As nationwide protests against the killing of Black Americans by police continue, Inc. has asked Black business leaders in or near hot zones to tell us what they are experiencing.
When Candace Mitchell Harris launched Atlanta-based beauty tech startup Myavana in 2012, she could count the city's other Black entrepreneurs on one hand. In the eight years since, she's grown her startup, which provides personalized hair care guidance to women, and watched Atlanta's Black entrepreneur community grow--despite systemic difficulties securing funding from a primarily White investing community. Below, Mitchell Harris describes how those challenges are reflected in the nationwide protests of racial injustice--and suggests a possible way forward. --As told to Cameron Albert-Deitch
We're going through a very psychologically tough time, in addition to the hard facts of what's happening.
This is nothing new to me and my experience. There have been tons of articles and data put out about how Black founders--and Black female founders--are so underserved. Our numbers are so low when it comes to funding. Why do you think that is? There's no difference in creativity. There's no difference in ability or capability. There's no difference in potential ROI from our ideas. It comes down to systemic racism.
You could be going out for a jog. You could be going to your local store. Maybe you didn't see a stop sign, or maybe you missed a turn, and you get pulled over by the police. These are all instances that should not make us fear for our lives just because someone may take matters into their own hands--because they consider us to be a threat.
We're concerned about our everyday safety. That's just everyday life.
It's taken a huge psychological toll on us over the years. However, I do feel that this is the catalyst for dismantling racial injustice in our country. It feels so much heavier now because it's really a turning point. That's the foundation of: How do I approach this? How do I navigate this? How do I still be the best entrepreneur that I can be, because we're in the middle of this pandemic at the same time?
We just went through two months of hard times, in terms of all the economic effects on our businesses. We had a hair lab located in a hair salon in Atlanta that was closed because of the pandemic. Our operations were essentially put on hold for our hair analysis product, so that impacted our sales.
We were scheduled to release a really big marketing campaign at the end of March promoting our new mobile app, which is A.I. technology that allows you to take a photo of your hair and get instant product recommendations. We've worked a lot on our technology over the past eight months. We had to put it on hold so we could have the right timing.
By the end of Q2, we were really projecting around $1 million in revenue. We are not even at 50 percent of that now. When you're knocked down so many times, it feels devastating. It's the emotional and psychological toll.
Atlanta is the cradle of the civil rights movement. There's a lot of anger and a lot of rage here because 40, 50, 60 years later, we're still dealing with the same thing. It's a feeling in the air demanding change--that we're not going to take another cycle of these incidents happening again--and realizing that things are not going back to normal. That there is a "new normal." What does that mean for our businesses? For our families, for our schools, and things of that nature?
You start with your touch points. What businesses do you patronize and who are your local representatives? What are their standards on diversity? What does their leadership look like? Have they made a stance on condemning any form of racial injustice?
Move your dollars accordingly. Have personal conversations with family and friends. Sometimes, you need to have uncomfortable conversations. Each one of those things will make a huge difference. Supporting Black-owned businesses is heavily critical right now. We're a capitalistic society. We have to demonstrate what we support by how we spend our money. That will bring changes.