African American Entrepreneurs Find Support and Community at All-Female Festival

African American Entrepreneurs Find Support and Community at All-Female Festival
Founder Dee Poku welcomes the audience of female entrepreneurs at The Other Festival in downtown Brooklyn Saturday. The two-day Festival is a culmination of all-female panels, workshops, vendors and musical performances. (Photo Kalen Goodluck/BKLYNER)

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN—Growing up, Asmau Ahmed was on a quest to find her mother a proper skin foundation to cover her scars. No product they tried came close enough to match her dark black skin tones. Undeterred, Ms. Ahmed’s calling became “living and breathing color analysis.”

Years of schooling in chemical engineering and business led Ms. Ahmed to create a mobile beauty app that recommends makeup products based on user photos, including those with dark skin tones. She called it Plum Perfect, an architectural term meaning “exactly straight down or up”—in essence, precision.

Asmau Ahmed was among the all-female panelists at The Other Festival, a mix of fashion, entrepreneurial panels, workshops and musical performances, that took place this weekend in Brooklyn. Panelists spoke on a number of topics, including pitching ideas to investors, marketing, and fundraising—all geared toward over a hundred female audience members, many among them entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

The Other Festival opened this weekend in downtown Brooklyn. Dee Poku is founder of the two-day festival, a mix of fashion, entrepreneurial panels, workshops and music performances. (Photo Kalen Goodluck/BKLYNER)

“Women need a community to have a voice in this society,” said Dee Poku, founder of The Other Festival. Ms. Poku says she began the Festival to create a support and entrepreneurial network for women where they could have a voice.

A 2015 report commissioned by American Express Open, show that women-owned businesses grew 74 percent between 1997 and 2015, 1.5 times the national average. African American women-owned businesses grew an astonishing 322 percent during the same 18 year-period, making them the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.

Asmau Ahmed, creator and founder of mobile app Plum Perfect, spoke on a panel of all-female entrepreneurs this weekend at The Other Festival in downtown Brooklyn. (Kalen Goodluck/BKLYNER)

Though they may be the fastest growing group, they also are the most underfunded. “People were not throwing money at me,” said Ms. Ahmed. Entrepreneurs are used to hearing “no” all the time, but they should also hear “yes” once in a while, right?

In 2014, Digital Undivided, a social enterprise seeking to boost investments of underrepresented groups, studied over 60,000 startups to produce a report named Project Diane. The report found that out of the 10,238 black women business ventures started between 2012 and 2014, only 24 successfully were funded. The 0.2 percent that managed to raise money averaged $36,000 while white-male owned companies averaged $1.3 million. Ms. Ahmed said she was a part of the study and one of those black women who successfully received investments.

Kelly Louis, 34, was one of five women who rushed to speak with Ms. Ahmed after her panel. They shared a word on being black women in an industry where they feel misrepresented and not always trusted enough to invest in their products. “I’m so used to being the only [black woman],” said Ms. Louis, “I’m a black woman who is pushing something that they may not see the value.”

Ms. Ahmed believes there needs to be a more diversity, including black women, in the [venture capital] meetings and in decision-making positions to bridge the funding gap. “It raises so many emotions for me,” said Ms. Ahmed after her panel, “It makes me more driven.”

To Ms. Louis, diversity-talk in business seems monolithic, meaning only black and white, male and female. For her, diversity means “looking at the breadth of whole diversity and what it can offer.”

DJ, singer-songwriter MAAD played The Other Festival on Saturday in downtown Brooklyn (Kalen Goodluck/BKLYNER).

The Festival’s first day ended with sets by a seven-band lineup like MAAD, Baby Yors and Dana Williams that jammed into the evening.


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