Get All Access for $5/mo

Black Is the New Black: An African-American Entrepreneur's Manifesto The greatest satisfaction for those who have broken business barriers is the pathways they have opened for those who follow.

By Donald Thompson Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Today's business environment is faster-paced, more aggressive and more open than at any point in our history. Yes, you read correctly -- I said more open.

Sure, issues remain that affect those of us who have a darker pigmentation in our skin, are female or are part of the LGBT community. However, none of us have to think back too far to realize how far we have come. I am not naive. I have spent the last 20 years in the technology space, and I have never done a significant deal with or worked for someone who looks like me. So before we go any further, I get it. Things aren't fair, diverse or very inclusive in the tech space. The question is, "What are we going to do about it?"

Related: What Needs to Happen for More Women, Minorities to get into Computer Science

While this article centers around the African-American perspective, since that is my experience, I believe the same considerations can be applied to any group looking to break barriers in business.

It starts with the kids.

There are plenty of headlines about diversity and inclusion and plenty of articles communicating the historical data about lack of diversity in the past at Big Company X, Y and Z. Current data shows that there are still not many African-Americans in the technology field. I commend the positive response from firms like Google, IBM, Intel and others for their initiatives to improve the number of hires from underserved communities. However, we must start earlier by encouraging African-American kids to focus on becoming job creators versus job seekers. We have to create an ownership mindset, the mental model that allows our kids to see entrepreneurship and risk-taking as the foundations of greatness in business, and reframe the expectation that a four-year degree and a good job is enough.

For those of us on the front line of change in the business world, we need to educate young people about the commitments and courage required to swim upstream in spite of the obstacles. Personally, I was not able to win by clocking out at 5 p.m. every day. My attitude and commitment towards hard work gave me the mental toughness to push through issues that would block the progress of others. I didn't allow myself to believe that work/life balance applied to me until I had accumulated momentum in my career. My parents always preached that I had to be twice as good to get half as far, period. By embracing that truth, I never expected fairness, only opportunity. I didn't feel excluded from the "club" when I wasn't invited to lunch. I didn't even take lunch because I was using those five hours a week -- 260 hours a year -- to pass those guys. I created a personal brand where my performance spoke louder than my ethnicity or academic pedigree.

According to Maya Beasley, a diversity expert, "Any student of color looking at the numbers from the tech giants is going to be turned off… They don't want to be the token." My hope is that our young, talented African-American professionals who are skilled enough to be hired, resolve not to care about the negative -- except as fuel to be an inspiration. Someone has to lead the charge, take the hits and change the narrative from the inside.

Related: Why Diversity In The Workforce is Imperative

Years ago, I was invited to Pinehurst #2, one of the premier golf courses in the U.S., for a business meeting and golf outing. I still recall the feeling as I walked inside and saw people that looked like me serving food, carrying bags or parking cars. None were playing golf. An African-American locker room attendant turned to me and asked, "What do you do?" I explained my role as CEO of a North Carolina technology company, and that I was there trying to win a large business deal. He asked what advice I could pass on to his studious grandson to succeed in the business world. In that moment, was I a token or an inspiration?

Priorities can drive change.

We have youth leagues in abundance for African-American kids to put a ball through a hoop, but we need to be just as committed to mentoring students who want to start a business. Many of us have the means to put our money into tech startups led by women, people of color or those in the LGBT community as opposed to purchasing the bigger house and newer car, but we don't make that a moral imperative. I encourage those of us who have the desire to make a change to also count the steps we are taking to make a difference.

In my role as a member of boards of directors of private firms, I encourage organizations to look at their diversity numbers. As CEO of Creative Allies, I ensure that our team reflects our commitment to diversity. As an investor, I provide a meaningful percentage of my investments and mentorship to minority-owned startups. The action for all of us is to invest time, money and expertise to build a more inclusive future.

Related: Mentoring Is Critical to Keep Minorities in STEM

As an emerging leader or employee, your job is to be a top performer in whatever you do currently. Our society will always promote, encourage and create opportunities for winners. The world will not be fair because we wish it to be. However, by taking personal responsibility for our success in spite of obstacles, and instilling these entrepreneurial values in our youth, we will smooth the path for those who come after us, and enable more of them to climb to the top of big companies (or build their own).

This change will come when African-American executives and business owners reach back into their communities, universities and entry-level floors to create a new paradigm for our industry. We cannot eliminate injustice from the world, but we can condition ourselves to win with the tools we have today.

Donald Thompson

CEO, Creative Allies; Partner, Walk West; Chairman, iCiDigital, YPO Influencer

As CEO of the technology company I-Cubed, Donald Thompson was given the reigns at age 36, and dramatically grew the organization until it was acquired by the global technology enterprise, KPIT in 2014. Currently, Donald is the CEO for Creative Allies, an integrated marketing firm that focuses on helping celebrity and consumer brands execute marketing campaigns and engage customers. Donald also serves on the Board of Directors for iCiDIGITAL, a spin off business from I-Cubed, where he groomed his successor from technologist to President. Donald was appointed to the North Carolina Board of Science, Technology and Innovation, is an emeritus member of the strategic advisory board for North Carolina State University‘s Computer Science Department, and is Executive Chairman for Walk West. With a focus on accelerating North Carolina's next generation of technology companies and entrepreneurs, Donald also is an advisor and investor to several startups and successful firms. A former college athlete, Donald has stayed involved in sports as franchise owner for the Navi Mumbai Sabers of the Elite Football League of India and the High Country Grizzlies of the Arena Developmental League. Donald is currently authoring his first book, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success. Learn more at

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


ChatGPT is Becoming More Human-Like. Here's How The Tool is Getting Smarter at Replicating Your Voice, Brand and Personality.

AI can be instrumental in building your brand and boosting awareness, but the right approach is critical. A custom GPT delivers tailored collateral based on your ethos, personality and unique positioning factors.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.

Business News

Is the AI Industry Consolidating? Hugging Face CEO Says More AI Entrepreneurs Are Looking to Be Acquired

Clément Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, a $4.5 billion startup, says he gets at least 10 acquisition requests a week and it's "increased quite a lot."

Business News

Sony Pictures Entertainment Purchases Struggling, Cult-Favorite Movie Theater Chain

Alamo Drafthouse originally emerged from bankruptcy in June 2021.

Business News

You Can Now Apply to Renew Your U.S. Passport Online — But There's a Catch

The U.S. State Department officially launched the beta program this week.