TOPICS > Economy > Race Matters

For African-American female entrepreneurs, funding challenges call for creative bootstrapping

September 28, 2016 at 6:25 PM EDT
The fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. is African-American women. But minority-owned businesses often face greater challenges getting funding. The NewsHour’s April Brown profiles two women who have bucked the stereotypes and gotten resourceful to launch their ventures.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Nearly a decade after the great recession, the pace of creating a new business is still slower than it was back in 2007.

A new report finds a small uptick this year, including in the U.S. When it comes to tech start-ups, the image is often of young white men in hoodies, but it turns out African-American women control about 1.3 million businesses, and they are the country’s fastest growing group of entrepreneurs.

Special correspondent April Brown recently met two women trying to break into the club.

ZOLA BOWIE, Caregiver: I love peanut butter.

APRIL BROWN: Zola Bowie works as a caregiver in the San Francisco Bay Area for a company called Oneva. She often can be found watching the Santos family’s three kids, who are all under the age of 4.

The children’s mother, Arlene Santos, says she couldn’t run her tech company without the help.

ARLENE SANTOS, Oneva Client: As a career woman, you don’t want to feel guilty that you have a meeting. You want to make sure that home life is taken care of. And that’s really what Oneva does.

APRIL BROWN: Marvie Jean Darden, who also lives in the Bay Area, had a stroke two years ago and is nearly blind. But she wants to remain in her home as long as possible.

MARVIE JEAN DARDEN, Oneva Client: After I had the stroke, I couldn’t do what I had done before. I also worried about different people that we didn’t know coming in to the home and everything.

APRIL BROWN: But since Oneva introduced Mrs. Darden to Seadawn Thomas (ph) those problems have been solved.

MARVIE JEAN DARDEN: She’s more than a caregiver. You know, I feel like she’s a friend.

APRIL BROWN: Several of Mrs. Darden’s adult children live nearby, but have busy lives and children of their own.

Anita Darden Gardyne is one of them, and part of the so-called sandwich generation, with elder and child care needs. She has an 11-year old daughter, and Marvie Jean is her mother.

Gardyne realized many others had the same issues, so, in 2014, she came up with the idea for Oneva, a service providing FBI-background-checked care providers that customers can learn more about before they ever enter the home.

ZOLA BOWIE: Well, I’m Zola. And I’m an Oneva caregiver.

APRIL BROWN: Gardyne’s business currently provides helpers for her parents, the Santoses and 60 other clients. But being an African-American woman entrepreneur is not without its challenges.

ANITA DARDEN GARDYNE, Co-Founder & C.E.O., Oneva: Our biggest challenge is cash. We have to turn stones that some folks don’t have to. I mean, in all candor, I don’t — I don’t have the hoodie, and I’m not the 20-something that most people expect to see or would want to invest in when you think about who in Silicon Valley is most likely to be able to secure that investment.

APRIL BROWN: At a 2015 start-up competition, Gardyne was about to make a pitch for Oneva, when a potential investor turned to her husband, Bob, Oneva’s chief technology officer, and another business partner.

ANITA DARDEN GARDYNE: He just looked at them and the two men and said, you’re going to let the black girl pitch? And that one floored me.

APRIL BROWN: What was going through your head?

ANITA DARDEN GARDYNE: I was angry. I literally had to remove myself.

You certainly believe, as a woman, you have done all the appropriate things that one needs to do to be competitive as a CEO, and it’s disappointing when all that work is culminating in someone minimizing you as just a black girl.

APRIL BROWN: Gardyne ended up winning the competition and being named best start-up of 2015. Nevertheless, she’s had a tough time getting the attention of venture capitalists, or V.C.s.

So, Gardyne is seeking alternative funding sources, like Kiva, the crowdfunding site that lets people invest in the company for as little as $25.

MAN: So, when we actually lend to Anita or lend to Oneva, they will actually do it through a PayPal account.

APRIL BROWN: The goal, $10,000.

CANDIDA BRUSH, Professor, Babson College: Across the board, women start businesses with less money than men, whether they are in technology or whether they are in consumer products or whatever. It is about half, 50 percent. This is a worldwide statistic.

APRIL BROWN: Candida Brush is professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College near Boston. She says Gardyne’s financial struggle is not unique.

CANDIDA BRUSH: For minority-owned businesses, so female-owned, black-owned firms, start with half the money of male-black-owned firms. And all minorities start with less than money than non-black firms. So, it’s a challenge.

APRIL BROWN: V.C.s generally don’t look like me, from a racial perspective or a gender perspective. I think that we’re seeing that change, particularly because of changing demographics. Millennials, especially millennial women, are crashing through ceilings in ways that my generation wasn’t always able to. So, certainly, I’m optimistic about the future.

APRIL BROWN: Angel Rich is one of those millennials trying to break through the glass ceiling, not only for African-American women entrepreneurs, but for game developers.

She started a Washington, D.C.- based company called The Wealth Factory, which recently developed a free gaming app called Credit Stacker.

ANGEL RICH, Founder, The Wealth Factory: We want kids like you to know exactly what to do with their money before they actually have the chance to spend it.

Credit Stacker teaches people how to make wise credit decisions. Essentially, you have to swap various pieces around that represent monthly payments. So, you have your home loan, your student loans, your car loans and so forth.

Ah, we have another multiple-choice question. There’s also a credit score that calculates as your score. And there’s multiple-choice questions built in to assess your knowledge along the way.

APRIL BROWN: And why a game?

ANGEL RICH: We feel as though a game almost tricks people into having fun, and they end up learning how to manage their money at the same time.

APRIL BROWN: And as for money for her own start-up?

ANGEL RICH: We were honored to recently be the global winner of J.P. Morgan Chase financial inclusion competition for the best solution in the world for serving vulnerable populations. They provided us with a $10,000 grant to turn our online version into the mobile app.

APRIL BROWN: Winning a $10,000 grant to help improve the financial literacy of students and families in underserved communities does help.

However:

ANGEL RICH: Funding is definitely an issue for use. We have been very creative at bootstrapping this company off of revenue since 2014.

APRIL BROWN: What is bootstrapping, for those who don’t know?

ANGEL RICH: So, bootstrapping essentially means operating with no cash. You have to become very creative as to how you come up with things.

So, for instance, we brought on 15 recent graduates, gave them work experience to develop the game and job recommendations, and, in turn, we were able to develop our game for free.

CANDIDA BRUSH: And what we find is that women tend to be more resourceful and they tend to bootstrap their businesses a little bit better.

And so, in the long run, what that means is that they tend to survive, and they may not grow as rapidly, but they tend to be more sustainable in certain ways.

ANGEL RICH: When you look at sort of spheres of influence when you are raising money, it really comes down to sort of who you know and who you have access to. So, I’m hopeful that, in the future, those pipelines will be opened up more to diverse communities and the black population in general.

APRIL BROWN: Back in the Bay Area, Oneva is ramping up to potentially serve more families like the Santoses. The company recently signed a deal with a Seattle-based Fortune 50 tech firm that will offer the service as a wellness benefit to employees, no up-front money for Oneva, but immediate access to thousands of potential clients.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m April Brown in San Francisco.

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