Women of color comprise the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, starting businesses at four times the overall population rate. But many of these businesses don't last long. Only 3% of Black women in the United States are running companies that have been around for more than five years. Analysts suggest that fact is due to a combination of inequities in funding and discrimination.

Business owners Maria Vasco, Joëlle Fontaine and Shironda White all joined Basic Black to share their experiences and offer advice to other female entrepreneurs of color. All three said their ideas weren't taken seriously, or they were told they couldn't achieve success in the business world. Now they're telling those people: "Watch me do it."

White, the CEO and co-founder of Cupcake Therapy, said when she started looking at storefronts she encountered multiple people questioning her business acumen.

"We had someone try to tell me how to do a budget. ... I've had to explain to people I know what I'm doing. It's OK. You don't have to try to tell me these basic things," she recalled.

Vasco said she also has been underestimated, and that people told her not to waste her time on her business idea. Then, when she was just 20 years old and a student at UMass, she opened Greater Boston's first zero-waste store, Uvida.

"I really have to block a lot of people's voices and opinions on me out," she said, "and basically see myself the way I want to see myself."

Lack of funding is a serious problem for fledgling entrepreneurs, and for women of color, it’s problem that’s exacerbated by limited access to the places where other entrepreneurs can turn for support. Nearly two-thirds of Black women entrepreneurs self-fund their total startup capital, according to the Harvard Business Review. All of the Basic Black guests said they completely bootstrapped their business and chose not to take on investors so as to maintain control of the decisions about their business.

Fontaine, the CEO, founder and designer of the artisan boutique Kréyol in Somerville, said that decision to self-fund was important financially, as well.

"We've had investors come, and we've declined," she explained. "Because, for me, in the beginning process it's very hard to have someone come in and evaluate your business when you haven't yourself figured out what your business is worth."

Now that Kréyol is more established, Fontaine said she is looking at funding options in order to expand her business and support more artists of color in the process. Her goal is to find investors who align with her values.

White said business owners shouldn't be afraid to borrow money when needed, and recommended finding a good partner organization like a business alliance who can provide advice and resources.

Vasco had advice for new business owners: "Pay yourself first. I felt like I always just poured everything back into the business, and even though it did help the business grow so much faster, It kind of left me spread thin."

She added that entrepreneurs can get help where they need it, such as hiring professional accountants or bookkeepers.

"Take care of yourself, value yourself, protect your mental health," Vasco said. "I wish that I did that in the beginning when I was starting."

Running a business can be extremely taxing and time consuming. Fontaine said she found it crucial to ground herself and make time for things that bring joy.

"Everything that I do feeds my soul. ... I definitely try to find ways in the midst of the chaos to ground myself, to connect with others and to maintain my sanity," Fontaine said.

Vasco, White and Fontaine aren't slowing down anytime soon.

White has plans to open up a storefront in the fall and increase shipping nationwide. Fontaine plans to establish a flagship store and expand her network of artisans and artists. Vasco has her sights set on starting a private line of products and opening pop-ups around Boston.

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