American history is filled with amazing people of all backgrounds who have worked to make our country grow and be prosperous.
Throughout school, we learn of such African-American contributors like Garrett Morgan, who designed and patented the first traffic signal, and George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery, and went on to develop over 100 products using peanuts including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, as well as a type of gasoline. (Peanut Butter, however was first patented by Marcellus Gilmore Edson in Quebec in 1884, when Carver was 20. Yes, your history teacher may have steered you wrong on that one!)
Going beyond the school history books, I connected with prominent African-American entrepreneurs to see who inspired them in their own business:
Zabi Kator, CEO of GuardNOW.com
"Lonnie Johnson the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun is sometimes over looked as an influential legend. At 40 years old (technically a late start for the culture we are influenced by today,) Johnson started his own engineering firm and licensed the Super Soaker water gun to Larami Corporation. Two years later it generated $200 million in retails stores and was the top selling toy in the United States. Eventually the Larami Corporation was purchased by Hasbro, and to date, the Super Soaker has brought in close to a billion dollars in sales. Johnson has reinvested his earnings from the Super Soaker into research and development for other energy and technology companies. He currently holds over 180 patents, with even more pending.
"Lonnie Johnson influenced me because he never gave up his dream. As a CEO of a company that is doing well it humbles me that a man of his age never gave up on inventing something of his own. I hope to never give up on my dreams because success could happen at any point in life. I also think that young entrepreneurs that strive for fame now should know his story and understand that great things take time. Everyone should know Lonnie's story if they want to be an inventor or an entrepreneur period. He inspired me with my company as a lesson of patience. GuardNOW is a temporary private security guard service that specialize in special events, residental and business security. With 5 locations within one year guardNOW is now nationwide!"
Shawn Oates of SeamBLiSS.com:
"When looking at my own interest in fashion, it is difficult to find successful African-Americans to drawn inspiration from. Before Daymond John became a well-known investor on the hit show "Shark Tank," I had observed how he built a billion-dollar brand in FUBU. I learned of his story, and passion to succeed at all cost."
FUBU began because John saw hats with cut-off tops being sold for $20 a piece. Working with a partner, he sewed his own line, selling them cheaper, and brought in a lot of money quickly, once even making over $800 in a single day! To generate capital, John's mother mortgaged her house, and he worked on FUBU in between his shifts at the local Red Lobster. FUBU, which stands for "For Us, By U" continued to grow into a well-recognized brain, grossing over $350 million in revenue by 1998.
Oates continues, "I am often inspired by individuals who take an idea and run with it until they cross the finish line. I appreciate Damon John's tenacity and "never say never" effort to take his passion and turn it into a business."
LaKeshia Grant CEO of Virtual Enterprise Architects, www.virtual-ea.com
"Madam CJ Walker is noted as the first female African-American millionaire and was born in the late 1800's. She built a beauty empire with $1.50 in savings after she began experiencing hair loss. She invented a scalp treatment and began selling the product door-to-door.
As her business enterprise grew, so did the scope of her philanthropic activity. Walker created a school to train "hair culturists" and also taught other African-American women on how to build their own businesses. After a theater would not admit her for the same price as a white customer, she build her own complex which soon became the home of a theater for African-American residents.
Madam CJ Walker inspired me to start my own company because of the way she overcame hardships and used them to her advantage. One of her famous quotes is "I got my start by giving myself a start." I created Virtual Enterprise Architects to provide opportunities for other women to have an example of a young African American woman excelling in a male driven industry. I always sought educational opportunities and environments where I was a minority and could surpass stereotypes. This instilled a sense of pride in my work and most importantly, inspired me to start my own company to create my own environment. I'm proud that I created a company that embraces diversity and most importantly, fosters technology innovation. When I am faced with adversity, I remember her drive and dedication and that keeps me pressing forward."