More Than Music – Akon

His name is Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam but the world knows him plainly as Akon. He’s an American-Senegalese based singer and producer introduced to us through pop culture by way of some pretty huge hits, yet little has been said about his impact as an entrepreneur. If anyone is wondering why Akon somewhat disappeared from the public eye, at least on the U.S. music scene that is, it’s because he’s been building businesses and investing smartly.

With an estimated net worth of over $80 million, there’s honestly no way to keep up with his many business ventures. He’s gone from music to real estate and tech, to agriculture and energy – yes, energy.

In 2014, he launched Akon Lighting Africa in effort to provide energy throughout his home continent.  The company provides environment-friendly and cost-effective solutions to address concerns in more than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa that are without electricity, and to reach more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lacking access.

With a billon dollar credit line from a Chinese partner, Akon is leading a movement to illuminate Africa with more than 100,000 solar street lamps installed across 480 communities in 15 countries, along with 1,200 solar micro-grids and 5,500 jobs created.

This year, his company will begin developing utility scale renewable energy projects throughout U.S. and constructing renewable energy solutions for rural and low income housing communities.

Meanwhile, he’s launched his own cryptocurrency called Akoin and will use the currency to support the Akon’s Lighting Africa Initiative and position it to be the de facto currency in a Senegalese city he’s constructing on 2,000 acres of land gifted to him by the President of Senegal – a futuristic city he describes as “a real Wakanda.”

Never moving too far away from music, he has also purchased 50 percent stake in a music download service based in Senegal called Musik Bi that features over 200 internationally recognized artists. 

So if you’re wondering what happened to Akon, you’re out of the loop and have some catching up to do.

His unique perspective as an African born in American is cradled in a heart for his homeland – a perspective grounded in the belief that the only way to build the continent of Africa is with less charity and more revenue-generating businesses that create opportunities for local people.

This bag collector is not only coming up with market-driven solutions that impact the globe, he’s proving that he’s more than music.


This post is the part of The Bag Collector series – a spotlight posts that feature serial entrepreneurs of color each recognized for their ability to diversify in business, wealth and investments. These individuals exemplify what it means to be creative and unapologetic in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence, and ultimately collect the “bag” then use it to make greater community impact.

The Million-Dollar Mother – Mary Ellen Pleasant

In a time where women were seen as less than men, and black people weren’t seen as human, you’d think it would be remotely impossible to be a successful black businesswoman.

Her story is complicated but abolitionist, financier, real estate magnate and Gold Rush entrepreneur Mary Ellen Pleasant was a free black woman who dedicated her life to equality for African Americans shattering racial and gender barriers.

Born into slavery, Mary Ellen was the illegitimate daughter of the son of then-Virginia governor and a Haitian voodoo priestess. She was sold from Georgia to New Orleans, then later bought and freed as an indentured servant in Rhode Island. She eventually made Philadelphia home, married an abolitionist and became a conductor of the Underground Railroad in Canada. ⁠

Around 1848, Mary and her husband heard about the Gold Rush and saw it as an opportunity to move west to California. She came to San Francisco fleeing prosecution under the Fugitive Slave Act while continuing her work leading people from slavery to freedom and finding them employment. Arriving in San Francisco with a considerable sum of money left to her by her first husband, Mary Ellen invested it wisely. She established several businesses included laundries, dairies and restaurants — all of which became quite lucrative in a city filled with gold miners, politicians and businessmen.

By 1875, she had earned a great deal of money from her businesses and investments and used it to help establish the Bank of California. Mary Ellen continued the fight for civil rights and challenged Jim Crow laws ⁠in suing the North Beach Railroad Co. for not letting African Americans ride streetcars in San Francisco.

Today the Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park in San Francisco lives on the property that once occupied a 30-room Italianate mansion she owned on Octavia Street.

Searching her history you may find so much more about this woman. Mary Ellen was relentless and sometimes controversial yet she died known as “the Mother of Civil Rights in California.”

She amassed a fortune worth over $30 million and used much of that fortune to challenge the white supremacist status quo marking her million-dollar legacy in civil rights and black entrepreneurship.


