African American women have the highest percentage of businesses owned by women in the United States. Social barriers and economic challenges unique to African American women make their success in persisting beyond the 5 year start-up average astounding. Yet, while these women have been successful in building their enterprises, despite social and economic encumbrances, there is limited research available about this group of entrepreneurs. Through phenomenological examples, this research explored the motivational factors that influence African American women to pursue entrepreneurism and how they use their motivation to cultivate and sustain their businesses. Semi-structured interviews explored 4 variables to provide a complex, detailed lens into the lived experiences of 6 African American women entrepreneurs. Through a cross-case thematic analysis 5 themes emerged from the data: A belief that education was beneficial to their success; they did not deliberately pursue entrepreneurship; once established, they felt passion and love doing what they always wanted to do; the role of race and gender and strong parental support. Conclusions of the study reveal varied reasons for success of African American women entrepreneurs. They do not define success by financial growth. Their career choice was made independently of family influence. The idea of returning to corporate America is inconceivable. African American women entrepreneurs' support networks are linked to their community involvement. Their challenges of social barriers are viewed as character builders. Finally, age and social exposure significantly impact their approach to entrepreneurism. This study documents historical information about a growing population of business owners who have been overlooked in America. This historical information serves as an instructional tool for educators and professionals who work with women desiring to become entrepreneurs. Even though the study focused on African American women, the research findings would benefit all young women, as the data reveal examples of positive self-images to which they can aspire. Recommendations for future research include exploring further the lived experiences of these women as well as expanding the number of respondents by recruiting participants from a broader geographic area.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; Women-owned business enterprises; African American women

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Davis, Kay D.;