The number of people who perform entrepreneurial activity in Brazil has surpassed 20 million, according to SEBRAE (Brazil’s agency for small and micro-business support). Of this total, 51 percent, or the equivalent of about 11 million, are Afro-Brazilian. According Adilton de Paula, General Coordinator of Brazil Afroempreendedor, a project that aims to qualify and train black entrepreneurs, this data is not consistent with reality. “We are not less than 30 million [black entrepreneurs]. This number is underrated as there are many entrepreneurs still not legalized,” says the coordinator.

In every corner of the city of Salvador, the presence of these black entrepreneurs is strong. The numerous acarajé stands, and thousands of hawkers and beauty salons provide a glimpse of the features of the black entrepreneurship force in Salvador. According to Cristiano Lima, one of the mobilizers of Brazil Afroempreendedor project, in Salvador, the beauty and fashion sectors are most dominated by Afro-descendants, highlighting the strong presence of female entrepreneurs. According to the survey released by SEBRAE, 12% of all Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs operate in the state of Bahia, of which Salvador is the capital.

 

Inside the N’Black store. Photo: Nyia Hawkins

Najara Black, 32, is the owner of N’Black, a clothing store celebrating its tenth year of life. In 2005 she decided to invest in a style of clothing based on American hip-hop culture. The idea was very successful, and nowadays the entrepreneur and her brand are respected in the market. “I always liked to customize clothes. I was doing it for myself, and realized that people liked it. So I decided to turn it into a business.” Initially, Najara used to sell door-to-door, scheduling meetings with people who never showed up. These days, with her mother as encourager and supporter, Najara is proud to host her own fashion exhibitions. “At first, many friends did not believe that N’Black would work. They said it was a fad that would pass quickly. But when I walked through Curuzu, in Ilê Ayiê everybody was wearing N’Black. Today, people know we do quality work and they tip their hat to our brand.” Najara says that she has felt the entrepreneur pull since she was a young girl in school. Before opening N’Blac, she produced and sold jewelry. But it grew tiring, as the amount of requests grew and she had no way of dealing with the increased demand. Deciding to stop, she went to work for a time in a call center. Dissatisfied with the routine of this work, she sought to realize her dreams with her skills. “It is love that makes me continue in entrepreneurship. I believe in my work, “she says.

Najara Black, owner of N’Black, shares the story about how she began her business. Photo: Nyia Hawkins

An inner strength and the huge smile on her face are striking characteristics of Sandra Leite, 52, who found through entrepreneurship the strength to provide for her three children on her own. Located in the Pelourinho, on Santa Isabel street, the restaurant Mão Dupla, with a menu ranging from salads to beautiful moqueca dishes, has its own story to tell. Sandra began working at the age of 27. With the end of her marriage of 14 years, and few skills, she had her first job opportunity with the State of Bahia Cultural Foundation (FUNCEB). Later on she gained ownership of Mão Dupla. For several years, her life followed the routine of two jobs (FUNCEB and Mao Dupla) plus the work of being a mother. “There was a time when life was very difficult. I hardly saw my children. I communicated with them on the phone, telling them what needed to be done, and they did it.” She raised her children in this manner, two of whom have achieved higher education. She also helped her siblings with their academic education. Most recently she was awarded a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for the restaurant.

Sandra Regina Souza Leite, owner of Restaurant Mão Dupla. Photo: Yuniya Khan

Mão Dupla’s owner is also concerned about the success of her employees. “Sandra encourages us. When I arrived here, I was a cook. One day she told me to come to work dressed up, because I would be outside, addressing customers and bringing them to the restaurant. I could profit a lot from it, “says Lindineide Cruz, one of the five “family members” of the restaurant. Sandra was also responsible for Lindineide’s desire to go to college. As Sandra observes, “People think they cannot do it. I told her, ‘You will go to college’. And she did.”

From domestic employee to the owner of Espaço Cultural Cantina da Lua, Clarindo Silva, 73, has many stories to tell. The son of a washerwoman and a salesman, the businessman decided to leave his job as a journalist, at A Tarde, to start earning from his own business in the Pelourinho. “I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. At 10, I helped my father with sales at Feira de Água de Meninos. Although shy and rickety, I was very communicative and went dancing, singing and selling through the Historic Centre streets,” he says. The Don Quixote of the Pelourinho, as described by Vander Silver, the author of Clarindo Silva’s biography, used to work at Bazar do Barro Velho, which was located in the same location as Cantina da Lua. “I did not want to be an employee there anymore. I could sell oranges on the street, but I would not be someone else’s employee”. It was this kind of thinking that led Clarindo to rent Cantina da Lua, and later become the owner of the place. With an entrepreneurial vision, he noticed that the bar sold only beverages and he wanted to innovate. So he began making food, and this created a new service for the site. “Nowadays, this is not just a bar. There is an art exhibit, book and film releases. It is a place of cultural, economic and political debate,” he says. With a lot of study and dedication, the owner of the 70-year-old place says he is not afraid to take chances. “I was born to confront. I was born to break paradigms.”

