Monday, July 8, 2013

The Rejected Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs have been on the minds of  academics and  professionals alike for years now. Their mystery is what makes their bold souls click. Is it charisma, drive, or just a very good idea that propels them to start their own businesses.  

Research has shown it's actually a combination of all the above. Add to that the independence of creating a new service or product and you have what was once a commoner willing to take a risk. But there's another group of sole business owners that is usually overlooked: the rejected applicants. 

I met one such woman this summer, after my sister searched the social websites for a hairstylist we desperately needed to prepare for my nephew's wedding. She had just started using Facebook to post before and after photos of her work. 

Salma arrived in the US from Jordan two years ago. She had completed a year of schooling there in cosmetics and hairstyling, then finished two years of school after settling here. With a certificate in her arsenal of skills, she searched for work at many salons and boutiques. Although qualified, she was repeatedly rejected. Her only disadvantage was she wore the religious head covering devout Muslim women wear. At one time, a manager of an exclusive boutique asked her if she was willing to remove the headscarf for work. While Salma was eager for such an opportunity, she was unwilling to compromise her beliefs. She started her own business and has been building a client base by word of mouth. Now she speaks of gaining enough experience to someday make up the likes of the Kardashians. Salma believes in her abilities to reach this goal, although it might take some time now that she's going at it alone. 

As she dressed up my hair and face, I couldn't help but analyze her. She has all the qualities of an entrepreneur: drive, passion and resolve. Makeup and hair are not innovative services, but her self-assuredness is. Here she was standing before me, an American who speaks fluent English and wears the latest western fashions, and she confident with her mediocre English and concealed head. 

I finally asked Salma why she never filed a complaint against this manager who rejected her headscarf. It was a combination of pride and ignorance, she replied. Salma was not aware she could complain, but she was not in the habit of begging for work anyhow. While now she views her experience as a positive one, she has fallen to stereotyping Americans as racists. 

After our lengthy discussion, she finally accepted that the reaction to her headscarf was an isolated incident. She was either looking for work at the wrong places or maybe some rejections were based on her limited experience. Either way, Salma is proud of her new business and has  started   preparing for growth by carving out a special room for future clients. And as she excitedly shared her future plans, it was evident she would go very far. 

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