Brown Toy Box
Because toys are inspiration
Terri-Nichelle Bradley started the Brown Toy Box to give Black children the ability to see their worlds differently. Brown Toy Box produces children's products and experiences that are designed to encourage and prepare Black children to pursue STEAM interests and careers. The company's curated STEAM-themed activities and programs help Black children widen their ideas of what's possible for their futures and inspire them to believe they can succeed in pursuing these careers as adults.
While Covid-19 has seen many businesses close, Bradley has noticed a massive shift in her company. She not only seen the direct-to-consumer part of the business thrive, but she has also seen an uptick in the B2B side, which works with schools and youth-serving organizations that are primarily Title I schools in high poverty, 85 percent Black communities. "What I knew for certain when school was interrupted so abruptly was that a lot of those kids were never going to get online. Even if they were given a laptop and hotspot, they still weren't going to get online because whose second grader is getting on a class Zoom at 10 o'clock if the mama is still at work as an essential employee?"
Because diverse talent is no longer a nice-to-have
So-called network businesses, such as Airbnb and Uber, face an early conundrum: Which part of the network do they focus on first? A slim startup can’t do everything, so is it better to make the buyers happy or the sellers? Airbnb famously decided on the sellers, and academic research suggests that’s the best approach.
Don’t tell that to Tiffany Pham, the founder of Mogul, an ecosystem and job-search site for diverse talent. She started by building a platform that would appeal to individuals, and then let the corporate clients come in later. “Once you have the users you can grow with them,” says Pham. Mogul began adding services for corporate clients looking for diverse talent by observing the interactions of their users with large companies, talking to those companies, getting an understanding of their needs.
Pham began working on Mogul back in 2014, doing business as a one-person shop (her brother was a co-founder for a while) that relied on contractors. By 2016 she had a platform for individuals, and in 2017 launched talent solutions, including search services, for corporate clients. A premium membership for individuals is $59 a year, and corporate clients pay a search fee of 25-30% of first-year base salary. Mogul works with 480 of the Fortune 5000, and boasts a 95% renewal rate.
And while Covid certainly slowed her business for a few months this spring, other factors have been driving growth. The diversity conversation at big companies, she says, used to be all about women, but companies have more recently been understanding the importance of racial diversity. And heads of diversity within corporations are now more likely to have their own budgets, and can make more decisions without having to consult as many people internally. “Obviously, there’s been a lot of terrible news,” says Pham. “But we’ve recently had some of the best months in our history.”
For recognizing the importance of dental professionals and building the career site they needed
Because we need to break the one-size-fits-all delivery model for health care
“If you don’t intentionally build a culture, it will happen around you,” says Toyin Ajayi, cofounder and chief health office at Cityblock, an Alphabet-backed start-up focused on marginalized populations with complex needs. Cityblock is a different type of healthcare company—visiting people in their homes, if necessary, to deliver the care they need and often centered in impoverished neighborhoods in New York, Connecticut, and North Carolina.
Getting team buy-in on the mission is one thing, but Ajayi always wanted to build a radically different culture for her team. “A lot of people from marginalized backgrounds put up a guard, and letting that guard down and saying ‘I dare to believe that it’s ok for me to be striving and to learn more and to take risks and to know that I can do that safely’—that requires a level of vulnerability that can scare people, particularly people who have experienced repercussions in the past just from speaking up and trying,” she says. A culture of inclusion requires more than multicultural posters in the break room and diversity trainings once a quarter. “You have to actually show them and model that,” she says.
It’s an even more complicated problem when founders consider that radically anti-racist and inclusive cultures inside corporate America are about as common as waterfalls in the desert. But a lack of role models shouldn’t hold founders back, she says. “We’re all stumbling a bit in the dark toward this vision. We screw our words up, we fail to listen, we fail to walk the walk sometimes,” she says. “The only thing to do when that happens is to own it and ask for patience and forgiveness. And to do that as a leader and say to your team, ‘I don’t have all the answers,’ requires vulnerability.” --Kate Rockwood
Tracee Ellis Ross
Because she knew coiled, curly hair needed something more
As an entrepreneur, Tracee Ellis Ross would seem to have some clear advantages: She's an award-winning actor, producer, and activist--and the daughter of Diana Ross. Yet her first steps into starting her own business brought her the same frustration and rage that so many founders--especially female founders--know all too well. A few years ago, Ross brought the idea for Pattern, a hair care line for curly, coily, and tight-textured hair, to her contact at her talent agency. "She made me cry," recalls Ross. "She was like, 'Why would anyone want hair products from you? You're an actor.' " Like many entrepreneurs, Ross was motivated by her own experience: She knew, from years of trying to mold her hair to society's idea of beauty--and damaging it in the process--that her product didn't exist yet. And she knew she wasn't the only one who needed something better.
"I look at the market and know where the actual gaps in the industry are," says Ross. "If you want to do almost the same thing as another company, figure out what would make you unique. How do you differentiate yourself?" Ross had been picking and choosing various products from multiple brands, trying to find what combined best for her particular hair pattern. But she never felt those products worked together well. With Pattern, she would aim to provide everything in one line.
Pattern, which is sold at Ulta Beauty across the U.S., is for anyone with coily, tight-textured hair. But Ross is clear that her company is centered on a celebration of Black beauty, which she believes is all too rare. "If our hair could talk, it would tell you of our legacies," she says, "all those ways our identity pushed through spaces where it wasn't meant to be, but is nonetheless."
As for her early rejection, Ross has become a bit more sanguine over time. "Be patient, and stay the course," she advises other entrepreneurs. "Take in the information. Take in the disappointments. They will come. They are important. They are part of the opportunity to clarify what you want to do." –Teneshia Carr