Eradicating the enormous obstacles of structural racism and systemic bias in business is no small task. But as the country comes to grips with its deep-rooted inequities, many Americans are looking toward big solutions.
WeWork aims to be a part of that shift, and recently announced a major grant program that will award a total of $2 million in funding to Black small business owners who operate out of WeWork locations around the country. After WeWork and small business champion Ureeka reviewed hundreds of applications and developed a meticulous point system, an independent judging panel chose 200 grantees. Each will be awarded $10,000 to invest in their business, as well as resources for networking and growth from WeWork Labs. Allow us to introduce you to some of the dynamic entrepreneurs bringing much-needed change to the face of American enterprise.
Monique Woodland understands the anguish of painstakingly slow hair growth. After years spent experimenting with color treatments and struggling amid a lack of resources for her curly hair texture, she was left with a damaged, broken mane. “My hair was damaged so badly that it was actually growing weaker and slower than ever before, and breaking faster than it was growing,” she says on her website.
Nursing it back to health was a labor of love she wanted to share with other women. In 2017, she launched Club Rapunzel, a subscription-based service that offers education, products, and a support network for women on the journey from damaged, slow-growing locks to hair love.
Boss Transport & Family Services
Boss Transport & Family Services works to smooth the road between patient and caregiver. Founded by Williametta Woods, in 2006, and led today by her son, George Odoi, the company provides transportation and accompaniment in the D.C. metro area to non-emergency medical appointments, surgeries, and essential errands. This is a game changer for many people who have physical limitations, lack a support network, or live in areas where transportation isn’t readily available.
“As a Black-owned family non-emergency medical transportation business, it feels amazing to be an awardee,” said Odoi. “The WeWork grant will allow us to continue giving our employees salaries and handling business expenses. It will also enable us to be more innovative through new transportation solutions.”
The business has been working hard to transport clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve actually been paying our employees their full salaries and not taking anything off, even when they’re not working, because they’re in the field every single day, risking their lives,” Odoi said in a recent Zoom call with fellow awardees.
Capture Create Media
Bigwigs in politics, business, and culture, including the Obama Foundation, American Express, and Howard University, have turned to the D.C.–based team at Capture Create Media to get their messages out to the world through videos, digital campaigns, and websites. The creative agency, headed up by founder and CEO Nathan Kigenyi, is passionate about shaping brand identities and building dynamic digital presences for small businesses and fellow WeWork startups.
Reginald Ware, CEO of BlackDoctor.org, is on a mission to get every Black family healthy. Knowing that mistrust of the medical establishment is high among African Americans due to historical bias and discrimination, he founded BlackDoctor.org, a wellspring of health-related information collated from and about experts and leaders in the Black community. He later launched Daily Vitamina, a similar platform for the Latinx community. But health isn’t just about keeping disease at bay, Ware has said, which is why both sites also offer holistic content—from recipes to news to beauty tips—that supports an all-around healthy lifestyle.
The Boss Architect, LLC
After building a booming career in financial advising that saw her close over $1 billion in business loans, Kendra J. Lewis decided to shift her focus to Main Street. She now offers small businesses the same ambitious money-management approach that helped her garner billions for Fortune 500 companies. The Boss Architect, her one-woman financial strategy firm, developed a signature program to help small business owners secure and grow funding without relying on personal credit.
“Where there may have been fear before in stepping out and being an entrepreneur, they’re using that fear and turning it into promise,” said Lewis of the business owners she works with.
Mentorship is an important part of any career, but it’s crucial for businesswomen of color, who often face barriers to upward mobility because of institutional bias and often fewer insider connections within corporate networks.
That’s why Natalie Madeira Cofield founded Walker’s Legacy in 2009. Named after Madame C.J. Walker, the haircare mogul who became one of the first African American millionaires in the early 20th century, Walker’s Legacy connects professional women of color through workshops, conferences, and one-on-one sessions. It was at one such meeting that Cofield was put in touch with one of her career heroes, Morgan Stanley vice chairman Carla Harris.
For many Americans, water safety came on the radar in 2014 with the Flint water crisis. But for data scientist and entrepreneur Doll Avant, Flint marked a second tragedy caused by the poor condition of local drinking water: Her father had been diagnosed with diabetes years earlier, a development she later discovered might have been linked to elevated arsenic levels in the local water supply in her hometown of Atlanta.
Determined to make a difference in the status of water safety, she developed Aquagenuity, a program that aggregates and synthesizes complicated municipal water records in order to deliver concise, digestible information about local water quality to consumers, businesses, and community leaders.
“On behalf of my team at Aquagenuity, I am so honored to have received this grant from WeWork, which will allow us to hire a new team member and support the launch of our Water DNA kits, the ‘23andMe of water,’” Avant said. “As an extension of their grant support of Aquagenuity, WeWork is actually helping us in our mission to bring clean water to every single citizen on the planet.”
In a recent Zoom call, she also lauded her fellow awardees. “They say entrepreneurship is 21st-century activism. I applaud each and every person for the work that you do. It matters. This is how we should move society forward, not just in a moment on the streets, but over time, building influence and economic power,” she said.
Rachel Mosely is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Town & Country, Elle, and more.