulting

Melvina Hill always had an eye for detail and through the years had steady employment in jobs that allowed her to exercise her administrative skills. This all changed in the recent recession when she was laid off from her longtime position in the biotech industry. Rather than letting this experience get her down she saw it as a chance to make an opportunity for herself and started taking on random projects for businesses like a rodeo venue and real estate companies.

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Marcia Charles, Pinky Rose Boutique

Marcia Charles has worked in fashion for her whole life. When Marcia was 15-years-old, she started working at department store warehouses in the Bronx. Over the next 35 years, Marcia grew into a self-taught fashion designer and merchandiser, and eventually a self-made small business owner.

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Gregory King, Postcards

Gregory King grew up working in his parents’ restaurants, so starting his own food truck business was a natural move. Combining his MBA and years of experience in corporate America with his love of cooking, King opened Postcards: Central American Soul Food, a unique food truck that fuses soul food and Central American cuisine, prepared with a healthy twist and served in portable wraps and bowls. 

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Keba Konte, Red Bay Coffee

Keba Konte has demonstrated his commitment to creating good jobs for people in Oakland, California. In fact, over the years he’s created over fifty jobs through three enterprises. But, when he went to his bank to secure funding to open a new wholesale coffee roastery and cafe, he was turned down.

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Feleciai Favroth, Skincare by Feleciai

Feleciai Favroth was always destined to be an entrepreneur. Many members of her family including her mother Pearl and sisters, Daphne and Cheryl have followed a path to owning their own businesses. Her mother always loved providing quality housing and purchased rental properties while still working for Lockheed Missile & Space on their assembly line. Daphne, Board Certified in pediatrics and internal medicine opened a successful practice several years ago while Cheryl is an aspiring stand-up comedienne and promoter.

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Catarah Hampshire and Shoneji Robison, Southern Girl Desserts

Catarah Hampshire began baking southern-style cupcakes as a hobby until she realized how much people loved the comforting, delicious taste of southern hospitality. Who isn’t curious about trying a Hennessey and Coke cupcake? Or having a chicken and waffles treat for dessert? Indulging in a tiny pecan pie-cake?

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Myra Holmes and Jacqui Heard, Star Partners Security

What does one do with 25 years of experience in the security field when she wants to put that experience to work on her own terms? For Myra Holmes, starting a small business that provides high quality, professional armed and unarmed security guard and private patrol services is the only answer.  Myra started Star Partners Security, Inc. with her sister, Jacqui Heard.

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Christopher McMichael and Maurion Gaines, Threadz Culture + Fashion

In 2012 when Christopher McMichael was working security and kept hitting ceilings as he tried to advance in his career, he decided to pursue his clothing line full time. “My clothing line had already had some success. I knew that for it to grow to the next level, I needed to open a store to better serve the business,” remembers Chris. 

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