Black small business owner surfing

Small business, big heart: Stories of courage from the Black small business community

Starting a business, taking that monumental leap from employee to entrepreneur, takes great courage. Especially when the odds are stacked against you — which, for many Black business owners, they are. Black and minority-owned businesses notoriously have a harder time gaining access to crucial small business loans and funding. In fact, 57% of Black business owners in the United States say they have been denied a business loan at least once, compared to just 37% of non-Black business owners, according to a recent QuickBooks survey.  

Financial challenges are just the tip of the iceberg these business owners must face due to centuries of systemic racism, imbalances of power, and lack of opportunity for members of the Black community in the U.S. Most Black business owners (86%) agree they are judged more critically than non-Black business owners. And four out of five say they have experienced racism from their own customers. 

Despite these challenges, and in the face of oppression and discrimination, Black business owners remain inspired, motivated, and optimistic about the future. More than nine in 10 say they’re motivated to succeed by a fierce desire to disprove racial stereotypes. These Black small business owners list successful Black entrepreneurs as the most inspiring leaders — more inspiring than Black athletes, musicians, movie stars, or politicians. 

Plus, more than 75% of business owners agree Black-owned businesses are critical for a thriving Black community — and community is everything. Almost every Black business owner surveyed (94%) told QuickBooks they feel a deep need for their business to give back to the their community. 

Black business owners have to work harder, succeed sooner (or risk failing faster), and give more of their time and energy to their businesses than their non-Black counterparts. Yet they’re more optimistic about the future of Black businesses, more inspired by their communities, and more likely to give back. That’s courage. 

This Black History Month, QuickBooks celebrates the everyday acts of courage by Black small business owners across the United States. From combating discrimination and harmful stereotypes to supporting Black communities and cultures through the ultimate act of courage: starting and running a small business. 

SurfearNEGRA promotes inclusivity of the ocean

Meet GiGi Lucas, Founder of SurfearNEGRA, located in Jacksonville, FL.

GiGi Lucas founded SurfearNEGRA in 2018 to inspire young girls, especially young Black girls, to try surfing. But she wasn’t a surfer herself until just a few years earlier. Gigi didn’t grow up in a “water” family — she gave surfing a try as an adult and quickly fell in love with the sport, finding power and healing in the ocean. But when she noticed how few women of color were riding the waves along with her, she set out to identify the barriers that prevent women and girls of color from learning to surf — and why they felt that the ocean wasn’t as inclusive as she knew it was. Shortly after, SurfearNEGRA was born.  

“SurfearNEGRA is a 501(c)3 focused on bringing cultural and gender diversity to the sport of surf,” she says. “Our ocean [¡100 Girls!] and land-based [¡Surf The Turf!] programs can be accessed year-round with a goal to make surfing accessible to any kid, ANYWHERE!”

Today, SurfearNEGRA provides transportation, gear, camps, and training to young Black girls interested in learning to surf — empowering them to #diversifythelineup.

Surfer Negra surfboard with graphic.
Photo Credit: Stefanie Keeler

How does courage show up in your business?

“Every single day it takes courage to forge new paths, both in surf culture and as an entrepreneur. I have the definition of ‘entrepreneur’ sitting on my desk. Part of that definition is ‘taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to [run a business].’

When I began SurfearNEGRA, not only did I have to fully commit to the idea of creating space for more Black and Brown girls to learn how to surf, but I also had to fully commit to the investment of my time and resources that the business would require to thrive. This is why I make a point to surf every day. It reminds me of the unequivocal feeling of freedom and limitlessness I get when I’m in the ocean. And that’s what keeps me going.” 

What gives you the courage to keep pursuing your dreams?

“Without a doubt, seeing the girls in our ¡100 Girls! program evolve as surfers and water women is what keeps me going. Every time I see the smile on one of our campers' faces after catching their first wave or cross-stepping to the nose of their surfboard, it reminds me of where I was at that age: Inquisitive and not yet aware of how powerful I was.” 

What is your best advice for Black business owners in search of courageous inspiration?

“Remember WHY you started… and revisit that ‘WHY’ often. In my personal experience, jumping at every ‘good’ opportunity to grow your business often leads to disarray or burnout. Using your ‘WHY’ as the north star for decision-making helps to discern between ‘good’ opportunities and ‘great’ opportunities. 

My other piece of advice is to immediately implement tools to help make your workflow more efficient. Even though our business is very much rooted in nature, technology is what allows us to have the reach to create real impact.” 

Ayo Foods shares the joy of West Africa

Meet Perteet and Fred Spencer, co-founders of Ayo Foods, located in Chicago, IL.

