Black History Month is a time to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans that have carved (and are carving) new paths for themselves across the country.
We continue to support our African American colleagues, partners, and customers as Black History Month comes to a close, and we wanted to celebrate established and up-and-coming business owners who are reshaping what it means to be an entrepreneur in today’s America.
A self-proclaimed “nerdy girl,” Kimberly Bryant was born to a single mother in Memphis, Tennessee. She excelled in math and science during her early education and, as a result of her hard work, received a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University in 1985. Kimberly initially planned to study civil engineering, but her interest in technologies like the microchip, personal computer, and portable cellphone, drew her to switch majors to electrical engineering with a minor in computer science and math.
Kimberly’s early career was spent at electrical companies DuPont and Westinghouse Electric before she moved into biotechnology, and then later to pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Merck, Genentech, and Novartis.
Kimberly’s daughter, Kai, a gamer and lover of technology, attended a computing summer camp but was disappointed to find herself as the only African-American girl in attendance. Bryant later said about the experience, “I wanted to find a way to engage and interest my daughter in becoming a digital creative instead of just a consumer, and I did not find other programs that were targeted to girls like her from underrepresented communities.” So, Kimberly created one herself.
Black Girls CODE, a non-profit focusing on providing technology education for African American girls, was founded by Kimberly Bryant in 2011 and offers computer programming, coding, website building, robot design, mobile app creation programs, and so much more.
Black Girls CODE has since grown into an international organization with multiple chapters spanning the globe, and in 2013, Business Insider named Kimberly Bryant as one of “The 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology.”
Jessica Matthews is a Nigerian-American inventor whose unique power-generating playthings have catapulted her to success.
As a junior at Harvard University in 2008, Jessica invented Soccket, a soccer ball that generates and stores power the more it’s played with. She was inspired to create Soccket by a trip to her aunt’s wedding in Nigeria, where harmful diesel generators were used to keep the lights running. With only 30 minutes of playtime, the Soccket could store enough kinetic energy to power an LED light for up to three hours. With the help of classmate Julia Silverman, Jessica Matthews founded Uncharted Play (later Uncharted Power and eventually just Uncharted) to further develop the Soccket.
Uncharted has since shifted to developing a wider range of kinetic-energy-storing products, trademarking MORE (Motion-based Off-grid Renewable Energy), a system that uses the same method as Soccket but that can be used in various other products, like floor panels, streets, strollers, shopping carts, and more.
Jessica Matthews has received multiple awards and honors, including the following:
- One Young World’s 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year
- Inc.’s 30 Under 30 (2016)
- Forbes 30 Under 30 (2014)
- Black Enterprise’s 2013 Innovator of the Year
Chef Derrick McCray
Derrick McCray had always dreamed of making it to the Super Bowl. A former wide receiver at Florida A&M University once scouted for the Dallas Cowboys, McCray later found himself submerged in the hard party scene of Los Angeles.
Derrick moved back to South Florida to live with his parents as he recovered from the damaging lifestyle he left behind in California. Derrick was determined to uphold the McCray name by borrowing $100 from his mother and a grill from his father, Rev. Herman C. McCray, Jr., who was the founder of McCray’s Bar-B-Q in Riviera Beach. Establishment of this business was no small feat, as Herman McCray was a Civil Rights leader in the community who dedicated his restaurant to providing meals for the sick, shut-in, elderly, and homeless.
Derrick McCray’s big break came in 2005 when he was invited to cater for the Riviera Beach Jazz Festival. He then caught the attention of a West Palm Beach employee who recommended his food truck cater an event for the NFL host committee, finally sending Derrick McCray to Super Bowl XLI in 2007. Since then, McCray’s Backyard BBQ and Seafood has been the preferred food for multiple Super Bowl events, including the Player’s Networking Event, where NFL alums help retiring players transition away from the professional sports world.
As CEO of McCray’s Backyard BBQ, Derrick continues the McCray legacy of cooking some of the best barbeque in the world. Derrick’s rough start has paid off, as his list of fans now includes Venus and Serena Williams, Brad Pitt, Magic Johnson, Dan Marino, and U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden.
Now considered one of the most recognizable people on the planet, Oprah’s humble beginnings are an inspiration to anyone pursuing their dreams.
Born into poverty by an unmarried teenage mother, Oprah was raised initially by her grandmother before moving in with her mother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After multiple moves and several high school transfers, Oprah eventually won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant at the age of 17, which attracted the attention of WVOL, the local Black radio station, which hired her for a part-time news job. Later, Tennessee State University awarded Oprah a full scholarship, and she continued to gain traction in the media world until she was removed from her co-anchor role at a Baltimore news station because she was “unfit for television news.” Oprah then moved to Chicago, where the famous movie critic Roger Ebert persuaded her to join his show, which was eventually renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. The rest is history.
