Founder Profile

Toyin Ajayi

Cityblock

Because we need to break the one-size-fits-all delivery model for health care

Company Information
Year Founded
2017
Location
Brooklyn, New York
Industry
Health
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

“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

Pattern

Because she knew coiled, curly hair needed something more

Company Information
Year Founded
2019
Location
El Segundo, California
Industry
Consumer Products & Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

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

Tze Chun

Uprise Art

For a new approach to selling art online

Company Information
Year Founded
2011
Location
New York, New York
Industry
Media
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020

Vanessa Ogle

Enseo

For constant innovation

Company Information
Year Founded
2000
Location
Plano, Texas
Industry
IT Services
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020
Company Description

It’s been a tough couple of months for the hospitality industry. But when Vanessa Ogle of Enseo--a company known for being the first to integrate Netflix into hotel rooms--saw her clients’ revenue tank due the coronavirus, she saw how technology could help. Enseo introduced seven new products, and secured 10 new patents (Enseo is the lead inventor on a total of 40 U.S. patents), to help clients reopen and attract consumers. These include a virtual front desk agent, a temperature scanner, and an ultraviolet cleaning cart. “The most difficult thing about radical change is breaking inertia,” she says. “To go to an entire team of engineers and say, ‘Thanks for all the hard work on the products you’ve been building. I want you to drop everything and go do this new set of products that we’ve never done before,’” was an intense effort. Ogle likens the process of converting ideas to reality to a reduction in cooking, where you concentrate a flavor by applying heat--and the coronavirus certainly provided the pressure. –Gabrielle Bienasz

Wanona Satcher

Makhers Studio

For bringing community, manufacturing, and housing together

Company Information
Year Founded
2017
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
Industry
Manufacturing
Data as of Publication on Aug. 11, 2020