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To All Entrepreneurs, Put Your Plan in Place, and Move Forward

Natasha Conley
February 23, 2022

This blog is part of a series to recognize and celebrate Black History Month.

For Black entrepreneurs to know where we are going, we must first understand where we have come from. One such seminal writing from W. E. B. Du Bois (1899) entitled, “The Negro in Business” shares that “For a Negro to go into business means a great deal. It is indeed, a step in social progress worth measuring.” Prior to the Civil War, there were free Blacks who could build capital to participate in business activity, but it was difficult because they only had “half-free” status which meant they could be recaptured and enslaved at any time. States also passed laws restricting the movement of free Blacks which limited business activity. As the United States developed, government restrictions increased which curtailed the development of Black businesses (Butler, 2012). Despite the barriers, where free Blacks congregated Black businesses emerged, and Black scholars studied the development. After the Civil War, Blacks were confronted with racism from the North and the South. Jim Crow laws were designed to create an environment similar to slavery. This form of segregation was designed exclusively for Blacks. In 1899, Plessy v. Ferguson legalized “separate but equal,” forcing Black entrepreneurs to operate in their own community, while immigrants and Whites were free to conduct business in all communities. Despite the struggle and exclusion from mainstream society, Blacks developed their own educational facilities—ranging from elementary schools to colleges, churches, financial institutions, fraternal societies, and insurance companies (Butler, 2012).

In considering this brief historical overview, it becomes clear that Blacks have made major strides in overcoming barriers to participate in entrepreneurial activities. We have evolved from literal property (slaves) to viable business entrepreneurs. It is hard to believe that a descendant of George Murray, a slave from Callaway County, Missouri is the President of her own company which is celebrating its 21st year in business, and the Vice President of her family-owned business that is celebrating its 35th year in business. I am humbled by the struggles that my ancestors endured and the foundation that was built so that I could have opportunities that they did not have. In retrospect, I am grateful for the many strategy sessions and lessons handed down by my father who has been my business mentor and partner. I also cannot forget my mother who always imparted common sense to situations that required an alternative approach to decision making. While our company’s motto was “controlled growth,” we have maintained a solid reputation in our community and achieved many goals, one of which was to employ those who needed employment and to train them to become model employees and experts in their field.  More importantly, present and past employees are and continue to be part of our extended family.

I am also reminded of the level of accomplishment and success that can still be attained when driving by the headquarters of World-Wide Technologies, a $10+ billion-dollar software company located in St. Louis, Missouri, and founded by one of the most successful Black businessmen in the United States, David L. Stewart. While the data suggests that Black businesses may not be the most successful minority business group members as indicated by the United States Census Bureau (2012), we must also understand that no other minority group has had to endure institutional and governmentally sanctioned exclusionary practices. The Black American entrepreneur is building from the ground up while facing systemic barriers that most are unaware of or lack the historical background to understand.  As we celebrate black history month, I want to recognize those Black entrepreneurs of the past that have paved the way for entrepreneurs of the future.   Being an entrepreneur is not an easy career choice.  Research by Conley and Bilimoria (2021) indicates that minorities and women who have chosen this path face additional struggles, like racial discrimination, gender bias, and lack of access to capital.    However, our research also suggests that leveraging social capital, utilizing entrepreneurial support organizations like the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Note: The St. Louis Ecosystem is an interactive map that identifies ESO’s in the St. Louis area. and good old-fashioned faith and prayer, make a difference and are used as mitigating strategies to overcome the struggles and barriers to business growth (Conley and Bilimoria, 2021).

To all entrepreneurs, don’t sit on the sidelines.  If you have an idea or just know that you want to create a company and manage it your way, don’t wait, don’t put your dreams aside, put your plan in place, and move forward.  Happy Black History Month!

Natasha Conley is an Expert On Call with the Skandalaris Center and serves as President of PRSI Technologies, LLC which she founded in 2001. She previously supported the Skandalaris Center’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts as the leader of the Ascend planning grant from the JP Morgan Foundation. Natasha has a Ph.D. in Management and Sustainable Systems with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship from Case Western Reserve University and holds the distinction of being a Fellow for the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. Her research interests include race, gender, and faith-based entrepreneurship.