This post is the part of The Bag Collector series – a spotlight posts that feature serial entrepreneurs of color each recognized for their ability to diversify in business, wealth and investments. These individuals exemplify what it means to be creative and unapologetic in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence, and ultimately collect the “bag” then use it to make greater community impact.

She’s The One – Nichelle McCall Browne

Less than 1 percent of black women founders get VC funding.

Nichelle McCall Browne, CEO of Bold Startups, is one of 1 percent. She raised $1/2 million within a year as a non-technical founder of her own software company.

She’s been helping entrepreneurs boldly launch and grow businesses since 2007 and has managed two business accelerators, where entrepreneurs have made collectively over $3.6M in revenue within a few years.

Here’s her story:

How did you get started on your journey to entrepreneurship?

My entrepreneurial journey started with me being unemployed in 2010. I had just completed my master’s degree and was recruited for a position back home, when at the last minute the organization went another direction. So I found myself unemployed. At that moment, I decided to never leave my financial future in the hands of someone else. That was when I started working on my first consulting business.

What is your definition of a serial entrepreneur?

I define a serial entrepreneur as someone who frequently sees new opportunities or challenges and starts new businesses to address them.

How many business ventures have you been involved (as owner, investor, partner, etc) and what has been your process for managing them all?

I have started four businesses of my own in consulting, tech, real estate investment and startup coaching. I have also managed two business accelerators helping individuals launch and grow their businesses. Our entrepreneurs collectively have made over $3.6 million in a few years.

When starting my business ventures, I usually focus on launching one at a time, so I can learn what works and what can be tweaked. Once it’s steady, I hand it over to others to manage so I can focus on the next business.

In general, what would you say has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?

My biggest challenge was definitely starting a tech company as a non-technical founder. I had an idea for leveraging software to help students navigate the college application process, but I did not have a background in coding. Fortunately, I ended up finding advisors who taught me how to build an investment-ready business, find the right paying customer, and create revenue-generation milestones. This led me to raising $½ million in a year and I have used these principles in my businesses since.

How satisfied are you with your success thus far? What area of business do you want to tackle next?

I’m content with the progress that has been made thus far and excited for what’s next.

Right now, I’m focused on growing my Money Milestones program that teaches consultants and service-based businesses to build six-figure businesses, so they can be full-time and financially-free. The entrepreneurs I’ve served have seen great success so far, so I’m putting more systems and teams in place to scale my reach. As the business grows, I’ll use more of the profits to continue to invest in businesses, missions, and real estate.

Share a quick example of a time you collected the “bag” and circulated it throughout a segment of your community to give back and make greater impact.

I once had a nonprofit client I was working with to raise money for a new multipurpose complex. I ended up donating half of the money from my contract back to the nonprofit as I truly believed in the mission.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who fear they may be doing “too much” at once?

When your business services are aligned and you have a team to help with management, it’s easier to focus on successfully growing them.

In this situation, you will not always have to create something from scratch, but rather leverage what you already created in order to multiply revenue.




This post is the part of The Bag Collector series – a spotlight posts that feature serial entrepreneurs of color each recognized for their ability to diversify in business, wealth and investments. These individuals exemplify what it means to be creative and unapologetic in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence, and ultimately collect the “bag” then use it to make greater community impact. 

Where Innovation and Funding Meet – Buzz from the 2015 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit

The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit is always a great place for networking and an important moment to invigorate as an entrepreneur. This year’s event held in Atlanta was buzzing with topics, tips and tools for small business owners new and seasoned.

Here are a few highlights on my Storify story.

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22 Tips to My 22 Year-Old Self

I was excited last week to see LinkedIn presenting a series with professionals sharing stories about what they wish they knew at 22 so I joined in on the fun. 11 years today, I graduated from college and I’d just turned 22 years old a month or so prior to crossing the stage.

#IfIWere22, I’d give myself these 22 wise pieces of advice.

