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Five Successful Businesses Started By HBCU Alumni You Should Know

Historically Black colleges and universities are known for cultivating young Black minds and excellence. These five HBCU alumni who head their own businesses are proof. A 2018 Bloomberg surveyed Howard University business school graduates and found that more than 50 percent of them had gone on to start their own company, the highest share of any of the 126 schools in their best B-Schools ranking.

Melissa Butler, Founder and CEO of The Lip Bar (Photo: https://thelipbar.com/pages/our-story)

The Lip Bar

Melissa Butler graduated from Florida A&M University with a degree in business and finance. The Lip Bar is a vegan and cruelty-free makeup brand that Butler founded in 2012. Butler first began the inclusive beauty brand in her kitchen in Brooklyn. Even after she had her idea rejected on Shark Tank, she didn’t let that slow her down. Today, you can find The Lip Bar in Target, Walmart, and the flagship store in downtown Detroit. In 2022, she partnered with another Black female entrepreneur, Pinky Cole of Slutty Vegan, for a limited lipstick collection. When Butler’s business began to pick up, she left her job on Wall Street to take on the role of CEO and founder of The Lip Bar full time. According to Forbes, The Lip Bar is worth around $6.7 million. 

Greentop Gifts

Jacquelyn Rodgers co-founded Greentop Gifts, a decor and gift-wrapping site in 2016. She started the site to provide her own child with gifts wrapped in designs with Black themes. Greentop Gifts offers stationary and other gift-wrapping essentials that included diverse representation in its celebratory items. The brand’s signature character, Clarence Claus, is on more than the company’s gift wrap, he’s also on pajama sets, “ugly” Christmas sweaters, and Christmas tree ornaments. Also in 2020, O Magazine also featured the gift wrap as one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Favorite Things,” which tripled sales. Rodger graduated from Clark Atlanta University with a bachelors in business administration and management. 

The Spice Suite

Angel Anderson Gregorio is the founder and CEO of The Spice Suite and a graduate of Howard University. She is also an activist and educator. Gregorio’s passion for cooking helped her develop The Spice Suite, an interactive spice bar in D.C. filled with cooking oils and spice blends, in 2015. The Guardian reported that the seasoning brand had a valuation of $1 million in 2021.

It seems Gregorio is making more money moves. DCist reports Gregorio bought a $1 million strip mall for Black-owned businesses in D.C. in December 2021, in part with local government funds. Gregorio was the first applicant of DC’s Commercial Property Acquisition Fund, which was launched to provide grants of up to $750,000 or 25 percent of the sale price to eligible businesses seeking to expand or maintain a commercial property.

Gregorio dedicated her spice business to the Black diaspora and used her spice bar to help support other Black female entrepreneurs, which she’s done by filling the mall with Black-owned women-run businesses. She’s dubbed the 7,500-square-foot lot in D.C.’s Langdon neighborhood “Black And Forth.”

She told DCist/WAMU, “It was just this catchy, cool name that I created for how I describe my process of going back and forth with Black business owners. And now it is the name of a shopping center—a strip mall —that I own in D.C., So I feel good about that, and I’m grateful to be in the space.”

QuikLiq

Navarr Grevious and Mikael Pyles both graduated from Clark Atlanta University. The pair were much more than Kappa Alpha Psi brothers, as they later became brothers in business. Together, they co-founded QuikLiq, a late-night liquor delivery service in Miami, Florida. Not only is it the first Black-owned alcohol delivery service, but they also work with mom-and-pop liquor stores to help strengthen the neighborhood’s business and boost the community’s revenue. 

Volt Energy

Gilbert G. Campbell III and Antonio Francis stand out most in this list, as they are owners of a solar energy development firm. Volt Energy builds, operates, and maintains solar energy systems for several industries ranging from commercial and industrial to governmental and educational. Together, Campbell and Francis, two Howard alumni, created the largest minority-owned solar firm in the U.S.  

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