Black History Month was created and is observed annually for remembrance and appreciation of notable people and events in the history of descendants of the African diaspora or people of African ancestry. This month gives us a chance to highlight what these notable people and events not only mean to Black history but to general history at large. Within the startup and entrepreneurial community, black men and women are increasing their contributions but are still behind other racial groups in owning their own business or creating a product. Less than 1 percent of Black Americans receive the venture capital necessary to get their business or product off the ground. Despite those setbacks, there are Black men and women, especially in North Texas, who have been successful. Here are some of their stories.
Could you give a summary of what your company does and the idea or inspiration behind it?
I own Integrality, which is a management consulting firm that I’ve been doing for 16 years, since 2000 when I returned from Silicon Valley, after the ‘.com bust.’ I have been helping small businesses and startups develop their financial, marketing and training plans, as well as the integration of technology for their business.
I recognized years ago that some businesses needed assistance and consulting, which didn’t really exist then, specifically for startups and small businesses. It’s terribly expensive to hire a major consulting firm to come in and help, so, I’ve just been helping a lot of companies. After I looked at my CIS [Customer Information System] when I was in Silicon Valley, I recognized that I have helped over 600 startups and small businesses in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, as well as other cities in Texas, that are big names that you would recognize but were startups and small businesses back then.
I was really excited about it because of the breadth of different types of industries and companies I’ve helped and worked with. But, what I started to recognize three years ago that during this time, as a single mom with three children, one of which was born with cystic fibrosis, I have been a woman who has dealt with juggling. Juggling my work life, to being a single mom and being there for my children and have a child with a disability at the same time.
What got you into entrepreneurship?
I realized I needed to create a commodities business to actually practice what I preached with my customers and clients that I’ve worked with. I can talk all day about this number needing to be here, this process needs to change, but if I can’t show and prove that I can do it too, then I wasn’t going to be able to become the half a million dollar company I foresee or want to be.
In 2010, I was just rebranding my company name, cynthianevels.com, which I did on purpose because I wanted to build a brand name around who I was and what I could offer to the business community. But I realized that it was limiting me, in my personal opinion, and I wasn’t going to be able to get to the six-figure company that I wanted to be. So I changed the name of the company to Integrality and really started to focus on building a company and not just a lifestyle company.
At the same time of the rebranding, my son required an organ transplant, so I had to pick up everything and sell everything and move to Houston instantly in order for him to be listed on the list for an organ transplant. That changed everything. I felt hopeless and helpless at the time because I had to leave my business and 80 percent of my customer base was in Dallas and my revenue dropped significantly. I had to come up with something, to tell you the truth, to survive and I thought, I can’t just start up a whole new consulting group. I was still consulting, but not as much and I was thinking that I needed to do something different.
What happened was I was feeling hopeless and I was trying to figure out what to do to help my son live a better quality of life and I started at night, in one of those moments when you can’t sleep at night, reading and researching medicine, science and biology and learning about the pills he was taking. At the time, he was taking 21 different pills, trying to figure out if there was something I could do that was more natural and whole that would help him.
The only thing I felt I could do that was in my control for my family was to make healthier meals, to feed them healthier foods, to incorporate more vegetables and fruits, move away from genetically modified foods; just whatever I could do to feed them better and make him feel better. I, at the time, had transitioned to the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, I didn’t want those [unhealthy] foods anymore but when you are going back and forth to the hospital from home, all you have at your fingertips is fast food, but fast food will kill you. So, I started preparing our meals and packing lunches with us.
As I did that, doctors and nurses who were friends would ask ‘what are you eating, what are you doing?’ and they would try the meals. I would tell them after that it was vegan or it was vegetarian, but they couldn’t believe it wasn’t. I had to create these recipes that my sons would actually eat, especially with them being teenagers. I had to trick them! That’s what happened, it accidentally happened and people started to say ‘man, you can really cook, you can’t tell that this isn’t meat and you could sell this.’ I didn’t have time, I’m just trying to take care of my son, and I’m just trying to survive. I would make a little money here and there while I devoted my time taking care of my son. What I started to do at night was I started cooking and preparing food and I would invite friends over and I would sell meals here and there and eventually, I said, ‘I think I’m on to something. I think there are more people who want the same.’
What I recognized in just the data and research, was that there was a growing trend more people caring about what they ate, the source of their food and their health. From that life experience, Soulgood was formed. I had said that this was going to be that product-based company that could help me implement all those things that I know from business management and show that even through all those obstacles, you can create a business that is filled with passion and giving, but at the same time, solve some problems. I firmly believe that.
As an entrepreneur who is Black and a woman, how have those intersections affected how you do business or how you approach your market?
As a consultant, initially, a large percentage of my customer base started out as African American women. In the beginning, I worked with a lot of African American women because they could relate to me. But I wanted to grow and expand and was limited to that customer base. I then had to venture into new areas and populations and had to introduce myself as a consultant that knows what she’s talking about.
I had to prove myself just a little bit more, and I don’t think that’s a negative thing. We [many African Americans] often relate that statement to something negative, that you have to go that extra mile to get others to trust you. I did have to do that, but it was a good thing. It made me prove that I could run a business and that I could deliver. So, it was challenging in the beginning. Sometimes, in certain communities, you may not get the job and I can’t equate it to whether or not I’m a woman or African American, all I can say is that I knew that I was capable but I didn’t get it [the job]. So I tried to work around it and really rely on my network of friends who did know me and advocated for me. That helped me get my foot in the door to venture into other markets that may have taken me longer to get into.
Do you feel that it’s important to have people of color, especially Black people, in the entrepreneurial/startup field?
I think it’s extremely important for more diversity, diverse companies or minority-owned companies too, in the startup ecosystem. What is more important to me, is that these companies actually position themselves for growth and really incorporate a strong structure and foundation to ensure that they will be sustainable. I’ve worked with a lot of minority-owned businesses and a lot of them don’t know their accounting, they do not understand marketing and they have this unsubstantiated expectation of who they are, what their business is and what they can deliver.
If you can create a real business model, invest in the things that really matter and trust the process and the people who are there to help you, then implement, we would have stronger minority-owned businesses and startups in our community.
What advice would you give anyone about becoming an entrepreneur?
If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, I would say, going back to when I started Soulgood, be passionate about your business. I think anyone who is on this Earth who’s still here and gets to experience life, should be doing what makes the happy, that’s my first thought. Second, if you are going to venture into it [entrepreneurship], mitigate your risk and position yourself for success. Meaning, if there are shortcomings and weaknesses that you have within yourself, fix those. If you don’t know anything about accounting, if you don’t know anything about marketing, fill those gaps. There is no shortage of resources in Dallas/Fort Worth to fill those gaps. Then, you create your plan and execute. That’s what I preach.