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August 6, 2020
8/06/2020

A conversation with Mandy Bowman, founder & CEO of Official Black Wall Street

In celebration of National Black Business month, we had the privilege of virtually sitting down with Mandy Bowman, founder and CEO of Official Black Wall Street.

Mandy has dedicated her career to empowering the Black community through economics and business ownership. In 2015, Mandy launched Official Black Wall Street and made headlines as the first platform to alert users when they are near a Black-owned business. 

Thanks for sharing your story with us Mandy! So, let’s start at the beginning and move on from there. Can you tell us a bit about the origin story of Official Black Wall Street?
The idea for Official Black Wall Street started 2013 -  I had just graduated college and had recently read Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. The book is about the original Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Tulsa race riots. As one of the most profitable Black communities in the history of America, Black Wall Street was driven to be completely self-sufficient and self-sustaining due to the Jim Crow Laws. After doing my own research on the state of Black entrepreneurship, I learned so much about the different challenges Black entrepreneurs face. For example, fully qualified Black entrepreneurs are typically rejected from loans at a higher rate than applicants of other races with the same qualifications. I also found that Black women receive less than 1% of VC funding - quite discouraging to find out as an aspiring entrepreneur. Growing up in Brooklyn, I saw so many small businesses get priced out of neighborhoods due to gentrification or larger corporate stores taking over, so I decided to start supporting Black-owned businesses the best I could. I started with a spreadsheet to list all Black-owned businesses in my neighborhood, then created social pages to share the businesses in hopes that more people would continue to support Black-owned businesses. Those social pages continue to grow into a larger community and the natural next step was to create a website. A year after launching the website, I launched a kickstarter and raised $30,000 to help launch the Official Black Wall Street app
Beyond partnering with Official Black Wall Street, what can Black entrepreneurs and business owners do to build, grow and continue to find success in their respective industries?
  1. Innovate: When small businesses can stay up-to-date with their technology, they can pivot well in uncertain times. Being able to pivot is the key to building longevity.
  2. Be forward thinking: Start learning about newer technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual or Augmented Reality. With technology becoming more and more accessible, it’s important to continuously think about what technologies you can use to help your business. 
Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put Black communities at increased risk in regards to COVID-19. Beyond health factors, the Black community has also been disproportionately impacted economically. What can Black business owners do to help them navigate in the midst of this global health crisis? 
What’s helped me personally during this global pandemic is prioritizing my mental health. Running a business is already extremely challenging - when you add in health and economic hardships along with stories of police brutality, it can be overwhelming. I think the best way to navigate is to center yourself and make sure you’re giving yourself a break from everything - whether that means daily walks, or scheduled video calls with friends and family. One thing my coach told me: you need to schedule time to eat. There have been many times as an entrepreneur where I'd forget to eat, or I’d be eating with my laptop open trying to answer emails. You need time for you - when you’re not plugged in, doing work or consuming content, you need to create separation. 
In recent months, some Black business owners have experienced an influx of traffic due to Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives. What can these businesses do to maintain and convert this momentum into long term growth opportunities?
Every Black-owned business I've spoken to in May and June had amazing spikes in business and record highs. The best way to continue that momentum is to retarget those customers - have the right ads in place so that if someone visited your site two months ago, you can continue to talk to and advertise to them online to bring them back to your store. Remind all new customers that you exist and that you’re still out there so they can come back and become repeat customers. 
To sustain the fight against racial injustice around the world, how can non-BIPOC business owners be better allies to Black-owned businesses?
I think what’s happening right now is amazing, I’ve never seen anything like the support that is happening now in my seven years of doing this. I think all that’s needed now is the consistency to keep it going and sharing of helpful resources - there are so many non-BIPOC businesses that have hosted webinars or published content that shares in-depth knowledge about a particular thing (i.e. how to integrate technology into your business) - these resources are incredibly impactful, especially during this time.
Do you have any advice for young Black students/entrepreneurs?
Search for resources, especially at the beginning. There’s so many platforms, accelerators and mentorship programs that are out there to help Black and minority entrepreneurs. Also, take things one step at a time. When I was starting my business, I had this great idea but it was a bit  overwhelming to build the idea into a real business, so it took me a while to get started. Now, I live off of to-do lists - taking things step by step and breaking things down into baby steps helps a ton. 
We are excited to be partnering with Official Black Wall Street and to sponsor the first Official Black Wall Street Entrepreneur of the Year Awards! Is there anything you’re hoping your members can gain from this partnership?
We’re very excited! I think there will be so many opportunities to get the recognition they deserve, there's so many great Black business owners and Black entrepreneurs doing great things in their communities. I'm really excited for these entrepreneurs to get the exposure!
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More on Official Black Wall Street:
Black Wall Street is the first app that allows people to search and discover thousands of Black-owned businesses near them, from pharmacies to restaurants. Black business owners can list their business to gain exposure to a user base of over 1.16 million!
 Visit the Official Black Wall Street website to learn more.

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