Being an entrepreneur, especially a Black entrepreneur, is about hustle and courage.
That was the theme of Maryland Smith’s Being Black in Entrepreneurship event. Hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, the event featured a panel discussion with notable entrepreneurs who spoke about their setbacks and successes.
Rashida Peterson '03, regional director at Global Fund for Women and founder of Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm 1847 Philanthropic, moderated the discussion. On the panel were Ronnie Coleman, founder and CEO of Meaningful Gigs, and Sarah Frimpong, CEO and founder of Wellfound Foods, a new Dingman Center Angels portfolio company.
For Coleman, supporting and developing Black talent is a mission. His company, Meaningful Gigs, connects African designers with U.S. companies to help fill positions. His goal is to create 100,000 skillful jobs for Africans by 2028.
There is much work to be done in terms of helping Black entrepreneurs succeed, Coleman said, and it begins with combating negative stereotypes.
“Negative stereotypes hurt those who hear them, specifically untrue stereotypes like women not being as talented in STEM. When people keep hearing that they’re not good enough, psychologically they’ll believe that,” said Coleman. “As Black entrepreneurs, we have to think that we’ll always succeed and not let the framing of issues prevent us from accomplishing our goals. The story has to be different for us to succeed.”
Frimpong, whose company Wellfound Foods is focused on improving the standards and quality of grab-and-go cuisine, said becoming an entrepreneur was always her dream. But putting things in place to make that dream possible was difficult, as it is for so many entrepreneurs.
“I’ve always wanted to build something that I would appreciate and enjoy, and that hopefully others would enjoy as well,” said Frimpong. “The key to getting that first customer is just getting started, building the pieces and then bringing others along to help you make it a reality. Getting going is tough, but if you can do it, then everything will start rolling.”
There were rejections, the entrepreneurs recalled. Frimpong said she learned to turn them into opportunities.
“I always say this challenge sounds like an opportunity to fill in the blank. There’s something you can get out of it if you take the time to find it,” said Frimpong. “I’m always grateful for challenges because it’s a chance for me to get better and grow as an entrepreneur.”
Getting to the “why” behind every rejection is a sign that you’re improving as an entrepreneur, Coleman said.
“Be courageous, get out of your comfort zone and learn from every mistake. Try to understand whether what you’re building has value,” said Coleman. “Don’t just validate an idea in your own mind, think about your customer, talk to them and gauge their opinions about your idea. Chances are if they like it, you may very well have your next customer.”