This is an incomplete list of top influential Black entrepreneurs because there are simply so many. The Root listed 100 influential Black voices in 2020, which includes a range of entrepreneurs.
But what is entrepreneurship? People assume it represents a go-getter with a genius idea for a business start-up. Though that can be true, it's more about savviness and embracing risk versus reward. According to Entrepreneur, entrepreneurship differs from merely being a business owner in that entrepreneurs take on more risk and reap greater rewards.
With that in mind, we are highlighting some African American entrepreneurs who took on big risks to chase down bigger dreams.
Our recent Speaker Broadcast guest has become an embodiment of entrepreneurship itself. As a mainstay on ABC's hit show Shark Tank, Daymond John helps other entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground by investing his own money, which has deepened his already thick pockets.
John is the founder of FUBU, a $6 billion global lifestyle brand created for underrepresented communities. He's been recognized by President Barack Obama, has earned countless awards, is a best-selling author, and works with a range of philanthropic organizations.
At just 19, Lauren Mailian became the youngest winery owner in the country when she co-founded Sugarleaf Vineyards and has continued to put her entrepreneurial spirit to great use, focusing on DEI initiatives and leaving a positive impact.
She’s the first Black woman to start an early-stage venture capital fund, as founding partner and managing director of Gen Y Capital Partners. She’s also the founder and CEO of LMB Group, a strategic marketing company that partners with global brands, and was named CEO of Digitalundivided, an organization dedicated to supporting women of color entrepreneurs.
JOSHUA GREEN AND SAMUEL ADETUNJI
With widespread legalization of cannabis, what was once taboo has become an industry waiting to be capitalized on and streamlined. Joshua Green and Samuel Adetunji have done just that, founding Verihealth.
Their mission is to bring awareness to the healing properties of cannabis and de-stigmatize it. They also want to increase access and break down barriers for those who can benefit from it. With more than 75 employees and a network of more than 100 doctors, they're getting the word out.
Oprah Winfrey, better known iconically as just Oprah, is a true embodiment of entrepreneurship. A self-made billionaire, she’s a producer and legendary television host, an actress, and the first African-American to own her own production company.
She’s used her entrepreneurial skills to help build a better world, helping to pass the National Child Protection Act, and contributing funds to countless nonprofits to help lift others up. Her iconic status and entrepreneurial work only continues to expand.
Former Speaker Broadcast guest Wally Amos is a born entrepreneur. The founder of Famous Amos Cookies was recently pitching a new idea at the age of eighty on Shark Tank. Through failures and setbacks, Amos never gave up and understood the most important principle of entrepreneurship: failure comes with the territory.
In his first year running Famous Amos, he sold $300,000 worth of cookies and by 2000, Famous Amos was selling more than $100 million in cookies each year. The cookie brand is still on the shelves today.
SHEILA JOHNSON AND ROBERT L. JOHNSON
Sheila Johnson and Robert L. Johnson co-founded the Black Entertainment Network in 1979, eventually selling it to Viacom for $3 billion in 2001. Sheila Johnson is now in the hospitality space and founded Salamander Hotels & Resorts, where she serves as CEO.
Besides his work with BET, Robert L. Johnson became the first African American majority owner of a major professional sports team in the US, the Charlotte Bobcats.
JANICE BRYANT HOWROYD
With $1,500, a fax machine, a phone, and a dream, Janice Bryant Howroyd built a business empire. In 1978, she founded ActOne, a workforce solutions provider, which is now a $950 million business.
The agency, where she still acts as CEO, has more than 17,000 clients and more than 2,800 employees around the world. It’s the largest woman-minority owned workforce management company in the US.
As one of television's most creative and visionary minds, Shonda Rhimes uses her entrepreneurial skills to create shows that not only entertain, but stick with us. She created major hits Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. Plus, Netflix's hit show Bridgerton is created under the Shondaland banner, her forward-thinking storytelling company.
For her work, she's received a Golden Globe, a Peabody Award, and lifetime achievement awards from the Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild, and Producers Guild.
MADAM C.J. WALKER
An early African American entrepreneur known as Madam C.J. Walker was born in 1867 to recently freed slaves. She went from being an illiterate, impoverished child to building the largest Black-owned business in the US.
Her success was found in beauty products, selling pomades and shampoos, and she proved to have an eye for marketing and advertising. She took the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company to Indianapolis where her profits grew and she became one of the largest employers of African American women.
what diversity means to us at the nsls
We've made great strides in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, but there's more work to be done. At the NSLS, we see strength in diversity and it's our mission to celebrate it. We always strive to build leaders who make a better world. This isn't just our motto; it's built into our DNA.
Every day, we're committed to fostering a community of acceptance and tolerance. Our differences are what makes us strongest. Together, we all become more successful. Learn more about our organization's stance on diversity and how you can make an impact.