In honor of black history month, we’d like to shine the spotlight on ten creative black entrepreneurs throughout the world who have what it takes to succeed, despite the odds. Inspiring millions throughout their careers, these individuals are legendary not just for success, but for how they achieved it.
Black entrepreneurs have been facing discrimination and unfair life circumstances for centuries. Despite that, some found success even hundreds of years ago. Some regard Ignatius Sancho to be Britain’s first-ever black entrepreneur.
Born on a slave ship and orphaned as a toddler, he became an avid reader at a time when education was illegal for black individuals. Despite the laws, Duke Montagu admired Sancho’s dedication to learning, causing him to hire him as a butler, and eventually granting him freedom.
Seeing the opportunity that his newfound freedom presented him, Sancho went on to not only become a shopkeeper, but a successfully published writer, composer, singer, dancer, and poet. To top it all off, he was an abolitionist and is also believed to be the first black man to be allowed to vote in British parliament elections.
Any list of creative, successful, legendary black entrepreneurs would be amiss without mentioning Oprah Winfrey. Oprah, as she is most commonly known, was born into poverty in Mississippi in 1954.
She never let that hold her back, though, as by the age of 19 she was the first black female co-anchor on Nashville’s WLAC-TV. From there, she quickly moved to daytime talk shows and soon thereafter started a show of her own.
Still, she never let fame and success go to her head, and to this day she continues to do countless things to help those in need, especially focusing on humanitarian acts for underdeveloped countries.
Dragons’ Den is a British TV show in which aspiring entrepreneurs are presented with the opportunity to pitch their business idea to five multimillionaires in the hopes of gaining their financial support. Steven Bartlett is the youngest person to have ever participated in the show as one of the investors (Dragons).
This is especially impressive; he dropped out of his university after one lecture, then proceeded to launch one of Britain’s most popular, award-winning social media marketing platforms in 2014. The social media company, Social Chain, sold for $600 million shortly after he resigned as the CEO and founder.
At the young age of 30 years old, Steven Bartlett has already founded two companies, created Europe’s most downloaded business podcast, become the youngest investor on Dragon’s Den, and written a book. In 2020, he was featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
Robert Reed Church
We featured Madam CJ Walker on our Most Creative US Entrepreneurs list, but a similarly historic figure who contributed to the black community was Robert Reed Church. He and his first legal wife, Louisa, were both former slaves and entrepreneurs. Between the two of them, they owned beauty parlors, a hotel, a restaurant, and a saloon.
A fantastic opportunist, he purchased underdeveloped land in Memphis which he used to fuel his business as well as his philanthropic efforts. He embraced the black community, expanding his real estate holdings to a 2,000-seat auditorium. He also built a park, a playground, and other facilities for blacks who were forced to avoid amenities due to racial segregation.
His greatest accomplishment, though, was the creation of Solvent Savings Bank and Trust – a company that enabled black people to buy homes and follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps.
Anne-Marie Osawemwenze Ore-Ofe Imafidon MBE
For some entrepreneurs, their own success isn’t enough. Anne-Marie Osawemwenze Ore-Ofe Imafidon MBE started out as a prodigy. At the age of eleven, she passed A-level computing and passed two GCSEs in school. At 20 years of age, she got her Masters in Computer Science from Oxford University.
However, the British-Nigerian computer scientist wasn’t content to stop there. Like Robert Reed Church, she was determined to help others reach the same heights she’d reached. In 2013, she started Stemettes, a social enterprise that encourages young women to join STEM careers and become entrepreneurs themselves. So far, Stemettes has helped tens of thousands of girls learn more about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
In addition, Anne-Marie Imafidon co-founded Outbox Incubator, the world’s first technology incubator for teen girls. It provides funding, mentorship, networking opportunities, and support to talented women aged 22 and under with business and technology solution ideas.
From street vendor to multi-millionaire, Fomba Trawally is known for the story of how he turned the $200 he had in his pocket into a booming entrepreneurial career. He started out in Liberia, living with his mother and younger brothers as she worked to make ends meet. She sold peppers and aubergines to feed her hungry children.
Unfortunately, in the 1980s, his mother passed away, leaving him as the sole breadwinner of the family. He dropped out of school and sold flip-flops in a wheelbarrow to care for his siblings. When civil war struck Liberia, Fomba fled to the Gambia for two years, eventually returning in 1991. He brought with him $200 that would grow into his current empire.
He officially established his business, Kumba Beindu and Sons, in 1992. The company was named after his mother and grew quickly. A few decades later opened a second venture called National Toiletries Incorporated – Liberia’s first paper and toiletry product manufacturing facility.
Patrick E. Ngowi
Patrick E. Ngowi started his first business at age 15 when he traveled between China and Tanzania, reselling cheap phones. He used this money to attend university, where he studied renewable energy.
In 2007, he founded Helvetic Solar – a company based in Tanzania that also sells to the US. He won the first place spot on KPMG’s list of the Top 100 Mid-Sized companies in Tanzania in 2012. He was listed in Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs in addition to the Forbes list of Young African Millionaires to Watch in 2013. In 2014, he again made the list of Africa’s Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs, along with East Africa’s Young Business Leader of the Year.
Not only is Ngowi an entrepreneur, but he’s also a philanthropist. His Light for Life Foundation is a non-profit social enterprise with a mission to provide free solar and small wind power systems for those in rural and off-grid areas in Tanzania.
Born December 11, 1980, British-Nigerian businessman Jason Njoku is a co-founder and CEO of a popular Nigerian movie streaming service called iROKOtv. Njoku has attempted many business ventures, but unfortunately, most were unsuccessful. His inspiration for the streaming service actually came after one such failed venture. “The West had Hulu and Netflix – Africa had nothing,” Njoku said.
Jason Njoku built a Nollywood distribution platform in 2010 with Bastian Gotter, and in 2011, they expanded to the streaming service iROKOtv.
Jason’s perseverance in the face of adversity and struggle paid off. As of 2022, his company was worth over $40 million. In 2012 he was named one of the Ten Young African Millionaires to Watch, and in 2014, he was named one of Fast Company’s Top 1000 Most Creative People in Business, easily earning himself a spot on our list!
Black Business Show is a UK conference and exhibition founded by Rafael Sofoluke in which businesses owned and founded by black individuals are given time in the spotlight. The event has been going strong since 2017 and highlights the achievements of black business owners.
His impact in the UK on black business owners has been huge. Raphael is also behind the following endeavors: UK Black Business Week, Birmingham Black Business Show, and Black Tech Achievement Awards.
Sofoluke has also co-authored a book with his wife, Opeyemi Sofuluke. The book is called Twice as Hard and aims to help up-and-coming black entrepreneurs overcome stereotypes to pursue success. The book features the stories of 40 black trailblazers from the US and the UK, and was released in June 2021.
Former First Lady of the United States of America Michelle Obama made a name for herself, apart from her husband’s success. After a successful law school education, Mrs.Obama, formerly Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, quickly became an associate at the Sidley and Austin law firm. She also saw extreme success in various teaching and politics-related careers.
Leading up to her time as first lady, Michelle delivered a keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention to much acclaim. She has continued to deliver impactful speeches at the Democratic National Convention, as was the case in 2012, 2016, and 2020.
During her time as First Lady, Michelle Obama was a role model for women and youth. She focused on providing healthy meals for kids and promoted wellness, healthy eating, and exercise. She also advocated for poverty awareness during her husband’s time in office.
Although no longer active in the law industry, Michelle Obama still holds a law license to this day. In 2020, she topped Gallup’s poll of the most admired woman in America for the third year.