  1. Entrepreneurship can put you in a personal deficit. You often give more than you get. Do not forget to take care of yourself.
  2. A relationship/marriage is a partnership. Choose a man who is loyal, spiritually grounded and focused on building a future that includes you.
  3. Passion leads to purpose. What you are passionate about today can change tomorrow. Search for your God-given purpose instead.
  4. Wake up early enough to pray, meditate and have some quiet thinking time before the day gets started.
  5. The countless happy hours, late nights and industry parties can add bags to your eyes and pounds to your thighs. Be easy.
  6. There will be many things in the world that will make you sad, angry and confused. Instead of letting them discourage you, find the courage to advocate for them.
  7. Not everything needs to be announced. Thanks, social media. Let folks see what you did, not what you’re doing.
  8. The right people and right situations always occur in your life at the right time. Respect and cherish them. Don’t force anything, chase anyone or mourn over lost time or missed opportunities. Whoever/whatever is meant to be, will be.
  9. Write yourself a reality check, boo – money does not grow on trees! Appreciate what you have. Eat at home. Shop less. Save something. Make a budget and stick to it.
  10. You are enough. You don’t need anyone to co-sign for you.
  11. Careful welcoming people into your space who make you question yourself or second-guess your ability. Many people will come into your life, push their own insecurities onto you, then walk away leaving you to heal in places where you were never broken.
  12. Make a to-do list everyday. Cross off as much as you can by the end of the day. If anything is left, no worries. Put it on tomorrow’s list.
  13. Those quirky things about you are totally fine. You’re weird sometimes and that’s okay.
  14. Women sometimes get the short end of the stick, especially black women. Don’t let that fact hinder your progress.
  15. No matter how sweet or humble or smart you are, people will be intimidated by your strength and your confidence. That’s not your fault. They’ll just have to get over it. Do you.
  16. Time is money. You’re either moving toward making it or getting closer to losing it. Period.
  17. A failure is often a set-up for a win. You will drop the ball sometimes and that’s okay. Pick it up and keep it moving.
  18. Your “hustle” or your “grind” is not badge of honor. In fact, it can be your own worst enemy. Focus on the quality of the outcomes instead of the amount of hours you clocked. Your success is not on deadline.
  19. You shouldn’t always be the smartest person at the table. You should have people around who are sharper than you. Keep them close and let them rub off. Iron sharpens iron. Your network is your net worth.
  20. Forget about work-life balance. You’ll never master it. Attempt to achieve balance from within.
  21. You are not a slave your phone or email. Stop sending and responding to work messages or calls past bedtime. The perception conveys that you have no boundaries and no life. Refresh, power off, unplug.
  22. Chill. God is in control and life is good so enjoy it.


Photo: College graduation day, May 2004, Age 22. My mom giving me a diamond tennis bracelet as a graduation gift. I sold it a month later to invest in the launch my first company. #IfIWere22 today, I would probably do it again.

#BizChats: Excel as an Entrepreneur

I had fun participating in #Bizchats hosted by Mashable Business on yesterday. In observation of National Small Business Week, Mashable and several experts participated in a Twitter chat to discuss what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, I can tell you there’s no one path to success so I certainly enjoyed contributing to the chat and seeing what wisdom other entrepreneurs shared about their experiences.

Click below to hear the full discussion via Storify. I’m sure you’ll see my two cents in the mix!

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Be Your Own Boss: Young Professional’s Guide to Entreprene​urship – Memphis Urban League

Leadership Memphis Aerial Ellis Entreprenuership PanelI love working in my hometown of Memphis!

It was a special opportunity for me to serve as a panelist at the April General Body Meeting for the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals (MULYP)

We talked about how to start a business, how prime yourself for entrepreneurship, challenges in being a young business owner, and a variety of other topics. Other panelists included Phillip Rix, Jacque BoNey, Edward Bogard and Nikki Smith-Brown.

Memphis Urban League Young Professionals

Chapter President Cynthia Daniels has done an excellent job growing the chapter. It is one of the city’s largest networks of young leaders; it is recognized throughout the community for their member’s accomplishments.
MULYP is working to fill a void in the Memphis community by attracting, assisting and supporting the next generation of Memphis leadership to create positive change. The YP’s are a collection of Memphis area professionals that believe in improving the lives of others. Our members are doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, students, public administrators, financiers, entrepreneurs and more!
As a native of Memphis, I am so pleased to see this spark of energy spreading throughout city among young professionals in the African American community.