First-Year Students Discover Boston’s Women of Color Entrepreneurs

October 06, 2016

Boston Women of Color Entrepreneurs class photo at a gallery

SOM Professor Areen Shahbari’s new PLAN course encourages students to tell the untold stories of Women of Color Entrepreneurs.

In the new first-year PLAN course, School of Management Professor Areen Shahbari ‘11SM allows students to discover and tell the stories of Boston’s Women of Color Entrepreneurs, through writing, video and photography. The focus of the course is for students to meet and interview Boston’s women entrepreneurs of color and write feature stories about them from their perspectives. Students will explore the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges that women entrepreneurs of color face, and research solutions to those challenges.

When asking first-year students which female entrepreneurs of color they admire, many faced the realization that most of their stories go untold.

"I admire any female entrepreneur because you don't see a lot of women owning their own businesses. You see more males owning them, and a lot of criticism towards women for doing that. " – Simmons First-Year Student"

I honestly do not know. I have not been exposed to many." – Simmons First-Year Student

"I don’t really know a whole lot about female entrepreneurs of color, which is why I’m very happy to be in this class, and I think that that is a reflection on our society. I always hear about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and all of these men who have come up with incredible inventions and companies, but seldom do I hear about women. I think that has a lot to do with the patriarchal society that we live in and how we place value on men’s achievements more than women’s, but I really want to do my part to change that. I really think that this class will introduce me to some of these incredible female entrepreneurs of color. " – Simmons First-Year Student

This course encourages students to become part of the story-making process to ensure that the stories of women of color entrepreneurs are being told. Professor Shahbari emphasizes to students that, “Your age doesn’t matter, even if you are very young, you can be a person who tells the story of someone, and change the status quo.” As a way for students to join the conversation, the class took a field trip to visit Simmons alumna and Boston woman of color entrepreneur, Carolina Tejedor-Meyers ‘11SM.  She is the founder of the socially responsible Menswear Boutique located in Jamaica Plain, Caramelo Clothing Company. Students were excited to visit her store and hear a first-hand account of the struggles she faced in launching her business, as well as her journey to making Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” list in 2014.

Group Photo at the GalleryThis week, the class visited the SoWa art galleries to explore whether artworks of people of color are being featured, and if the stories of artists of color are being told. They met with gallery owner Abigail Ogilvy, who shared the experiences and challenges she faces as a young female gallerist. She also organized a tour of two art spaces, Samson Projects and Gallery Kayafas, which address themes of gender and sexuality, multicultural identity and spirituality. Both galleries will be presenting an exhibition by Steve Locke, from October 21 - November 29, which tells the story of violence against people of color through photography.

In the upcoming weeks, the class will also visit Hyde Jackson Square Main Street, the heart of Latino life and businesses in Boston, and interview fellow Simmons alumna and woman of color entrepreneur, Michelle Brown-Droese ‘11SM. She is the CEO of Surpass Business Alliance, a consulting firm focusing on the needs of small businesses, specializing in woman, immigrant, and minority owned including diverse disenfranchised groups and non-profits.

Through the process of interviewing women entrepreneurs of color, not only are students getting the chance to expand their entrepreneurship knowledge, but they are also gaining essential professional development skills, such as email etiquette, interviewing, writing, and networking practice. However most importantly, students will leave this course understanding that challenges should not stop any woman from achieving her goals in life, and that with each challenge, there is an opportunity to grow. Professor Shahbari hopes that students feel proud, inspired, and empowered every time they listen and tell the story of a woman of color entrepreneur.  

"I admire Madame C. J. Walker because she broke the barrier and because she was the first black female self-made millionaire with her hair products for African Americans in 1905." – Simmons First-Year Student

"I honestly admire all women of color entrepreneurs. One of my favorites is actress Rosario Dawson who has recently collaborated with a clothing company called Studio 189 toeducate, empower, and offer opportunities to those with talent who are living in poverty. Another women of color entrepreneur I admire is Kehlani Parrish. She was homeless for quite a few years and faced hardships while living in her hometown of Oakland before creating her own music label Tsunami and creating a partnership with Atlantic Records."  – Simmons First-Year Student

"I really admired Yooree Losordo because I thought it was really wonderful how she used her interest in literature and love for books to create a bookstore where people could spend time together, as if it were a community center. This type of business seems great for people and families to connect. I also admire Bernette Dawson, who sells skin care products that are safe for people of different skin types to use. She started her business after her son developed a skin condition and decided to use her talent of creating effective home remedies to benefit others." – Simmons First-Year Student