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Oakland small business owners turn to hybrid entrepreneurship to launch their passion projects

on December 5, 2020

Latoya McInnis’ first fashion sale was a bag of her old clothes. She sold it to a thrift shop on Polk Street in San Francisco for $300. She was just 15 years old. McInnis now owns CocoaCentric, an accessory and jewelry line she started in 2017.

McInnis spent years working as a stylist for Bay Area musicians and performing artists. She didn’t have enough funding to start her own business full-time, so she began part-time. 

This is a picture of Latoya McInnis. She is wearing a striped shirt and she has head wrap on her head. She has earrings that are ivory and green.
Latoya McInnis, Owner of CocoaCentric

“For some people it’s hard to think long term about having a business because it’s scary, you don’t have the security,” McInnis said.

Hybrid entrepreneurship, or sidepreneurship, can be a more secure way for entrepreneurs to explore their passion without leaving the security of a full-time job. By far the highest rate of growth in hybrid entrepreneurships is among African American/Black women. It is triple that for all businesses over the past five years: 99% compared to 32%, respectively.

Rhonda Shrader, an executive director at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says part-time entrepreneurship allows owners the time to develop a deep understanding of their potential customers. By using a hybrid approach, Shrader said entrepreneurs can find out if their idea is viable.

“There are no facts inside the building!” Shrader says emphatically. “You can’t sit around with your friends. You’ve got to get out and talk to people.”

McInnis moved from being a part-time entrepreneur to full-time once she exceeded her goal in sales.

“I actually tripled my revenue,” McInnis said. 

Black women have a long and rich history of entrepreneurship in the U.S. Luminaries such as Madam C.J. WalkerSarah E. GoodeElizabeth Hobbs Keckley and Clara Brown and Annie Malone made history with their successes. Black women entrepreneurs represent 42% of all new businesses owned by women in the U.S. 

Donielle Woods is a full-time librarian and part-time owner of AfroChic, a home decor boutique she started in 2017. Woods listened to questions from old episodes of Shark Tank while creating her business plan. 

Woods acknowledges that it can be stressful to juggle two jobs, but she sees the bigger picture.

“I love decorating and I love home decor. It is my passion,” she said. Like Woods, about 62% of all African American business owners start their business because it was something they wanted to pursue. 

This is a picture of a yellow-themed living room. There is a yellow chair with a pink pillow. The wall has gold leaves on it.
AfroChic owner Donielle Woods loves to design home spaces like this

Woods said, “If I can make the side hustle the full hustle, that would be amazing. I would love to be on the cover of Black Enterprise about this home decor store that nobody saw coming!” 

Woods received a grant from the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce after the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on her business.

Chris Lodgson, a regulatory financial analyst with LexisNexis, says the federal government should be more intentional about providing financial support for entrepreneurs of color. 

In 2019, the average revenue of businesses owned by Black women was $24,000 compared with an average of $142,900 for all women-owned businesses. 

Black women are less likely to receive funding from banks, so they rely on personal funds to finance their business ventures. 

Lodgson says policymakers need to act quickly in order to prevent irreversible financial damage for small businesses.

The longer you wait to treat something, the worse the outcomes are going to be,” he said.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City put out a report looking at “Black Women Business Startups” in the country. The findings included calls to action, including expanded research on Black women who own businesses, better access and more diverse funding sources and the development of local, culturally-relevant business education and training programs.

Monique Bates started her apparel brand, Oakland Honey, in 2017 while still working full-time in hospice care. She learned about entrepreneurship from her father who has a screenprinting business.

“I would just be his little sidekick folding shirts,” Bates says with a laugh. She offered one or two designs to customers in the beginning, saying she was okay with “starting small.” 

This picture shows owner Monique Bates in a red Oakland Honey shirt. She is smiling as she stands with her hands in her pockets.
Monique Bates, owner of Oakland Honey

Bates, an Oakland native who was always interested in being a business owner, is now focused on expanding her business, calling it “the little engine that could.” 

Bates noticed an uptick in traffic on her website mainly from people outside the city after the pandemic began. She thinks it’s because all of her apparel has the word “Oakland” on it and appeals to Oaklanders who no longer live in the city.

“They’re able to have a piece of home or represent where they are from,” Bates said. She says her brand Oakland Honey represents the diversity of the city.

Bates says she loves being from Oakland because the diversity of the city gives her a unique perspective. 

“A little bit of hustle with the sweet,” she said. “You know, the honey and the grit. It just makes me who I am. I couldn’t see myself [being] from anywhere else.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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