Oprah’s list of accomplishments could fill multiple books (and already have), but here are some of the especially memorable ones:
- Harpo Inc. (Oprah spelled backward) was founded in 1988. Oprah purchased a state-of-the-art production studio in Chicago and claimed ownership of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah was the first African American, male or female, to own her own production company in America.
- O Magazine, founded in 2000, went on to become a leading women’s lifestyle magazine with more than 2 million monthly readers. Fortune has called O Magazine “the most successful startup in the industry.”
- Oxygen Media, which runs the Oxygen Network, was founded by Oprah to promote women in the television industry.
If you have ever looked up a review of a new smartphone, tablet, computer, headphones, game console, or basically any other tech gadget, you are probably familiar with 28-year-old Marques Brownlee, otherwise known as MKBHD on YouTube.
While in high school, Marques saved up his allowance to purchase a new laptop to film and edit videos. His first video uploaded to YouTube in 2009 was a review of the remote that came with his new laptop. Thirteen years and over 1,000 videos later, Marques is now one of the most-viewed technology-focused creators on the internet, with more than 15 million subscribers to his channel.
Brownlee’s talents extend past simple tech reviews. During his short career, Marques has interviewed the CEOs of major companies like Microsoft, Google, and Motorola. He has also interviewed athletes like Kobe Bryant, scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, and other notable personalities, including Will Smith, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and President Barack Obama.
Marques Brownlee was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 list for 2020 and was awarded Creator of the Decade at the tenth-annual Shorty Awards in 2018.
The internet of the early 2000s was a very different place; companies were just beginning to set up official websites, social media was in its infancy, and blogs were little more than personal online journals. During these exciting times, Kathryn Finney found her footing as one of the first online entrepreneurs.
In April 2003, Kathryn started The Budget Fashionista blog as a personal hobby before eventually turning it into a fully-fledged media company in June 2004. Considered one of the first modern blogs of our time, The Budget Fashionista was an immediate success. Kathryn was the first blogger officially invited to New York Fashion Week, the first to receive a major book deal, and the first to appear on The Today Show. Since then, Kathryn has appeared on several national TV networks, including Fox, CNN, CNBC, ABC’s Good Morning America, E! Entertainment, and several publications, including USA Today, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.
Kathryn founded digitalundivided (DID) in 2012 to lead women of color founders through the entire startup pipeline, from their initial idea to completion. Through DID, Kathryn also helped launch the BIG Innovation Center in Atlanta, a place described as “the first-of-its-kind open innovation center dedicated to the future success of Black and Latina women tech founders.” The Innovation Center features an incubator program for Black and Latina startup founders and was chosen as the winner for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2015-2016 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition.
In April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced lockdowns and stay-at-home orders around the world, Kathryn founded The Doonie Fund to encourage other Black women entrepreneurs to keep up with their businesses during difficult times. The Doonie Fund was yet another success, as Kathryn’s initial donation of $10,000 was quickly raised to $150,000 with the help of generous donors. These funds were used as micro-investments for more than 1,500 Black women-owned businesses.
Chemical engineer Asmau Ahmed had a problem. As an engineer and innovator, most of her time was wrapped up in research and work. As a woman, the pressure of presenting herself while networking required her to spend a lot of time figuring out what to wear. Rather than wasting countless hours shopping for the perfect shoes to match a dress or researching the proper skin care products for her complexion, Asmau craved a way to automate this time-consuming process. So, she created it herself.
In 2014, Asmau founded Plum Perfect, an app that allows users to upload images of themselves and receive hyper-specific recommendations based on their complexion. The innovative technology analyzes the color of the user’s skin, hair, eyes, and lips to find complimentary makeup and clothing options that best match the user. Asmau and her team have spent nearly eight years analyzing more than 16 million colors to refine and perfect the Plum Perfect app.
At the time of her fundraising, Asmau was one of only 12 Black women to raise more than $1 million in funding. Asmau’s work has been featured on InStyle, TechCrunch, Women 2.0, Black Enterprise, SELF, Glamour, R29, PopSugar, Yahoo!, ABC News, and more.
Editor’s Note: References made to businesses/companies in this post are not meant to convey affiliation with or endorsement of Rubicon by those companies in any way.
Tish Roberson is a Key Account Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.