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Running a business

Stories of innovation, creativity and overcoming challenges

Nearly 7 out of 10 Black-owned small businesses say they’re the only or among the very few companies offering their product/services in their city or town. That’s just one of the findings from a recent survey by QuickBooks that shows Black entrepreneurs are consistently at the forefront of innovation.

Commissioned in honour of Black History Month, the survey polled 1,500 Black small business owners with up to 100 employees. It found Black entrepreneurs are the drivers of change in their small businesses, whether by leveraging technology or acting as trailblazers within their families and local communities.

Despite facing ongoing challenges, from racial biases and stereotypes to difficulty obtaining financing and an uncertain economic climate, Black-owned businesses continue to prevail. By taking risks and paving the way for other entrepreneurs, Black business owners act as not just incubators for Black employment but also a support system for Black creatives.

Black-owned small businesses report half their staff members, on average, are artists or pursue creative endeavours on the side. This Black History Month, QuickBooks celebrates the determination and drive of Black entrepreneurs and creatives, as well as the immense value they bring to the economy.

Photographer and entrepreneur Jah Grey redefines Black masculinity

Meet Jah Grey, founder of Black Men's Therapy Fund, located in Toronto, Canada.

As a celebrated visual artist whose work has been exhibited around the world, Jah Grey uses the power of photography to challenge harmful gender norms. His portraits of Black men who don’t adhere to imposed expectations of hyper-masculinity help plant the seeds for healthier identities.

Jah is also an active coach, consultant and the founder of a non-profit organization called the Black Men's Therapy Fund. His ultimate goal is to create space for expanded notions of Black masculinity and belonging. “What inspired me to become a photographer was a deep desire for connection and a means to explore and understand myself on a deeper level,” he says.

“Photography provided an outlet for me to express my deepest fears and emotions and connected me to others who resonated with and shared similarities in our differences.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is the power to bring something new and unique into existence. To me, it’s the ability to fully embrace and express oneself, allowing for authenticity and self-discovery. It involves exploring and harnessing one's imagination to uncover alternative perspectives and possibilities.

How has creativity helped you build a successful business?

Creativity has played a crucial role in building my business/career. I’ve been able to identify gaps in the market and imagine innovative solutions that set me apart from others in the industry. This has allowed me to provide unique value to my clients and meet their specific needs.

My creative mindset has also led me to adopt a more community-driven approach, creating stronger connections with my clients and fostering a sense of belonging. This focus on community has been a contributing factor to the growth and success of my business.

Can you share an example of when you had to innovate in your business?

I noticed a growing demand for my work during the COVID-19 pandemic. As restrictions limited in-person interactions, I had to think of other ways I could implement my skills virtually and offer services that catered to the changing needs of my clients.

In response to this, I launched a non-profit organization called the Black Men's Therapy Fund. It is dedicated to addressing the urgent mental health needs of Black men across various intersections. The goal of this initiative is to cultivate Black mental wellness by fostering culturally responsive ecosystems of support, strengthening accountability to self and others, and confronting harmful beliefs about Black masculinity.

Additionally, I expanded my professional offerings by dedicating more time to building my consulting and coaching services. I assist growth-minded individuals in discovering alternative strategies to amplify their career, business, and personal lives.

These innovative approaches not only allowed me to adapt to the changing circumstances but also opened up new opportunities for reaching clients who were geographically distant. It was a successful innovation that enabled me to continue serving my clients and make a positive impact during a challenging time.

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Prioritize rest and joy just as much as you do your work and hustle

Have you faced challenges in your journey?

Absolutely, as a photographer and entrepreneur, I have faced various challenges throughout my journey. One of the key strategies I have adopted is to focus on the two pillars of inner and external work. This involves shifting my perspective, reframing challenges, and redirecting my efforts towards finding solutions.

One crucial aspect of overcoming challenges is analyzing our mindset and implementing a "mind diet" that promotes grace, gentleness, and self-compassion. By not taking failures personally and learning from them, we can grow and adapt.

