Everyone’s entrepreneurial journey is different. But it can help to look at those who came before you for inspiration. And there are so many great entrepreneurs throughout history that have blazed trails for today’s business owners. Here are 20 black entrepreneurs who have made their mark on history, both recently and in past centuries.
One of the biggest names in business and entertainment, Winfrey has built an entire collection of businesses including her talk show, TV networks, magazine, films, books and more.
Madame C.J. Walker
Walker is known as the first female self-made millionaire in America. She built her fortune by creating a line of beauty and hair products for black women.
Amos is the entrepreneur behind Famous Amos Cookies. He originally began making cookies to send to potential clients while working as a talent agent. But he then opened a store and built an entire business around the cookies.
Reese is a fashion designer who has had her clothing lines featured in Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and other popular retail outlets. She also has her own flagship store and has designed for big name clients like Michelle Obama.
Robert L. Johnson
Johnson is the co-founder of television network BET. He also founded a holding company called The RLJ Companies, among other investments and business ventures through the years.
The former professional boxer is perhaps almost as well known for his George Foreman Grill line of cooking products, which he helped to design and endorsed as the public face of the brand.
Known mainly for her philanthropic work, Brown was a former slave who secured her freedom and went onto earn a fortune during Colorado’s gold rush by investing in gold mine properties. From there, she used her money to attempt to find her children and ended up rescuing other former slaves.
The record executive is best known for founding the popular Motown label, which was one of the most profitable African American owned businesses for decades and also led to ventures in film, TV and theater.
John H. Johnson
An entrepreneur and publisher, Johnson is best known for founding both Jet and Ebony magazines, among other publications mainly under those brands.
Gordon was born a slave and eventually purchased his freedom and moved to Cincinnati, where he bought a coal yard and ran it so successfully, he was able to weather attempts by his competitors to drive him out of business.
One of the first African American women to become a multi-millionaire, Malone started a number of businesses around the turn of the century, including a cosmetics business and a beauty college.
Formerly known as Puff Daddy, Combs is also known for his own fashion line, Sean John, as well as a pair of restaurants and even some beverage ventures.
The former model actually has several different business ventures, including TV production, a fashion and beauty website and her own line of cosmetics.
A former slave from Virginia, Temple was a blacksmith who invented several products, including an iron harpoon.
Hughes is the founder of Urban One, the company behind Radio One and TV One, entertainment networks created specifically for African American audiences.
Tyler Perry is best known for his film and acting work. But he’s also an entrepreneur, with his own production company, Tyler Perry Studios, which is responsible for his film projects and other work.
Frazier is the chairman and CEO of Merck & Co., one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. He joined the company as general counsel, as he already had a successful legal career.
The mother of Beyonce, Knowles has become a successful entrepreneur in her own right. She has multiple clothing lines including the Miss Tina and House of Dereon brands.
Granville T. Woods
Sometimes referred to as the “Black Edison”, Woods held more than 50 patents for various mechanical and electronic inventions in the years following the Civil War. Among other inventions, Woods contributed to technology that led to the telephone and street car.
Walker is the founder and CEO of Network Solutions Provider, a multi-million dollar tech integration company that has grown exponentially since its launch in 2008.