Black Women Entrepreneurs Whose Bold Moves Made History

Black Women Entrepreneurs Whose Bold Moves Made History

Black women entrepreneurs start businesses as a means to create freedom for themselves and others. Because these women aren’t celebrities in the traditional sense, they’ve been easy to overlook. But not today, sis. Today you’ll learn the name of black women entrepreneurs whose bold moves made history.

1. Maggie Lena Walker

Notable Quotes: “Friends and good manners will carry you where money won’t go.”

First to the stage is Ms. Maggie Lena Walker, the first woman and Black woman to charter a bank in the United States. Ms. Walker also served as the bank’s first president. This action went against Jim Crow laws as well as laws prohibiting women from opening bank accounts. 

As a financial and political pioneer, Maggie Walker left a legacy that black people could be successful in politics and banking. She was a proponent of the black community and an advocate of financial literacy among children.

2. Cathy Hughes

Notable Quotes: “It’s interesting how God arranges your schedule. When you’re helping someone else, you never run out of time, when you’re just interested in helping yourself, time is real short.”

Cathy Hughes is the ambitious and iconic co-founder of the media company Radio One and the first black woman to take a company public. After being denied 32 times, Ms. Hughes and her second husband were able to secure a $1M loan to start the company. Shortly after, the couple parted ways and Ms. Hughes moved into the station with her young son confident she could pay back the debt. 

To give you some context, as of 2017, only 8 out of 3,671 publicly traded companies were 51% majority black-owned. Radio one, now called Urban One, is the largest black-owned media group serving the black community. The company’s market cap is valued at $227.25M

3. Jessica Nabongo

Notable Quotes: “The U.S. has perfected racism in a way that I’ve not seen in other countries, so I would urge you to travel WHEREVER you want to, no matter who you are and what you look like.”

Next up we have Jessica Nabongo the first black woman and Ugandan to have traveled to every country in the world. Ms. Nabongo used her work as a travel blogger to fund and record her trips around the world. She is also the founder of a boutique travel agency, Jet Black. Her agency organizes small group tours around Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, and the world. 

Born in Detroit, MI she spent her childhood traveling between the United States and East Africa. She claims that she became an accidental influencer after she started blogging about her travels online. 

With her background working for the UN, she uses her travel agency as a way to create more opportunities for local markets in each country. 

4. Janice Bryant Howroyd

Notable Quotes: The advice I offer female leaders is the same I offer anyone: Be honest about where you are in the process. Not just your role. Be honest about your abilities. Are they growing? Will, what got you here get you there? If not, what are you prepared and excited to do to fill the gap?

Remember applying to jobs online? At one point before starting a business you probably came across the staffing agency ActOne. The ActOne Group is the largest privately held, minority-woman-owned personnel company in the US. It also made Janice Bryant Howroyd the first black woman to own and build a billion-dollar company.

With only $900 to start, she built ActOne after the urging of her brother-in-law. The personnel company went on to staff Fortune 500 companies, local businesses, and government agencies. Ms. Howroyd has been a contributing writer for Forbes and Huffington Post and the author of two books. The second, Acting Up, offers advice for entrepreneurs to win in business using down-home wisdom.

5. Mary Edmonia Lewis

Notable Quotes: “Today is pay-day and pay-day is always an unpleasant time … we must sell our work if we want to live.”

Until recently, artists were not seen as business people and certainly not entrepreneurs. Our next bold black woman would beg to differ. Mary Edmonia Lewis is held as the first African-American and Native American sculptor to receive national and international prominence. She left college before her final year due to rampant racism and several false accusations of poisoning, theft, and aiding burglary. 

Ms. Lewis began selling her works of art after working for a short time under a tutor eventually making enough money to fund a trip to Rome. She lived there most of her adult life becoming one of the most successful black-Native artists male or female.

6. Lisa Nichols

Notable Quotes: Your job is to fill your own cup so it overflows. Then you can serve others, joyfully, from your saucer.

