ON OUR OWN<br />
Young Black Entrepreneurs Fight the Odds

The current job market may have temporarily flatlined for recent college graduates, but young African-American entrepreneurs are on a steady rise, participating in its future revival. 

Whether managing businesses as students, full-time job holders, or choosing the route of full-time business ownership, a group of hungry innovators, 25 and under, are carving their own unique approaches towards achieving entrepreneurship.

In a moment where half of young college graduates are either underemployed or unemployed according to the Associated Press, 30 percent of college students ages 21-24 have started a business while in college in 2011, up from 19 percent in 2010. Also, African-American businesses have increased by 60.5 percent, between 2002 and 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau of Business Owners.

"With the economic downturn comes this hunger and thirst to move forward," Sheree Coleman says. She is one of three co-owners of Sole Discretion, LLC, a foldable shoe line for women and girls, founded in 2010.

Sherrae Hayes, also part of the Sole Discretion trio, says her downtime after graduating from New York University in spring 2010 gave her an opportunity to spend more time on the business.

“I didn't find a position at that time, so there was an in between phase for me, but that flexibility allowed me to push things for Sole Discretion that I probably wouldn't have been able to,” Hayes says.

Coleman, Hayes, and Alyxaundria Sanford, all 25, had moved to New York City for work and graduate school, and wearing high heels from work to social gatherings eventually became a struggle for their feet. The answer to this problem came up in their conversations. Soon Sole Discretion was created and became a portable and stylish relieving alternative to carrying sneakers or flip flops.

The three invested much of their own money into the business but also received funding from the 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, an organization dedicated to supporting minority entrepreneurship during its earliest stages. They hold annual business pitching events nationally.

Sanford participated in an event held in New York City on behalf of her co-owners.

“I went and pitched and the rest was history,” Sanford says.

Ashton Clark and Ryan Clark, 23, also known as the Dynamic Duo, also received funding from the 100 Urban Entrepreneurs for their website Uticketit.com, which they founded while attending the University of Illinois. The identical twins currently juggle full-time corporate careers while managing their many sites including 247Mixtapes.com and LudaKicks.com.

In this job climate we have now, it’s important to put your creativity to work.

Ashton Clark, who also works as an IT strategy consultant, says they genuinely love this lifestyle. 

“Our businesses are hobbies and we love working on them. After we are done working our corporate jobs, we work on our websites and it does not feel like work since we love what we do.”

On the flip side, Lawrence Nurse, 23, founder of the lifestyle and clothing brand Triple L Society, has chosen the path of full-time entrepreneurship and has put school on hold for the moment. He attended LIM College for a year after transferring from SUNY College at Old Westbury.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do. I planned to only take a semester off, but my semester turned into a year and a lot of opportunities came, and opportunity is something you have to take advantage of whenever it comes,” Nurse says.

Recently, a varsity jacket from Triple L Society was featured on the New York Times Style page online, an opportunity that inspires him to keep going.

Jessica Truesdale, 23, also focuses solely on her entrepreneurial endeavors including her cosmetic line, True You. Truesdale gained a respectable buzz on beauty blogs while studying Sociology at Spelman College. Since graduating last May, she is acquiring her medical aesthetician license so that she can accomplish her next goal of opening a medi-spa in Atlanta. She also plans to pursue her MBA.

“I never said I’m going to have my degree and just find a job. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial mindset. In this job climate we have now, it’s important to put your creativity to work,” Truesdale says.

This creative energy Truesdale speaks of is common amongst the many young entrepreneurs Johnetta Hardy has taught for over 15 years in Washington, D.C. as a professor at the Washington Center For Internships and Seminars, and as a former executive director of the Howard University Institute For Entrepreneurship, Leadership, and Innovation.

“I don’t think we have to worry about our future,” Hardy says.

She has an optimistic view of the future for young Americans.

“If you want to understand the future, you have to look at young entrepreneurs, their creativity, their business acumen, and their technological insight. It’s just very uplifting and very energizing.”