 

Black entrepreneurship prevails. For an Afro-Brazilian entrepreneur, the eight-hour workday routine is not part of reality. According Adilton de Paula, the workload of those who choose to have their own business is very high. Clarindo Silva is living proof of this fact. Smiling, he admits that he lives in Cantina da Lua, but sleeps at his house. “Sometimes I stay here 12 to 18 hours a day,” he points out. But still, this reality does not become much of a hindrance to the life of a black entrepreneur.  Fighting racism, however, is a major difficulty for the black entrepreneur. Adilton Paula reveals he has never experienced a project so questioned and viewed with skepticism like that of the Brazil Afroempreendedor Project. “This situation is directly related to racism”, he states. Clarindo Silva also has his own experience with issue. Because he is black, he asserts, he has already been stopped from entering his own property. “People do not believe that I am the owner,” he says.

Despite working hard, racial prejudice can end up destroying some dreams. But for others it can provide the strength to face challenges. According to Ana Victoria, 24, owner of Mukunã Dreadlocks, racism created the need to become an entrepreneur. “Because we wear dreadlocks, we could not find a job. We had a hard time finding work. Then we realized that maintaining our type of hair could become a service we could offer to others. ” Ana Victoria admits she did not have unanimous support to realize her dream. “Our college professors did not believe in our business. They thought it was too small, that something was missing. But in general, our professors are white, middle-class men. They could not understand the market opportunities in this sector.” For the entrepreneur, the difficulty of accessing credit also hinders growth, as it is challenging to find investment. Mukunã Dreadlocks addresses this challenge by adding on to their services: In addition to the creation and maintentance of dreadlocks, they also offer hair accessories and a specialized shampoo they themselves concocted specifically for dreadlocked hair. But the young woman and her partner, Claudio dos Santos, 29, intend to go even further. “Our dream is to build a complete studio with all our services, and prove that we can do this,” said Ana Victoria.

 

Opportunities in Salvador. The coordinator of Emerge Salvador, Yuniya Khan, believes that the expanding scenario for black entrepreneurship in Salvador is an opportunity that must be seized. The American says she realized that entrepreneurship in Salvador has been growing. “The goal is always to ensure that black entrepreneurs are not forgotten. I want to show that people have skills, potentials and dreams,” she says. Launched in August 2015, Yuniya, who is certified in social enterprise management and impact investment, is seeking new partners to collaborate with her with Emerge Salvador. This project seeks to share the stories of black entrepreneurs, providing encouragement and role models for other aspiring black entrepreneurs in Salvador. “In addition to our Facebook page, we are building a website to broadcast these stories and also seek support for the enrichment of this project, which is being developed in partnership with the Instituto Midia Etnica,” she says. In order for the project to achieve greater impact, Yuniya is inviting people to collaborate through crowdfunding to raise funds for Emerge Salvador. Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/emergesalvador. “We need to continue with the proposal. We need to strengthen the black entrepreneurial environment”, she points out.

Another initiative also designed to enhance black entrepreneurship in the capital is the creation of Brazil’s first coworking space for black entrepeneurs. “In Salvador, there are already those areas of shared working spaces, but this one is specific, created for black entrepreneurs. Let’s work together, share equipment, build a collaborative space. You can have inspiring ideas when professionals from different career areas come together, “says Yuniya, who holds a Masters degree in Public Administration from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, in California.

In this coworking space, entrepreneurs will have access to training courses that will help them develop a stronger competitive advantage, and develop their business in a structured way. According to the director of the Instituto Mídia Étnica (Ethnic Media Institute), Paulo Rogério Nunes, the coworking space will act as a mini-incubator, providing tools for the participants to overcome challenges. “We are seeking institutional partnerships, courses and technology to provide our coworking space participants. The idea is to hold an open house to launch the coworking space in November, “says Paulo Rogério.

Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurship. According to the general coordinator of the Brazil Afroempreendedor Project, Adilton of Paula, we need to invest in black entrepreneurship in Brazil because, given the sheer size of black entrepreneurs in Brazil, the development of this group would only contribute to the economic growth of the country. Although Clarindo Silva has 19 employees, and Najara Black and Ana Vitoria employ more than five professionals, the reality is that the vast majority of black Brazilians who own their own business are micro entrepreneurs and earn a very low monthly income, not exceeding an average of 1,200.00 reais per month. “We are not creating jobs, we are not hiring. We are still not eating at the table, “points out Adilton Paula.

In order to train and build the capacity of Afro-Brazilians entrepreneurs, the Brazil Afroempreendedor Project was created in 2014 in partnership with SEBRAE. Entrepreneurs who sign up for the project will receive support in the search for resources and funding for their business or project; assistance in the design andimplementation of their business plan; and support and encouragement from a team that knows the socio-economic and racial reality Brazil. “We want, within this network, people who think big, who want to grow. We need to build successful cases. We need to have rich black people, millionaires,” said Adilton de Paula.

In line with the Ubuntu African philosophy that focuses on growth from the ideal of collectivity and solidarity, black entrepreneurs believe they should unite to achieve the objectives. Monica Tavares, 34, who leads MEIBAHIA, a consulting company and services provider for entrepreneurs, has joined the Brazil Afroempreendedor Project. She started her business working alone, and today employs 10 people in the company. She always seeks to innovate, and wants to help this network grow. “Finding a network of this kind causes me to recognize my desires, my passions. With the project, which is now well organized, we have a good chance to have a voice. We know it will not be easy, but I am willing to contribute to the strengthening of black entrepreneurship,” she says.