Joining the lineup of black women entrepreneurs with publically traded companies is Lisa Nichols. 

Lisa Nichols is a motivational speaker, CEO and founder of Motivating the Masses Inc. Through her organization, she offers coaching services and professional development through a series of programs. Past clients include L’Oreal, Toyota, Wells Fargo, and others.

After being fired from a job as an account specialist she started her business helping people make an inner transformation. She came to prominence after her appearance in the film The Secret detailing how she grew a successful business after being on public assistance. At one time she was so poor she wrapped her son in a dish towel because she couldn’t afford diapers.

Today Motivating the Masses is present in more than 160 countries worldwide, helping people change their lives for the better. 

7. Tina Wells

Notable Quotes: “We’re going to make mistakes every day. The goal is to not make the same mistake again”

Tina Wells is the business BFF we all secretly want. She is the founder and CEO of the millennial-focused Buzz Marketing Group, a full-service marketing and research provider. Ms. Wells is the author of 9 children’s books, 5 of which are best-sellers. She also sits on several councils including the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneur’s Council and is on the board of directors for the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. 

8. Clara Brown

Notable Quotes: I always go where Jesus calls me

Clara Brown is lovingly known as the Angel of the Rockies. She is was born into enslavement and lost contact with her husband and children when they were all sold to different enslavers. Freed at age 56, she worked her way across the country as a cook and a maid. With the money she made working, she was able to invest in property and mining near Central City, Colorado.

She opened a laundry and a Sunday School leaving her home open for teaching, hospital services, and prayer. Ms. Brown is held as Colorado’s first black settler and successful entrepreneur. At 82, she was reunited with her youngest daughter and granddaughter and was able to fund the travel of 16 other relatives and former slaves. At 85, Clara Brown was voted into the Society of Colorado’s Pioneers for her role in Colorado’s early history.

9. Lisa Price

Notable Quotes: “I was not born with a lot of money. I’m just an average woman who listened to the universe when it told me to believe in myself.”

Lisa Price is the founder and president of the brand Carol’s Daughter. She got her start in the ’90s, making hair and body products as a side hustle while working in production on TV shows like The Cosby Show and its spin-off Here and Now. 

Experimenting with creams and essential oils, Ms. Price began selling products after her mother urged her to make it a business. Garnering attention at local craft fairs and farmers’ markets, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay-Z became her first $10M investors. 

Carol’s Daughter was acquired by LOreal USA in Oct. 2014.

10. Mary Ellen Pleasant

Notable Quotes: “I was a girl full of smartness [who] let books alone and studied men and women a good deal … I have always noticed that when I have something to say, people listen. They never go to sleep on me.”

Last but certainly not least, our final entry on this list is no one to sleep on. Ms. Mary Ellen Pleasant was is known as the first black woman millionaire, decades before Madame CJ Walker. 

Mary Ellen Pleasant was a real estate magnate, financier, and abolitionist. Her sole aim was to make money to help more people, especially the enslaved and formerly enslaved. She kept a low profile, pretending to be a cook or a maid to learn information about properties and gain access to wealthy whites. 

Ms. Pleasant owned boarding houses, laundries, brothels, restaurants, and was the co-founder of a bank. She used the money she earned to teach people to keep safe, find work, establish businesses, and more. Expanding the Underground Railroad west and fighting several legal battles, she became known as the Mother of Civil Rights in California. 


As you can see, black women have always been industrious, pillars of the community. But it’s never been easy work. Every step of the way, these women established a community to draw strength and knowledge. At Sistahbiz Global Network we strive to create a place where black women entrepreneurs can see and be seen by black business women just like you. Learn more about Sisathbiz here.


Sheila Ellis-Glasper

Sheila Ellis-Glasper is the founder of SEG Media Collective. She helps business owners and organization leaders amplify impact, revenue and legacy through branding and digital media.


  1. Pat D on September 15, 2023 at 7:01 pm

    Thank you for this encouraging article!

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