The faces of leaders that grace business publications are seldom black and brown.

It was something that struck a nerve with Shawntera Hardy, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and her friend Camille A. Thomas.

The pair, both experienced business owners, decided to start a magazine to showcase the black, female entrepreneurs that they say are often overlooked. They’re calling it Fearless Commerce.

“As we look around as far as the visibility of black business owners, we know they are out there,” Hardy said in an interview at the publication’s launch party Wednesday night.

Part of the goal of Fearless Commerce is to encourage consumers to support black entrepreneurs financially by frequenting their businesses, Hardy said.

In its current format, Fearless Commerce resembles a glossy coffee-table book. The 65-page first issue features Q&A-style profiles of 24 black woman entrepreneurs, ranging from a stylist to an architect to consultants and strategists.

“These women, they are fearless. They went out there. They are bold women. They are unafraid to push the limits,” Thomas said.

The idea to start the magazine came about after Thomas and Hardy had lunch early this year and discussed their disappointment in a lack of diversity in business coverage. Thomas said she was disheartened when she had recently flipped through one local publication.

“As I was turning the pages, I didn’t see many women of color at all. … I was really disappointed and quite frankly I was hurt because I know there were black women entrepreneurs who are doing very well,” Thomas said.

Hardy happened to have a copy of a magazine from California that focused on women entrepreneurs and they discussed the potential of creating something similar in the Twin Cities.

“We were just like ‘Let’s just do it,’ ” Hardy said.

Hardy said she believes they can eventually grow the magazine outside of Minnesota to other states.

The magazine currently doesn’t have advertisements and Hardy said the plan is to keep it that way. The pair hopes to financially support it through sales of the magazine — which costs $25 in paper form and $9.99 for a digital version — and sponsors and events.

The first issue was funded with support from the Knight Foundation, the YWCA of St. Paul, information technology services company Askc Supply, 4RM+ULA Architects, Rev. Gloria Roach Thomas and Hardy’s PolicyGrounds Consulting company and Thomas’ The Vision Investment professional coaching and consulting firm.

“One of the things we have been doing is supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in St. Paul … It was a great opportunity to expose these entrepreneurs to the St. Paul community as well as the greater community,” said Jai Winston, the St. Paul program director of the Knight Foundation.

At the launch event, about 200 people, mostly black women, mingled with each other.

Fearless Commerce is helping entrepreneurs connect with other female corporate leaders and generate public awareness of their businesses, said Tish Watson, owner of weRow Fitness Studio in northeast Minneapolis and another woman profiled in the magazine.

“I love that they are making us more visible,” she said. “I think it’s amazing.”

Robin Hickman, chief executive and executive producer of SoulTouch Productions, said she thinks the publication will be an inspiration for other black women.

“What this represents to me is that we cannot wait for others to recognize our worth,” said Hickman, who was also in the inaugural issue. “We can recognize our worth. We can make things happen. … We are who we have been looking for.”

The next edition of the magazine will be available in the spring.

For Thomas and Hardy, the creation of Fearless Commerce adds to their already full schedules. “It made no sense for us to add another thing to our plate,” Thomas joked with the crowd Wednesday.

Hardy said she doesn’t believe her role with the publication presents a conflict of interest with her day job as a state official. “This supports the work I do already in terms of economic development in Minnesota,” Hardy said.


Twitter: @nicolenorfleet