In recent years, black-owned businesses have been one of the fastest-growing segments in the U.S. economy.
From 2002 to 2007, the number of black-owned businesses increased by 60.5 percent to 1.9 million, more than triple the national rate of 18 percent for all businesses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners. Over the same period, receipts generated by black-owned businesses increased 55.1 percent to $137.5 billion.
Here are two African-American small-business owners who have successfully chartered that path.
WARREN H. ARRINGTON: Warren H. Arrington started American Safety Products after reading about a unique fire extinguisher in the back of Inc. Magazine.
Arrington had grown up in Cary, N.C., and graduated from Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., with a degree in mathematics. He went on to do accounting work for GoodMark Foods for 10 years before he left to work for CompuChem Laboratory, then a startup that provided services, such as drug testing and pest control for larger corporations.
In May 1983, Arrington was laid off because of staff reductions after working for the company for three years.
Arrington said he did odd jobs as he sought job interviews, but companies weren't interested in paying him what he was making at his previous job.
After one interview, in which Arrington said he was insulted by an interviewer who questioned how Arrington had come so far, Arrington decided he was done with the job search process.
"I went home and told my family that was the last interview I would ever go on," he said. "And I haven't looked back since."
That night, Arrington read Inc. Magazine and found an opportunity to sell re-usable fire extinguishers. He called the business and a company representative eventually talked him into taking a training course in Cleveland, Tenn. In 1985, he founded American Safety Products and sold almost all of his inventory to his friends and by going door to door.
One of Arrington's college classmates asked him to come to a meeting at what is now known as the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council. The private, nonprofit agency is a membership organization of corporations, financial institutions, government agencies and universities in the three states.
Capitalizing on the opportunity to network with company decision-makers at places such as GlaxoSmithKline and Carolina Power & Light, Arrington became a distributor for safety supplies, including safety glasses and disposable clothing.
Arrington moved his company out of his living room and into an office in 1990, after Carolina Power & Light asked him to produce a product to cover transformers to protect them from leaking when they were transported. American Safety Products invented environmental kits and started selling them to other utility companies.
Growing up an African-American in Cary in the 1960s, Arrington was used to people telling him what he couldn't do. But that just motivated him to capitalize on opportunities whenever and wherever they presented themselves, he said.
"Opportunity is the word," he said. "I don't know if race is a factor" as much as he wasn't given opportunities because he lived in a different neighborhood and wasn't invited to join certain business organizations or golf clubs.
"Things are changing now, and those opportunities are a little bit more available, but it is still an ongoing process," he said.
OLALAH NJENGA: Olalah Njenga moved from Chicago to North Carolina in the middle of an ice storm in January 2000. Cisco Systems had recruited her from the corporate offices of McDonald's to work in acquisitions and new product introduction.
More than two years later, Njenga was laid off, but with "a very generous separation package." Meanwhile, Njenga had started doing marketing work on the side and she continued those projects while interviewing for jobs.