Goodbye, corporate America: Black female entrepreneurs growing in U.S.
The number of businesses owned by African American women grew 322 percent since 1997, making black females the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. It is clear that African American women are launching companies in growing numbers across the country.
More and more women of color have gone out on their own after having unsatisfying experiences in corporate America. While profitable, they have found it creatively constricting and even depressing being stuck in a cubicle all day long. That mundaneness recently caused Madison-area entrepreneur Taylar Barrington to take the leap and to break out of it.
"After college, I felt like that was what I was supposed to do – corporate job, 9-to-5. I jumped right into that," Barrington tells Madison365. "I didn't really have any mentors in my field, and my school was really small. I just felt like it was the thing to do; a right of passage. I got in there [corporate life] and I was like, 'Woah. This isn't it!'
A native of Stone Mountain, Ga., and graduate of Florida A&M University, Barrington is the founder of the Taylar Barrington Creative Agency, a full-service visual marketing agency that utilizes the niche creative skills of young women to provide a multitude of services to clients. She is also the owner and president of MaverickHill, a lifestyle empowerment brand for collegiate women.
Barrington's "A-ha moment" came a few years ago when she was teaching graphic communications to special education high school students in Atlanta immediately after her corporate world experience. She remembers she used to do warm-ups with the kids where she would always ask them, "What's your dream?"
"But one day, the kids turned it around and asked me, 'What's your dream?'" Barrington remembers. "And I thought, 'That's a good question!' I've always just been very grateful for all of the opportunities that I've had so I never really liked stop to think that this wasn't really what I wanted to be doing."
After that question was asked, Barrington really took some time to self-reflect. "I realized that I really wanted to dive into entrepreneurship full time," she says.
With this statement in mind — "Well-behaved women seldom make history" — Barrington launched MaverickHill, an inspirational portal to encourage young women to be leaders, motivators and history-makers through its products, programs and resources.
"I didn't start MaverickHill to be a start-up; it was just an idea to supplement my graphic design business," Barrington remembers of MaverickHill, whose purpose is to provide an unforgettable experience that adds to the evolvement of an ever-changing lifestyle. "It just has really grown into something I wasn't prepared for. "
Out of MaverickHill, Barrington recently launched UniversiTee Box in September, a re-invention of the campus care package. "The UniversiTee Box is a subscription service for pre-college, college women and young professional women. We mail out empowerment and fashion every month," Barrington says. "We've basically found a way to reach our audience through vessels that they can relate to. The UniversiTee Box allows us to physically be a part of the lives of young women across the United States and to instill the values that are important for confident women leaders to possess."
Each month, women get a graphic t-shirt of a certain theme with the rest of the items in the box. "For example, October's box was breast cancer and domestic violence awareness month so everything in the box was related to that," Barrington says.
The UniversiTee Box is a great gift for a parent to give to their college student, Barrington says, or for somebody to give a friend.
"It's really a great value. The retail value is twice what you are paying for it," Barrington says. "I love it. It's really gotten a lot of great feedback. I get so many positive e-mails after every shipment from girls who just enjoy it so much and tell me how much it just brightens their day."
Barrington says the UniversiTee Box is all about affirmation. "I lost my dad last year and it was a really difficult time but I learned about the power of affirmation," she says. "When I was developing the concept of the UniversiTee Box, I knew I wanted empowerment to be a component, but I also wanted to make the lifestyle of affirmation habit forming. So, each month we send out a new affirmation, and it's to affirm something specific about your life whether that is creating goals, being fearless, starting a new journey, or just about relaxing – giving yourself a break."
As Barrington transitioned her entrepreneurship lifestyle from her home in Atlanta to Madison a little over a year ago, she has noticed some distinct differences and challenges.
"Atlanta is kinda like a city of 'Chocolate Goodness,'" Barrington smiles. "Everybody is really on their grind, and it is very encouraging. There is easy access to people who are just like you and are doing what you are doing. It keeps you fueled."
In Madison, it was not the same case. "It took me awhile to find my community here," Barrington says. "And I have … through [Madison co-working community] 100 State, I've found a community of black entrepreneurs who are just as motivated as I. We depend on each other to stay motivated."
But Madison has come with its challenges, and it's been an adjustment. "There are times when I've been the only black entrepreneur in the room. I've felt like the elephant in the room, and even though nobody says anything, you can feel it," Barrington says. "Going from a city of 'Chocolate Goodness' to spaces where I often am the only 'Chocolate Goodness' is a challenge. But I feel like I've been able to add perspectives. I come to the table with different insights. I think that that has been an advantage."
Barrington's personal mission statement is to creatively elevate young women in order to cultivate more motivators, leaders and history-makers. "I believe that you should be fearless," she says. "And if you have dreams that you want to achieve. You can.
"Youth has a special place in my heart," she adds. "Remember, I used to be a teacher. I think that it is very important that there be a balance in the visibility of options for our young people. Any chance I get to inspire, I try to do it. I can't change the whole world with what I'm doing, but I can touch a life. That's my goal. I aspire to inspire."
A big part of why she stepped out on faith to become an entrepreneur was because of young people urging her to find her dream. "Those kids in Atlanta – all special education students and almost all black — were always told all of their lives what they can't do," she remembers. "I feel like they needed somebody to tell them what they can do. So many other young people need that today, too.
"That one morning when they asked me what my dream was, and I was there to encourage them to follow their dreams … I felt like a hypocrite," she adds. "They really made me think. And a big part of me stepping out and following my dreams, I owe to those young people."
The twentysomething Barrington wants to continue to make that difference in young people's lives here in Madison. Part of that, she feels, will be through helping to diversify the entrepreneurial scene here.
"Could you imagine what our economy would look like with a balanced business landscape and how beautiful that would be when you have an option to choose who you want to support and you're not forced into these nooks?" she asks. "Madison definitely has some work to do in that regard."
In the meantime, Harrington's goals moving forward are to continue to garner support for MaverickHill. "I want to continue to find the resources, knowledge bases, and support systems to grow the company as I know it can," Barrington says. "I want to continue to reach more girls. My niche, my heart, and my passion are with women. I want to continue to diversify the landscape not only with African Americans but also with women. It's our time, too."
And it is needed right now.
"Entrepreneurship has been historically driven by white males. I think that times are changing and you can see it happening in bigger cities. I think it should happen in Madison, too," she says. "I'm excited for the future."
I guess different studies are making different claims. Some studies state that the number of companies, less than a year old, had declined as a share of all businesses by nearly 44 percent between 1978 and 2012. (This study was done by the Kauffman Foundation using US Census data). And the percentage of startups by young people has declined from 35 percent in 1996 to 18 percent in 2014. Maybe it is different for black females but overall things aren't so great.
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