Every February, Black History Month honors and commemorates the invaluable contributions of Black and African American individuals and communities to the rich tapestry of American history.

This year, we spotlight four Black entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses.

What is the IRC’s Community Navigator Pilot Program?

The IRC’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP) has served nearly 3,000 diverse business owners since 2021. We have partnered with more than 20 community-based partners with a specific focus on supporting refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs as they recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The CNPP program is funded through a U.S. Small Business Administration grant as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The IRC’s CNPP services include counseling, one-on-one technical assistance, and helped small business owners access over $16 million in small business relief. In addition, the program connects business owners with resources and opportunities to grow their businesses, access to loans and grants, marketing support, and networking events. 

The goal of CNPP is to help entrepreneurs overcome challenges unique to refugee and immigrant communities, including language barriers, lack of access to traditional financial institutions, and limited knowledge of local laws and regulations. 

Beyond the CNPP program, the IRC provides a range of economic empowerment programs in the United States, including financial coaching, small business development, workforce development, and free tax preparation services.

Meet Nimota: Royal Nigerian Foods, LLC

After immigrating to the U.S. from Nigeria, Nimota Salami Dairo took up a career as a certified nursing assistant and a physical therapy aide. She opted to transition her career path, pursuing her passion for the culinary arts, inspired by a close friend who secured a grant to produce and distribute food amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Nimota began publicly testing the West African-style sauce recipes that she had been making at home for years. She eventually launched her own business, Authentic African Kitchen, which became popular within the West African community of Chicago. 

However, Nimota was forced to restart her business from scratch after relocating to Atlanta.

Nimota poses for a photo next to a display table full of her hand-crafted sauces.
Nimota is grateful for the opportunity to pursue her dreams of working in the culinary space.

How did the IRC help?

In Atlanta, Nimota connected with the IRC’s CNPP. Alongside her navigator, Nimota reestablished her business under the name Royal Nigerian Foods. Nimota and her navigator then explored the benefits of expanding her business and decided to apply for a loan, with the support of the IRC’s financial coaching services.

Nimota is seeking a microloan from IRC's subsidiary bank, the Center for Economic Opportunity, to finance the initial production phase of her Obe Ata sauce. 

“My experience working with the IRC has been phenomenal. My community navigator has been very patient and thorough, which helped put my mind at rest,” Nimota said. “He helped me acquire what I deserve and take my business to the next level. He guided me through getting my license, marketing, and sourcing ingredients in grocery stores.”

Follow Royal Nigerian Foods on Instagram.

Meet Prince: Huruma Clothing Co.

Prince, a Ugandan refugee, found a new home in San Diego back in 2010 with assistance from the IRC. Embracing his fresh start in California, Prince was driven to make a difference. He founded a charitable organization dedicated to supporting children in Ugandan refugee camps, which he once called home.

Recognizing the potential to make a lasting, positive impact by offering training and jobs, especially to single mothers, he founded Huruma Clothing Co. in 2019 with his business partner, John Bernard.

Huruma Clothing Co. is a socially responsible small business that sells imported clothing made by refugee women in Uganda. Huruma offers a range of stylish products, including bomber jackets, hats, bags, and shirts, that embody the vibrant cultural legacy of African textiles.

Initially, Prince and his business partner sold Huruma clothing products exclusively at farmers' markets and pop-ups in San Diego. With support from the IRC, they have steadily grown their clientele base and now operate an online store.

Prince stands against next to three tailors while on a visit back to Uganda.
Prince (right) meets with Huruma Clothing Co. tailors on a trip back to his native Uganda. The word “Huruma” means “compassion and sympathy” in the Swahili language.

How did the IRC help?

Prince Shamamba was resettled in San Diego with support from the IRC in 2010. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Prince approached the IRC for business support and was enrolled in the CNPP. 

With support from his navigator, Prince improved Huruma Clothing Co.’s digital presence and applied for COVID-19 business grants. 

He also worked with his navigator to apply for and receive two $8,000 SBA-backed microloans from IRC's Center for Economic Opportunity in 2022 and 2023. Prince used the funds to acquire additional inventory and broaden the reach of his business.

"I am thankful for the help from the IRC San Diego, the team that made my dream a reality,” says Prince.

Prince hopes to expand Huruma Clothing Co. to direct retail markets across the U.S. and beyond, further solidifying his position as a leader in the ethical entrepreneurship space.

Shop Huruma Clothing.

Meet Olayinka: Ayo Collections

Olayinka Ola founded Ayo Collections over seven years ago. Since then, the couture clothing brand has grown its presence across several boutiques, showcasing its designs at a fashion show. Olayinka’s talents even earned her the honor of being recognized as a featured designer at New York Fashion Week.

Ayo Collections — Ayo meaning “Joy” in Olayinka’s native Yoruba language — boasts a wide range of pieces, from formal wear to ready-to-wear styles, all featuring vibrant colors and prints of African designs blended with classic Western silhouettes.

Olayinka is actively expanding her business by establishing wholesale partnerships with current boutiques and enhancing her presence in Seattle's growing fashion community. Her ultimate aspiration is to launch an independent Ayo Collections boutique in the future.

Olayinka and a friend pose at a professional photo shoot for Ayo Designs.
Olayinka was a featured designer at New York Fashion Week 2024.

How did the IRC help?

Olayinka approached the IRC Seattle office while searching for additional working capital to expand her clothing inventory and organize a local fashion show. With guidance from her business counselor, Olayinka successfully secured two loans totaling $20,000 with 0% interest. 

While meeting with her business counselor, Olayinka discovered she was paying excessively high interest on her car loan. Consequently, she proceeded to apply for, and successfully secure, an auto finance loan, enabling her to reduce her monthly car payment by half.

Olayinka’s counselor also helped her apply for a featured space in the Seattle Restored revitalization program. Olayinka was accepted to the program, opening avenues for Ayo Designs to be featured across Downtown Seattle storefronts. 

“This is one of the best things I have done for myself. It’s helped lower my monthly payments, and it’s a blessing. Now I can use those funds to pay off other expenses,” says Olayinka.

Follow Ayo Collections on Instagram.

Meet Jawaher: Jawaher Designs

Jawaher, originally from Sudan and raised in Libya, leveraged her African and Middle Eastern cultural roots upon relocating to the U.S. in 2012. Drawing inspiration from her upbringing, she embarked on her entrepreneurial journey by founding Jawaher Designs.

Jawaher introduces clients to the art of henna – an ancient tradition that uses natural plant products to leave temporary stains on the skin. Her business brings henna art to community and private events in the Salt Lake City region.

“When I teach others about my art and culture, I feel that I am bridging a gap,” says Jawaher.

How did the IRC help?

Like most small businesses across the U.S., Jawaher Designs was impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. In 2022, Jawaher connected with an IRC Community Navigator and meticulously crafted a marketing strategy that played a pivotal role in broadening her client base.

Jawaher Designs has continued its collaboration with the IRC, debuting a new line of products at an IRC pop-up event and teaching a henna workshop as part of the New American Workshop Series in Salt Lake City.

Jawaher has broadened her business's exposure by launching a new website and taking part in a public exhibition showcasing the creations of refugee and new American artists and entrepreneurs.

Check out Jawaher Designs.