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How One Woman Is Leveling the Playing Field for Black Small Businesses

Javacia Harris Bowser  |  August 30, 2022

Darrisaw’s company has helped Google offer free coaching and resources to over 100,000 US-based Black and Latinx small businesses.

For Angelina Darrisaw, every month is Black Business Month – not just August.

Darrisaw is the founder and CEO of C-Suite Coach, a firm that offers professional development and coaching programs for working professionals and small business leaders. The firm grew out of Darrisaw’s desire to make professional development and coaching more accessible for people of color.“We need to level the playing field for us to cope and thrive in workspaces that weren’t designed for us,” Darrisaw says.

C-Suite Coach has staffed coaches and provided training programs for Major League Baseball, New York University’s Veteran Lab Accelerator, Zendesk, Oscar Health, Year Up job training program, and many others. One of Darrisaw’s most notable clients is Google, with contracts ranging from supplier diversity consulting, content design for racial equity programs and servicing Black and Latinx small businesses by supporting Google’s efforts in bridging the digital divide through tactical digital skills training. As a part of this work, C-Suite Coach staffs and manages 20 coaches who have offered free coaching and resources to over 100,000 US-based Black and Latinx small businesses through more than 1500 programs across the US since 2018. 

 Before launching C-Suite Coach in 2015, Darrisaw was the senior manager of digital business development at Viacom and did similar digital strategy work previously at ESPN. in 2021, she made Black Enterprise’s 40 Under 40 list. It was her time at these companies that showed her the need for the kind of work she does today.

“I was around constantly all of these young, highly-funded CEOs, and none of them looked like me,” she says.

Planting Seeds

Darrisaw’s corporate career may have sparked the idea for C-Suite Coach, but the seeds of entrepreneurship were planted when Darrisaw was much younger. Her mother had a lot to do with that. “My mother went from being a teenage single mother to now being a superintendent and a big educational leader and advocate and she has a Ph.D.,” says Darrisaw, who grew up in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.I think that speaks to her diligence and her persistence in her own life, which translated into me.”

Darrisaw’s mother enrolled her in every enrichment program she could find. “I participated in so many programs,” she says. “Half the time, I wasn’t even old enough to apply. But she would talk to somebody and then I would be in a program. I was visiting colleges in seventh grade.” One of the programs she was a part of helped her land a scholarship to attend an elite New York City private school. To get to school, Darrisaw had a 90-minute commute – both ways. “I spent so much of my life on trains and busses,” she says. “As you’re on the train, and you’re going further into the city, it’s like with every stop, it got whiter and whiter. And you could see the wealth change.” (And the tuition at the private school she attended was about the same amount as the median income of her Bed-Stuy neighborhood.) 

“I feel that that really did plant seeds in me early on to be interested in how my life was going to be a part of making a change in some way, which is why my business is so mission-driven.” After high school, Darrisaw attended Davidson College in North Carolina and then got a master’s in business management from Wake Forest University. She had internships at HBO, ESPN, Fisher-Price, and Bloomberg. And for her birthday, Darrisaw’s mother never got her fancy bags or shoes, rather, she paid for career coaching sessions. 

Darrisaw also started conducting informational interviews with as many top corporate professionals as she could, asking about their career wins and losses and lessons learned along the way. “My friends used to call me a CEO groupie,” Darrisaw says. “I loved learning about and following the lives of Fortune 500 CEOs.” And the fact that she found very few CEOs of color to follow and interview struck a nerve. When Darrisaw launched C-Suite Coach in 2015, Jonathan Jackson was one of her early clients. Jackson says his work with Darrisaw helped him examine how he was showing up versus how he wanted to show up as a young person of color in positions of leadership.

“She held me accountable to not settling for what was, but pursuing a new vision of what could be,” says Jackson, co-founder of Blavity, a media and technology company and community for Black millennials and former editor-in-chief of Red Table Talk Enterprises. Currently, Jackson helps executives and leadership teams communicate with clarity and confidence. “Coaches have to balance the reality of where someone is, and where they say they want to be, and crossing that delta,” Jackson says, adding that in order for a coaching relationship to work, the client must trust that the coach has what it takes to be effective.

“Angelina is great,” Jackson says, “because she invests in her most important client, regularly — herself.”

Planning and Persistence

The pandemic has devastated many small businesses — especially those owned by Black women. But Darrisaw came out of 2020 thriving. She credits planning and persistence for her success in the face of great obstacles. The year 2019 was particularly challenging for Darrisaw, but this only pushed her to level up.

“2019, actually, was a really pivotal year for me in my personal life and then also my business life. And I was under a lot of personal stress, which forced me to say, ‘Okay, I am managing so much as a person, in order for me to lead, I need to put better infrastructure and better systems in place for my business to operate,” she says.  This included finding a better payroll vendor, getting health insurance and benefits plans for her employees, and setting up systems to help her business operate smoothly. With these measures in place, C-Suite Coach was ready to weather the storms of 2020.

“There’s going to be rocky times in any business, and I think the stronger your foundation is, the easier it is to cope and manage those rocky times,” she said. She also excelled because she refused to take no for an answer. When clients canceled in-person events her company was set to host them, Darrisaw and her team showed how they could leverage digital skills and tools to create effective virtual experiences.

Advice from the C-Suite Coach

Darrisaw’s advice for other Black women in business is three-fold. First, get comfortable with the numbers and money matters of your company.

“Understand how to look at your reports, your profit and loss statement, your balance sheet and really know your numbers inside and out,” she says. “You can have accountants, financial advisors, and a CFO do things, but you’ve got to understand it.”

Learn how to build in a profit margin so your pricing isn’t arbitrary, she adds. But it’s also just as important for Black women entrepreneurs to be intentional about self-care. Sometimes, that means setting boundaries and saying no to coffee meetings, social events or even business opportunities. “There’s always a hashtag or meme around how Black women save the world or we’re superheroes or we’re magic or we’re strong, which is like, great, right? They’re great things to carry. But they’re also exhausting things to carry. And the reality is, no one can carry that 24/7,” Darrisaw says.

And that’s why she believes Black women should stop trying to carry the load of building a business alone. “Ask for help fearlessly and consistently,” she says. “People want to help our businesses thrive.”

When Darrisaw isn’t busy helping businesses thrive, she likes to help her favorite nonprofits too – especially if doing so means putting on an evening gown. “I love a gala,” she says with a laugh – adding that she’s on the advisory board for WAKE International and the steering committee for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “Put me at a cocktail reception at a fundraiser – I love it!” She also says she’s intentional about spending time with her family and her dog and enjoying museums and outdoor activities.

So while she’s working hard to make C-Suite Coach the go-to firm for high-caliber, inclusive coaching, she also says, “I’m really actively working on creating a full life.”


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