Black Excellence in Business

Udemy celebrates diversity every day. In honor of Black History Month we invite you to pause and reflect upon the brilliance of the Black community and culture.

The Black Employee Network, Udemy’s employee resource group for Black identifying individuals, established the Black365 initiative to celebrate the accomplishments of the Black community 365 days of the year. Black365’s inaugural feature is ‘Black Entrepreneurship and Excellence in Business’ as these are often overlooked aspects of Black life, albeit that Black entrepreneurship and investment has been on a steady rise over the last decade or more. 

Indeed there hasn’t been a better time to launch a business focused on the Black community as the wider diaspora enjoys the early days of an industrial renaissance spurred by consumer demand for local, community focused, and ethically aligned goods and services. Black entrepreneurship has been primed to succeed with the “For Us By Us (F.U.B.U)” ethos being acore driver as the historical barriers set against Black business owners are the very ones that cultivated the kinds of steely tenacity, grit, and creativity required to flourish in the face of adversity. Udemy’s genesis was born out of a similar need and lack of access, and so it feels appropriate for us to recognize and spotlight the victors of this cultural movement. This Black History Month, we invite you to reflect upon the positive impact of equity diversity globally, why this is one of the most exciting eras in the age of the internet and business, and commit with us at Udemy to celebrating Black triumph in all its formats, all year around.

Why has Black enterprise seen a spike in global interest in recent years? There are a combination of factors that feed into this outcome, as it is not for a lack of output or effort. The truth is that Black industry and enterprise has always struggled to amass the same kind of capital accrued from Western and white institutions, even when their successes derive from mimicking Black culture or leveraging Black labor and resources. The precedent of conservative to minimal investment in Black owned industry has created a catch-22 cycle of Black folks relying on their community for fundraising and investment, all the while competing against commodity brands with the leverage to undercut them on price and availability. It has also created a cul-de-sac of sectors Black folks can self-start in, which ultimately leads to a saturation in some sectors (largely in hospitality and personal care services),and a negative bias of incompetence in new and emerging industries. In fact, a recent Fundera study on Black Owned businesses’ in America reported that 44% of Black Business owners use their own cash to start their venture, a decision set against a backdrop of only 1% of owners obtaining business loans in their first year. Europe suffers from similar infrastructural discrimination with the 2020 European Commission’s study on immigrant entrepreneurship in the EU verifying that financial institutions are slow to fund immigrant ventures and a lack of resources for local processes widens this gap further. The study also details proposed initiatives and services to curb this negative trend and encourage Black entrepreneurship, so there is hope.

That being said, we’ve seen a change in the tide as more people of color have been able to maximize education, travel, and generational wealth with local and Afro-diaspora investment to their advantage! One of the beautiful outcomes of this, is an ethos of uplifting the communities as “you climb the ladder.” This ranges from drafting other diverse talent into projects, which we see a lot of in the tech and entertainment industry, to increasing awareness, and bridging cultural or infrastructural differences. This becomes all the more relevant when looking at the recent surge in investment in Africa and businesses owned by folks across the Afro-diaspora, and what would best serve the Black community. Speaking to this, The World Economic Forum details how fostering entrepreneurship in tech and innovation is critical to accelerating economic growth in Africa as “the lack of infrastructure, even old infrastructure, gives us a “clean slate” for new solutions. Responding to these challenges, Africa’s entrepreneurs are contributing a host of cutting-edge products and services, enabling them to leap forward in such fields as mobile and information technology, and to develop innovations in agriculture, transportation, healthcare and other vital fields”. This sentiment couldn’t be truer for Black folks globally, whose charting business category for Black entrepreneurship is in healthcare, and has thankfully been advanced by the use of technology to equalize access and accurate diagnosis amongst marginalized groups, for example, “Health In Her Hue, Hurdle [1] [2].” Reflecting on the DIY ethos we just discussed, we’d be remiss not to highlight some of the brilliant thought leadership, education and enterprise building happening on our very own marketplace and business platform. Courses taught by Black leaders in business such as Heather HilesGIVE: Leading with generosity, Impact, Vibrancy, & Equity,” Esosa Ighodaro’s “Introduction to Working in Tech,” and Kevin Dorsey’s “B2B Sales Masterclass; People Focused Selling,” are all emboldening Black individuals around the globe to have confidence in their endeavors and abilities to start their own business.

While the 2008 global recession is heralded as a grim period for most financially, it did birth the vast landscape of opportunity we now live in where the “Internet of Things” economy is booming, and the scope to educate, collaborate and demonstrate success with minimal risk has reduced roadblocks that existed previously. This debunking of institutional reliance has paved the way for companies like The LipBar whose product was launched at Target stores across America despite their pitch being rejected on the TV show Shark Tank a few years earlier. This DIY mentality has seeded critically acclaimed shows like ‘Insecure’ by Issa Rae, whose original budget web series went through several TV network rejections and misaligned development pitches before it found its home at HBO with Isae Rae as Executive Producer, Writer, Lead Actor and a self-appointed team. What’s more, it has surfaced the importance of recognizing how culture influences the economy, and vice versa, and marginalized groups have been some of the largest drivers of this realization. It’s given a wider avenue for people of color and other intersect groups to succeed on their own terms, create space and opportunity for those following them, which is helping to create a healthier relationship between those who wish to benefit from good ideas, and those who think of the good ideas. The trickle down effect of this is that we as consumers have more options, more representation, less geographical barriers, and more ownership of the ethics of whom we buy from. It also means the opportunity is ripe for people of color to build and gain the skills required to turn their dreams into realities, and close the narrowing gaps of what we’re unable to achieve and realize that we can achieve something greater than the circumstances we’re born into and the environment we try to excel in.

So here’s to us, to you, and to the milestones Udemy helps you achieve on your path to greatness!

About the author

Senita Appiakorang is part of the Customer Success team based in Dublin, Ireland and has headed Black Employee Network events and initiatives for our EMEA basis since its inception in 2020. Senita hosted the 2020 Black In Tech event which galvanized the people  of color ERGs across large tech organizations across the UK and Ireland for Black History Month IE/UK. Specializing in critical theory as part of her BA in Music and English in University College Cork, Ireland, Senita has enthusiastically kept herself steeped in projects relating to intersectional topics, from her involvement as event coordinator in the creative female-enablement collective Gxrlcode, to her bi-monthly podcast ‘Points of Intersection’, which airs on local digital radio DDR. Senita is also involved in other collectives whose goals aim to amplify female & non binary voices in the music industry, and performs as a session singer and solo artist with local household artists.