Making time for joy and rest, as well as practicing being gentle and kind to ourselves, allows us to recharge and maintain a positive mindset. These practices become daily habits that positively influence other areas of our lives and help us navigate challenges more effectively.

What's one tip you can share with aspiring Black creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs?

Prioritize rest and joy just as much as you do your work and hustle. It's easy to get caught up in the demands of building a career or business, but investing time in self-care and activities that bring you joy is equally important.

Often, we overlook the value of non-monetary currencies such as happiness, peace of mind, and overall well-being. Remember to lead with curiosity and gentleness in your pursuits, and to indulge in doing more of what you love.

Taking breaks, engaging in activities that recharge you, and nurturing your passions can help rejuvenate your creativity, maintain your motivation, and provide a healthier work-life balance.

Dreaming Big with Akilah Newton: Celebrating diversity through children’s media

Meet Akilah Newton, founder of Big Dreamers Inc., located in Montreal, Canada.

Akilah Newton is building a world in which future generations of children will not only recognize themselves but feel like they belong. The first-generation Trinidadian-Canadian creates diverse and representational children’s books, games, art activities and supplies, pairing her passion for arts with activism to educate youth about Canadian Black history.

“When kids see themselves in my products or people that look like them, it gives them the confidence that they can achieve anything and to ‘dream big’,” she explains.

Dreaming big is also the motto and message of her company. “If you can dream it, you can achieve it. You can do anything you set your mind to,” she says.

“By leveraging collective efforts and resources, we can create a more supportive and equitable ecosystem for aspiring writers, creators and publishers from all backgrounds.”

Akilah created Big Dreamers to celebrate multiculturalism and individuality while promoting diversity. She remains deeply committed to pushing boundaries and paving the way for future generations of diverse voices.

“All of my products are representative of Black and BIPOC communities. Being connected to my cultural heritage has been pivotal in helping shape who I am today,” she says.

“We have a deep appreciation for our history and culture, and with Big Dreamers, I’m continuing to share our rich history with future generations.”

What does creativity mean to you?

I think the key aspect of creativity is imagination and fearlessness. The more you allow your imagination to explore and dream, the more creative you can become. I never used to think I was a creative person until I learned to harness it.

How has creativity helped you build a successful business?

There was a moment when I walked into an Indigo bookstore in Pointe-Claire, Québec, and saw my Big Dreamers products in a front-facing display. It was so impactful. I couldn't believe how many products I had! Sometimes when you’re just focused on the day-to-day of the business, you forget how many products you’ve actually created over the years. It struck me that all those products came from my creativity and desire to help future generations dream big. It was an incredible moment.

Can you share an example of when you had to innovate in your business?

Technology and digital tools have been instrumental in building and expanding my company. Embracing technological advancements has allowed us to reach a broader audience, connect with customers globally, and streamline our operations in various ways. It has played a pivotal role in marketing and promoting our products and services.

Social media platforms, email marketing campaigns, e-commerce websites and digital advertising have helped us raise awareness about Big Dreamers and engage with our target audience on a more personal level.

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I think the key aspect of creativity is imagination and fearlessness. The more you allow your imagination to explore and dream, the more creative you can become.

Have you faced challenges in your journey?

As a Black female business owner, overcoming the hardships and obstacles in any industry involves resilience and determination. Breaking down barriers requires challenging preconceived notions about who holds authority in the publishing world. I've actively worked to create a space where underrepresented voices flourish, demonstrating that diverse perspectives enhance the richness of literary landscapes.

What's one tip you can share with aspiring Black creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs?

I find maintaining a balance between business responsibilities and nurturing my creative spark is essential. I designate specific times for business tasks and others for creative pursuits. This allows me to focus fully on each aspect without feeling overwhelmed or diluted. I also prioritize self-care and mindfulness practices to stay grounded and connected to my creative energy.

Starting a business can feel overwhelming at first. Find helpful business resources, inspiring stories, and free tools — curated for Black business owners — on the QuickBooks Blog


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