Perteet and Fred Spencer launched Ayo Foods at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a tough time to open a new business, as thousands around the world were closing their doors. But in West Africa, ‘ayo’ means joy — and the Spencers thought that the world could use some joy. They believe that nothing brings more joy than sharing a meal with friends and family. So they created a line of curated meals and sauces inspired by West African dishes that could be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere. 

“Ayo exists to celebrate the ingredients and flavors of the West African diaspora. Our line is comprised of thoughtfully sourced, chef-curated frozen meals and pepper sauces. Inspired by family, we’re on a mission to build a more representative grocery aisle — item by item. Ayo is our love letter to the West African community and our bold effort to move this incredible food into the mainstream.”

Ayo Foods co-founders standing in a kitchen.

How does courage show up in your business?

“In 2018, we decided to take action to transform an idea into reality. Two years later, we had depleted most of our savings on product development and commercialization prep, but we hit a key milestone — our first retailer! 

Then the pandemic hit. We paused to assess if one of the most challenging landscapes in recent history was the right time to launch a new-to-the-world concept — and we made the courageous decision to go forward. The choice was a salient reminder that there is never a perfect window to pursue your dreams. There’s just a window of opportunity that you can take or leave. We chose to take it. We adapted our go-to-market approach to the times we were in. A few years later, our business is significantly outpacing the market — it feels like it was a courageous choice worth making!”

quote image
There is never a perfect window to pursue your dreams. There’s just a window of opportunity that you can take or leave.

What gives you the courage to keep pursuing your dreams?

“We are incredibly inspired by so many founders of emerging brands who have taken the leap to share their vision with the world and persisted during these uncertain times. The mental resilience and commitment to being agile inspires our team to assess all of the facets of our business today, but also new angles which could be drivers of growth in the future.”  

What is your best advice for Black business owners in search of courageous inspiration?

“Don’t let fear get in the way of progress. It’s easy to get bogged down in the internal and external narratives of what is not possible when you are growing a business. Instead, focus on what could be possible if you moved forward fearlessly.”

Hip Hop is Green drops sustainable beats

Meet Keith Tucker, founder of Hip Hop is Green, located near Seattle, WA.

Keith Tucker founded Hip Hop is Green (HHIG) in 2009 to bring positive, healthy, and sustainable influence to Black communities and hip hop culture. 

“We bring health and wellness to urban communities,” Tucker says. “We do this especially in BIPOC communities because diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke have been very serious issues in our communities for too long.” (For a variety of reasons related to systemic racism, discrimination, and racial bias in health care, Black Americans are more prone to chronic illnesses than white Americans.) “So we have to be more educated on our food choices,” says Tucker, “and how we manage stress levels and live in balance with ourselves and the planet.”

“We need more positive outlets in hip hop that lead us toward health, wellness, and STEM careers,” he says, explaining that he started HHIG “for all the young people around the world that are a part of hip hop culture. We have a youth excellence program where we teach climate change curriculum, we show them what they can do about climate change and introduce them to the new careers of study and education where they can become our new leaders.” 

Tucker believes that when hip hop moves in a green direction, the world will move in a green direction. “We do what we do for the future of the planet.”

Hip Hop is Green founder holding a toy.

How does courage show up in your business?

“There have been thousands of times where I had to show courage throughout my 30-year business career. I reflect back to when I started my first business and decided that owning a business and becoming an entrepreneur was my purpose in life. It was at this point I had no choice but to believe in my ability to achieve success and not have to depend on a full-time job. For many business owners, this is the first major decision and risk to take. You have family and friends that will doubt you, but if you have the courage and passion in yourself, you won't let nothing stop you.

quote image
I had no choice but to believe in my ability to achieve success.

There were plenty of times when I had zero dollars to my name, and, of course, all the bills were due at the same time. I had to figure out a way to make ends meet and not lose faith in my dream. I had financial pressure and pressure from my family — for many, that's enough to hang it up and get a stable job, but not me. I told myself that no matter what I’ll figure out a way to keep moving forward, if only a millimeter at a time, and I did. 

I look at these times as tests — these tests strengthened my courage and faith in myself. I have a saying, ‘if you battle everything under the sun, eventually the laws of nature will give in and you will be rewarded for your courage and effort.’ Sometimes you may feel like you can't go any further, but that's when you have to show courage. That's when you find out what you’re made of. That's when you find out just how creative you are. You will constantly be tested. Sometimes you will make the wrong decision and sometimes you will make the right one. I can tell you from experience that I've learned from both — but if I had to choose, my mistakes, and learning from the mistakes of others, probably helped me more.”

