Black History’s Impact on Entrepreneurship

This month, we recognize the importance of black history and the leaders who paved the way for future generations. African American culture is a driving force behind global culture, a staggering accomplishment. This collective cultural and entrepreneurial genius is what spurs the Cultural Leadership Fund’s mission: to advance more African Americans in technology and venture capital. In the midst of Black History Month, we reflect on the past, refocus on the future, and celebrate the ambition and achievements of African-American women and men. 

We salute civil rights leaders like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Together, they shaped the trajectory of the country, transformed American culture, and empowered eras of African American creators. Garvey’s genius enabled him to amass a huge following, which took great pride in his message of self-determination. In 1919, Garvey started his own cruise ship company, known as the Black Star Line. He raised money by issuing stock and selling it to his followers. He initially bought four ships, hired an all-black staff, and made history. The Black Star Line reached a peak market capitalization of $10,000,000 ($147,000,000 in 2020 dollars). 

We honor breakthrough athletes like Jack Johnson, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Earl Lloyd, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, Kenny Washington, and many others who excelled while transcending racism and segregation. The great Jack Johnson became the heavyweight champion of the world in 1908, nearly 40 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball. Even more remarkably, Johnson was his own manager; he created a marketing campaign that shamed white fighters into engaging him in the ring. Beyond boxing, he was also a heck of a bass player and owned a desegregated nightclub in Chicago. 

Since we are a venture capital firm, we also celebrate historic and modern entrepreneurs. Madam C. J. Walker, the businesswoman and activist, became the first female self-made millionaire in America. Anyone looking for inspiration on how to develop a brand or advertise effectively can take notes from Walker. She revolutionized the beauty industry, hiring 20,000 women as sales agents by 1917. Black entrepreneurs continue to create opportunities and pave the path for millions of African Americans today. Consider, for example, the story of Richelieu Dennis, the founder of Shea Moisture and one of the Cultural Leadership Fund’s Limited Partners. After escaping the war in Liberia in 1987, Dennis began his entrepreneurial journey selling soap from a card table on a street corner in Harlem. He parlayed those humble beginnings into a multi-billion dollar beauty business, but never forgot where he came from. Dennis now funds more than 100 black entrepreneurs around the globe. 

Finally, we celebrate creators of culture. From the composer Scott Joplin to Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin to Beyonce and Jay-Z, African Americans have originated entire musical art forms, from jazz to blues to rock and roll to hip hop. 

This year, let’s remember not only the heights we have reached, but how far we have come. Through our conviction, creativity, hustle, and skill, we’re building the foundation for the next generation of cultural leaders. 

Chris Lyons manages Andreessen Horowitz’s Cultural Leadership Fund and Influencer Network.

 

***

The views expressed here are those of the individual AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) personnel quoted and are not the views of a16z or its affiliates. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources, including from portfolio companies of funds managed by a16z. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, a16z has not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation.

This content is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal, business, investment, or tax advice. You should consult your own advisers as to those matters. References to any securities or digital assets are for illustrative purposes only, and do not constitute an investment recommendation or offer to provide investment advisory services. Furthermore, this content is not directed at nor intended for use by any investors or prospective investors, and may not under any circumstances be relied upon when making a decision to invest in any fund managed by a16z. (An offering to invest in an a16z fund will be made only by the private placement memorandum, subscription agreement, and other relevant documentation of any such fund and should be read in their entirety.) Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z, and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by Andreessen Horowitz (excluding investments and certain publicly traded cryptocurrencies/ digital assets for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly) is available at https://a16z.com/investments/.

Charts and graphs provided within are for informational purposes solely and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The content speaks only as of the date indicated. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects, and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.