San Diego’s Black business women discuss journey, obstacles during entrepreneurs summit

Co-owners of Café X: By Any Beans Necessary, Cynthia Ajani and Khea Pollard, closed their coffee shop in June.
Co-owners of Café X: By Any Beans Necessary Cynthia Ajani and Khea Pollard at their former location in the College Area neighborhood. The coffee shop closed in June.
(James Tran)

‘We need more investment’: Black women entrepreneurs say they need greater access to capital, knowledge and support

After three years of navigating the complexities of starting a business in San Diego, mother-daughter team, Cynthia Ajani and Khea Pollard, opened the doors to Café X: By Any Beans Necessary in 2019.

It was a dream come true, and business was good. The College Area coffee shop became a safe space for residents to build community, they said.

But then COVID-19 hit. The building where they rented space went up for sale, and they closed the coffee shop in June. In hindsight, Ajani and Pollard agree, this wasn’t the first obstacle they faced and it won’t be the last.

“We need more investment,” Pollard said. “It’s not about controlling or telling people how to run their business.... It’s about leveling the playing field.”

The pair shared their story with hundreds of other Black women entrepreneurs on Wednesday during the inaugural virtual series, San Diego Black Women Entrepreneurs Summit, hosted by nonprofit Sister Cities Project.

Entrepreneurs spoke about personal experiences, inspiration behind their start-ups and challenges. Panelists included Ashley Matthews, founder of Dynasty Media; Makena Gargonnu, founder of Celebrity Events by Makena; Valari Jackson, CEO of Fierce Focus Strategies, and Pollard and Ajani.

The Sister Cities Project, a nonprofit dedicated to uplifting the economies of San Diego’s under-served communities, will hold three more series events.

Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the nation, yet their contributions are not being acknowledged, said Dell Gines, senior community development advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Black women make up 59 percent of all Black-owned businesses in the nation. Between 2002 to 2012 Black women doubled the amount of revenue they put into the economy from $20 billion to $40 billion, he said.

Investment is needed, but it can come in many forms, not just capital, Gines said. Many Black women entrepreneurs point to a lack of access to knowledge, peer mentorships and support.

Gargonnu, founder of Celebrity Events by Makena, said the biggest challenge she faced when she started her events business in 2005 was jumping in head-first, without anyone to model.

“We feel guilty for not knowing it all, and we shouldn’t feel guilty because no one taught us how to do this,” said Gargonnu, who started her business after she was laid off as a social worker.

A founder of the Sister Cities Project, Shawn McClondon said he hopes the series gives San Diego’s Black women entrepreneurs an opportunity to find the support they need to live out their dreams.

Next in the series is “Social Capital and Culture” on Dec. 16. More information is available at