Black female business owner

Feel confident from day one

You're never too small, and it's never too soon to know you're on track for success.

What gives you the courage to keep pursuing your dreams?

“I keep pursuing my dreams because I can see the immense value in them — the value to those who work with me, those who benefit from the services we offer, and, finally, the world. My experiences give me the wisdom and courage to become a better businessperson. 

A good friend of mine always says, ‘through struggle comes strength.’ But does it always have to be a struggle? Of course not. Most days I'm thankful that I can do the work I do to serve humanity. Today, I'm lucky and proud of the legacy I'm building and the work I do. I'm not scared of challenges or hard work because I know it comes with the territory. In times of ease, build strength in order to display courage when you need it.”  

What is your best advice for Black business owners in search of courageous inspiration?

Put in the hard work. Deep thinking, constant commitment, and dedication are what it took for me to build my business. These are skills I have developed that no school could have taught me, and they will stay with me for life. My advice is to stay in constant balance within yourself, both physically and mentally, because stress does play a part in building your business. We have to manage stress in order to function at our highest level.  

Iya Foods brings the taste of Nigeria to your table

Meet Toyin Kolawole, founder of Iya Foods, located near Chicago, IL.

Toyin Kolawole founded Iya Foods in 2015, but she’s known her way around a small business since she was young. She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, working side-by-side with her mother at her business. She immigrated to the U.S. in 2003 but missed the African flavors and cuisine of Nigeria. 

“Iya Foods focuses on good food made with good ingredients,” she says. “Our products are delicious, nutritious, and created for ingredient-conscious consumers who are focused on overall well-being. Iya’s approach focuses on a food ecosystem that is sustainable, climate change resilient, and affordable. Since Iya's founding, we have been focused on innovating everyday foods with alternative, sustainable ingredients that are good for consumers and the planet.”

quote image
Iya is an American immigrant’s story of love shared through food.

“There’s a Yoruba proverb, ‘Ajoje o dun bi enikan oni,’ which means ‘food shared is sweeter.’ At Iya, we believe in sharing and giving, which we do through our Share the Love initiatives,” she says. These initiatives are:

  • Love Customers: Tasty, nourishing, easy to use.
  • Love Farmers: Shared prosperity and integrity of purpose; we share our successes with the farmers we work with in West Africa.
  • Love Planet: An integrated supply chain focused on sustainable farming practices and land stewardship.
  • Love Children: We donate to food banks in our local Illinois community, and fully fund an orphanage in Nigeria that houses 21 children. We take care of food, housing, and school fees.
IYA Foods founder with graphic.

How does courage show up in your business?

“One moment that comes to mind was making the decision to move to our new, 40,000 sq ft facility with expanded manufacturing capabilities. This was a massive expansion for Iya Foods in an environment where funding and resources aren’t easily accessible, especially for women and minorities. The move would require significantly increasing the number of our employees, a multi-year commitment to higher manufacturing volumes, and planning during the COVID-19 pandemic when warehouse space was limited and the supply chain was extremely unreliable. 

I knew expanding was the right move for us regardless of the global uncertainties because people still have to eat. I was able to draw courage from Iya’s mission and purpose. The work we do here, even as a small business, impacts a lot of people. Our customers get good food, our employees get good jobs, and our farmers and suppliers in the U.S. and in Africa are paid fairly.”

What gives you the courage to keep pursuing your dreams?

“My faith is very important to me. I trust in God’s purpose for my life, for Iya Foods, and for everyone. I draw courage first from my trust in God, and then I make sure that I am doing my part. I analyze data, industry trends, and customer preferences while working with my team to deliver our promise to customers and ensure the work we are doing is meaningful.” 

What is your best advice for Black business owners in search of courageous inspiration?

“Don’t be deterred by the fear of failure but be motivated by the possibility of success.”

A better future for Black businesses

Almost all Black business owners (96%) surveyed by QuickBooks think mentorship of the next generation is important for the advancement of successful Black businesses. And it starts with sharing your story — your everyday acts of courage, your successes and failures, your motivations and inspirations. After all, 95% of Black business owners know their own success is important for the success of future generations. 

Starting a business takes great courage, especially for Black business owners. Find helpful business resources, inspiring stories, and free tools — curated for Black business owners — on the QuickBooks Blog

Browse resources for starting a business

Recommended for you

Mail icon
Get the latest to your inbox
No Thanks

Get the latest to your inbox

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Fresh business resources are headed your way!

Looking for something else?


From big jobs to small tasks, we've got your business covered.

Firm of the Future

Topical articles and news from top pros and Intuit product experts.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.