it always starts with a to-do list
“At first, I didn’t even think I was starting a business,” Bowman said. “I noticed a lot of black-owned businesses closing down in my neighborhood. I wanted to create a solution.”
During her lunch break in her job specializing in social media communications, Bowman writes about every Black-owned company she wants to share with the world.Next, she started making a to-do list of steps she might take, jotting down notes such as buy a website, find a domain name with Create a directory so people can find this information.
As she browses her list, she uses her social media background to kick off and drive engagement online. Before the website was complete, she utilized her social pages as a hub for sharing information about different companies.
“As the community grew, so did the need for OBWS. In 2015, I launched the website and posted about it on social media,” recalls Bowman. “I’ll never forget that day. The first comment was, ‘This is awesome. When’s the app coming? So it was like, ok, ok, there’s another goal for the roster. And it hasn’t stopped.'”
What’s in the name?A lot of history, actually
Bowman took a black music history class in college, which piqued her interest and led her to delve deeper into American and black history after graduation.
She stumbled upon a book by James S. Hirsch called Riot and Remembrance about the Tulsa Race Massacre, It was a 1921 race riot that left hundreds of black residents dead. The attack took place in the Greenwood district, also known as Black Wall Street, one of the most prosperous African-American neighborhoods in the United States.
When she read about the tragedy, she wanted to do her part to support a community of successful Black entrepreneurs.
“It’s inspiring to read about the many thriving Black entrepreneurs on this block,” Bowman said. “I saw a small part of it around Brooklyn and really wanted to recreate it, or at least a digital version of it.”
sometimes you have to leap
Bowman realized she couldn’t divide her time between her “full-time and part-time” jobs. After taking a leap of faith, she jumped over many obstacles on the road to success.
“Every stage had huge challenges. Mostly I had to wear a different hat,” Bowman said. “I wrote press releases, conducted interviews, built a website and ran social media. I also had to find a team that was willing to bootstrap itself to be successful.”
What has kept Bowman through this busy period is the strong support of the community. People she’s never met reach out and tell her to keep going. That’s when she knew OBWS was more than just her personal dream of sharing the work of Black businesses. It’s about bigger things.
Her company needs to exist.
This is especially true during the pandemic, when many small businesses have closed their doors. Many Black entrepreneurs seek resources and support. During this time, OBWS is offering a series of virtual workshops. OBWS also launched the Black Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which provides grants to Black-owned companies.
“This pandemic has helped demonstrate that OBWS is necessary to help Black businesses and communities thrive,” Bowman said.
A relationship built on mutual respect
One of Bowman’s boons was being accepted into the New Voices Bank Boot Camp sponsored by the New Voices Foundation and J.P. Morgan. The program comes with grants and mentorship. Bowman has a mentor who works at Chase to help her learn about finance and grow her business.
“I have been very impressed with the amount of support that Chase has provided,” Bowman said. “My mentor was very helpful and we kept in touch even after the program was over. My Chase relationship manager was great keeping me updated on different opportunities and events. There were many times when I was overwhelmed and she would call in person to me to make sure I take advantage of them. Partnering with Chase has been a game changer for me.”
Since money is a big need to start OBWS, it is beneficial to get a Chase Ink business credit card.
Bowman uses it to cover monthly business expenses and uses the rewards points for travel and to pay for monthly software needs and operating platforms like Google Workspace and Asana. Since these platforms help automate operations and communicate with teams and users, uninterrupted service is critical. That’s why she appreciates the autopay feature of the Ink Business Credit Card.
“Autopay is great because it allows me to do one more thing,” Bowman said. “I never have to worry about not paying anything at the end of the month.”
The Future of Black Business Is a Culture of Connection
“In a digitally driven world, Black entrepreneurs, especially founders, need to emphasize staying connected to each other,” Bowman said.
“It’s easy to work in silos these days and forget to connect with other entrepreneurs in your area. But it’s important to do so,” she says. “Now more than ever, people need a personal connection to their community so they can feel that they are not alone in their journey.”
Going forward, OBWS aims to include more technologically advanced features on the site to incentivize people to shop with Black-owned suppliers. Bowman also intends to strengthen partnerships with local organizations and retailers, with the goal of highlighting more brands and getting Black suppliers to list at retailers across the country.
“I’ve always said we’re a community-first startup,” Bowman said. “Everything we do is about growing the black business community and making it stronger.”
For more information on how to strengthen your business with the Chase Ink business credit card or how to open a business line of credit, ask a Chase business banker.
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