I started 2 companies to help Black and minority-owned businesses thrive: Here's my best advice

"If you don't believe in your story, who else will?"

Dean Haynesworth is CEO at Black Progress Matters and Panther Data Solutions.
Courtesy Dean Haynesworth

In one of my first jobs, I saw my mentor, a man of color, passed over time and time again for promotion because he was Black and an advocate for the advancement of people of color working under him. Watching that happen had a major effect on me. My enthusiasm for the job began to wane as I recognized the humbling, stark, and very real limitations on me as a man of color in that organization. So I left. 

Thanks to the groundwork I had laid in that job, I was fortunate to find new opportunities in my field of medical device sales. But inherent racial bias in any organization is at the root of many systemic problems, especially when it comes to the engagement and morale of BIPOC employees. 

A 2020 study from human resources consulting firm Mercer highlighted the promotion gap between white and BIPOC employees, finding that 64% of support staff and operations level employees are white, 12% are Black, 10% are Hispanic, 8% are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 6% are other races, while 85% of executive level positions are held by white employees. 

There are currently four Black CEOs running companies on the Fortune 500 list, including TIAA CEO Roger Ferguson Jr. When he steps down in March, his successor, Thasunda Brown Duckett, will only be the third Black woman to be a full-time Fortune 500 CEO.

This narrative bore out in nearly every company I considered or worked at over the course of my career. I was getting so tired of it. I wanted to do something that would make an impact on diversity and inclusion in corporate America, and to help Black and minority-owned businesses thrive. So in September, I launched two companies, Black Progress Matters and Panther Data Solutions, to do just that. 

Here are some of the lessons I've learned along the way. 

Believe in your story 

I learned the importance of adaptability from my dad. He was a boxing promoter, and I attribute the foundation of my own sales savvy to watching his adroit interactions with fighters, other promoters, managers, and casino owners. And I learned the importance of tenacity from watching my mentor navigate an organization that didn't value his contributions, especially when it came to inclusive hiring

My story and the men who have influenced me inform the work I do today.

Our goal for Black Progress Matters is to help our clients across all industries recruit and hire exceptional senior-level minority professionals and put them on track to be executive leaders. BPM is also an incubator for the development of minority-owned start-ups. Even though we just launched this fall, we have already invested in several companies. 

I tell the business owners I work with that whether you are launching a tech start-up or a gluten-free bakery, be adaptive, and be resolute in your mission. If you don't believe in your story, who else will? And when you do, people will feel your sincerity and see your passion. 

Be adaptive, and be resolute in your mission. If you don't believe in your story, who else will?

When you invest in yourself, you create paths for others 

In 2019, I self-funded and started my own medical device distributorship. I continue to run it today, under the auspices of a company called Zimmer Biomet. When I first started working with them, I believed they valued diversity, and that instinct proved to be right. 

The leadership team there had confidence in me and gave me the opportunity to hire my own team. In my new role, I made sure to hire a diverse and talented group of employees and provide them all with the same avenues for advancement and the space to take ownership of their work. 

I want to help the entrepreneurs I work with through Black Progress Matters to understand the importance of investing in yourself. Your time will always be your most valuable resource. Never waste it on people or organizations that don't understand that.

For anyone who is starting a new venture right now, especially if you are self-funding your operation like I did: Do what you can to save, and pay yourself first. 

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Work with like-minded people

Finding the right partners can be make or break when it comes to launching a new venture. Before you officially go into business together, have an honest conversation about your core values. A shared sensibility can keep you together and motivated during challenging times.

I would encourage you to reach out to your network and ask them to connect you to potential partners or like-minded individuals. Even if they aren't directly in your field, you never know who might be a great collaborator.

Our goal with Racial Bias Alert, the first product from Panther Data Solutions, is to help our clients to monitor their internal communications in real-time to identify instances of bias or microaggressions and measure the effectiveness of their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Right now the technology is being used by Fortune 500 pharmaceutical, energy, and financial services companies.

I value hard work, loyalty, and positivity. I want to build an environment where people are excited to be there every day. And my hope is that over time, the tools we develop through Panther Data Solutions can help everyone feel that way.

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Don't be afraid to be vulnerable

Tell people what you are doing and what your goals are. Never assume people know what your mission is, and take ownership of your narrative with every interaction you have. 

Trying to take on a big issue like the opportunity and pay disparities facing BIPOC communities can be daunting. 

But by maintaining our focus and putting all of our energy into improving a piece of it, facilitating diversity at the executive level and financially supporting BIPOC founders, it is easier to stay the course and explain what motivates our team to new potential partners and stakeholders. 

My best advice for anyone starting a new company or side hustle right now is to be bold and intentional. Do all the preparation you can, so you're ready to commit and go all in when an opportunity presents itself. 

Dean Haynesworth is CEO at Black Progress Matters and Panther Data Solutions.

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