As we observe Black History Month at the Bug Bite Thing office, we’re excited to highlight Black excellence. This February is about celebrating the contributions of Black people that paved the way for all Americans, as well as those that continue to impact us.
For us, a key part of this ongoing story is paying homage to the female founders - specifically mothers - who came before us. Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America, so we wanted to share a peek at some of the inspiring “mompreneurs” who shined in their time and beyond. Like our Bug Bite Thing founders and moms on a mission, Kelley Higney and Ellen McAlister, these women each saw a need in the market and filled it. Their work not only helped others, but launched successful careers for themselves and their families.
Madam C.J. Walker, founder of Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower
The first female self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker (whose legal name was Sarah Breedlove), overcame incredible feats as the daughter of parents who had been enslaved workers before she was born. Later raising a child primarily on her own, she worked as a laundress and cook – all while attending school – with dreams of providing a better life for her daughter.
Having suffered from hair loss due to a scalp condition, Walker eventually set out to develop a cutting-edge line of hair products specific for Black hair. In 1905, she created “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” By the time she passed away, her empire earned $500,000 a year – a great amount in this era – and her individual financial worth reached $1 million. Her daughter, A’Leila, ultimately joined her cosmetics company, which is still in business today.
What makes her extra-special? Besides enhancing her own life, she served as an advocate for the economic independence of Black people and her company enabled her to train more than 40,000 Black women and men. If her name sounds familiar, it should! Not only was Walker a successful business owner and philanthropist, but her life story was covered on the Netflix series, “Self Made.”
- Sarah Boone, inventor of the modern ironing board
Imagine going to work every day with wrinkled clothing. You don’t have to, in large part thanks to Sarah Boone. Born into “slave” status, Boone grew and self-liberated to become a dressmaker and inventor … and she did it all while serving as mother to her eight children.
To help her dresses stand out, Boone made adjustments to the original ironing board to create a narrow, padded, curved and collapsible board better suited for the contours of dresses. Her design made it easier for every part of the garment to be ironed without getting even more wrinkled in the process. Self-taught to read and write, Boone applied for and was awarded a patent for her invention of the modern day ironing board. With this innovation, she became one of the first Black women in United States history to receive a patent.
- Dr. Patricia Bath, ophthalmologist, inventor of Laserphaco Probe and humanitarian
It is as important to showcase the work of awe-inspiring female entrepreneurs from our lifetimes as it is those who came before us. Dr. Patricia Bath was a woman of many firsts: the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, the first woman in the United States to head an ophthalmology residency program and the first medical doctor to receive a medical patent, just to name a few.
Dr. Bath excelled in science and math from an early age, encouraged by her parents to follow her dreams and never settle for less than her best. She is best known for her invention of a laser cataract treatment device called a Laserphaco Probe, which was novel in reviving patients’ eyesight, some of whom had experienced blindness for more than 30 years. This visionary didn’t stop there, though, authoring more than 100 papers and advocating for telemedicine and virtual labs.
As part of her dedication to serving others, she became the co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, researched the staggering prevalence of glaucoma for African-Americans, developed a community eye care system for those who could not otherwise afford it, and committed herself to other significant humanitarian work until her passing in 2019. And yes, she also served the role of mom to one daughter!
- Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Urban One, Inc.
Cathy Hughes is another trailblazer of our time whose name you need to know. The mompreneur gained her “mom” title as a teen, then went on to work tremendously to become the first African-American woman to lead a publicly traded media company.
Hughes worked her way up in radio, first making waves when she raised the sales revenue from $250,000 to $3 million for Howard University Radio in the 1970s. She soon sought financing to buy her own radio station, though the business eventually cost Hughes her home and car while her son was away at college.
Her boldness and dedication to her craft paid off, however, as it led to the success of Urban One, Inc. (formerly known as Radio One and TV One); geared toward lifestyle and entertainment for African-Americans. Now in business for more than 40 years, this media mogul has become one of the wealthiest self-made Black women in America.
This month – and every month – it’s important to recognize that Black History didn’t end with the Civil Rights movement. It’s still in the works and there are so many current entrepreneurs and moms making history and motivating others every day.
Though she is not a mother, we think it is especially important to amplify young Black voices, like kidpreneur, Mikaila Ulmer. Starting from scratch in a lemonade stand, the youngest female founder on our list started BeeSweet Lemonade – now known as Me & the Bees – when she was just 4 years old after being stung by bees … twice! (It sounds like she needed a Bug Bite Thing suction tool for sting relief!) Then, at 10 years old, Ulmer made her own deal on “Shark Tank,” much like our Bug Bite Thing leaders, Kelley and Ellen. She walked off set with a $60,000 investment, plus mentorship from Daymond John.
Now at 16 years old, her honey-sweetened lemonade can be found at grocery stores across the country (tip: try the Prickly Pear!). Ulmer also started a nonprofit, the Healthy Hive Foundation, dedicated to save the bees through research, education and protection, which we adore. As if that wasn’t enough, the already-experienced teenage entrepreneur speaks at business conferences all over the world and authored her own book, Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid.
These women are just a handful of the Black female founders who have changed our lives for the better throughout history. Who inspires you, and who are you taking the opportunity to learn about this month? Share with us in the comments below.