“I’ve never been more proud of my blackness before,” states Mandy Bowman, Founder and CEO of Official Black Wall Street, a platform listing black-owned businesses around the country. At 1.16 million users today, Mandy feels like she’s more supported than ever. But with only 1% of funded businesses owned by black women, there’s still work to be done.
From bamboo toilet paper subscriptions to vegan restaurants and professional services - the Official Black Wall Street (OBWS) app makes it easier for anyone to find black-owned businesses. Entrepreneur Mandy Bowman has been an advocate for ‘buying black’ since she launched the OBWS platform in 2015. In a 2017 TEDTalk, she explained how the black dollar doesn’t circulate long enough in black business communities compared to the white economy, but our society may finally be shifting in the right direction.
Handfuls of companies approached Bowman during the powerful awakening of the Black Lives Matter Movement, their eyes opened to the changes necessary in their organizations, eager to know how they could do better - especially in the midst of the pandemic. They were certainly asking the right questions from the right person.
“I feel the impact has been positive,” said Bowman on the Black Lives Matter Movement. “Over the summer, I’ve never seen so much support for black entrepreneurs. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.”
“So aware and proud of my blackness”
At the age of 26, Bowman is the Founder and CEO of the largest platform for black-owned businesses. The platform launched 5 years ago and has since developed a downloadable app that features 6,000 businesses.
Bowman attended Babson College in Massachusetts with concentrations in Entrepreneurship and Global Business Management. In reflecting on her experience at the predominantly white institution, Bowman expressed how she became “extremely woke.”
“I had never been so aware and proud of my blackness before,” said Bowman. “So naturally, after graduating I wanted to learn and read as much as possible about everything from Black culture and history to Black issues.”
Much of Bowman’s reading list inspired her passion for black-owned businesses, so much so that she set out to uplift diverse businesses in Brooklyn, NY. “After growing up in Bed-Stuy and living in Queens, I witnessed how gentrification priced out many of the Black entrepreneurs who built the neighborhood,” said Bowman. “That made me even more passionate about this. I began doing research but found it really difficult to find Black businesses.”
Discovery, Bowman would find, was not all black-owned businesses struggle with. The road to starting a business as a black entrepreneur is filled with more obstacles than that of white founders.
“You have to jump through more hoops”
Only 23% of venture-backed founders are not white. Of funded businesses, less than 1% were owned by black women. According to Bowman, capital funding is one of the most common challenges reported by clients and users of Official Black Wall Street.
“It’s a major wealth gap,” said Bowman. “We don’t have the funds to start at the same rate. And then we have all of these major financial institutions that are constantly overlooking black entrepreneurs. Even when they perform at the same rate or even at a higher rate, it’s like you have to jump through more hoops to be taken seriously.”
The starting point for entrepreneurs of color is vastly unequal in VC funding, due to gaps in wealth and networking opportunities. Even when funded, black business owners are charged at higher interest rates than white venture-backed competitors. And in the height of the pandemic, disparities are only exacerbated.
With the rise of COVID-19, the Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to allocate banks with a total of $659 billion to be loaned to small, struggling businesses. According to the New York Times, Black business owners with the same qualifications as white PPP applicants were more likely to be told they failed to meet requirements.
According to Bowman’s network, VC investors often claim black applicants don’t have the credibility to acquire their loans. Another claim is that their products are limited to black audiences when the product is in fact general - such as a cosmetic line or children’s toy.
“I wanted to share these entrepreneurs with the world”
It’s not uncommon for overqualified entrepreneurs to be rejected funding due to bias, but this hasn’t stopped African American women from being the fastest-growing number of business owners in the United States. Their networth comprises 42% of new women-owned businesses, which is triple their share of the U.S. female population.
“If you want it done right, get a black woman to do it,” laughed Bowman, with evident and well-deserved pride.
Bowman herself is not excluded from this group of hardworking women. Driven to create discovery and funding opportunities for entrepreneurs in her community, the young founder started a list that would outgrow Brooklyn and the United States. Providing a platform of diverse businesses across 10 countries, Official Black Wall Street now has over 1.16 million users supporting entrepreneurs of color alongside Bowman.
“I was so proud of these entrepreneurs that I wanted to share it with the world,” said Bowman. And she certainly has.