When I heard about a young Afri can immigrant millionaire in Colorado, I could not wait to know who she was. Then she called me, and we chatted briefly. I became excited to hear her story. When we finally met and talked face to face, I was blown away. She was interesting, sincere, empathetic, and brimming with ideas. Her name is Hanna Bogale, a second-generation Ethiopian. She is a very successful entrepreneur at a young age. Yes, why not? Read her interview with Denver Digest.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Hanna Bogale, a thriving entrepreneur with lots of business interests here in Colorado. I am a social justice defender and a community advocate. I am the founder of Lucy, a nonprofit with the goal of empowering and educating underprivileged women around the world to become an entrepreneur. I am a second-generation Ethiopian American involved in many social and political activities. I am currently the head of finance for the Ethiopian Ameri can Civic Council.
Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur? What social problems have you identified and responding to?
I am a social entrepreneur because of my passion and effort at creating positive changes in our society through many of my mini initiatives. Over the past few years, our organizations have been able to provide job opportunities for a large number of people, and it’s not only an indicator of our growth, but having the consciousness of the suffering that families continue to endure daily, and being able to provide for hundreds of such families.
These days we seem to be divided based on our race or religion, but I would like to debunk that concept. I have two stories that I think might help people see a different perspective. I was once nominated to be on the board of an African trade organization here in Colorado. I got all excited because I thought that position would help me reach out to more Africans. I eventually did not get that position because someone didn’t want me to be on the board. This lady is African and knows me and the work I have done within the community. However, I got help from an unexpected quarter. A white lady gave me the opportunity that changed my life without knowing me from Adam. I truly believe that I am a product of many good people, both white and black. I say this to stress the need for all people, blacks, whites, and everyone in between to come together for a happier world.
How did you find funding to start off?
I knew from high school that I would like to be a business owner, so I started saving up some money early. At this level of our business, you’ll be surprised to know that we have never taken out a loan for the business. So, my advice to other young entrepreneurs is not to take out loans until they really need to. The first five years of owning any business is mainly for learning and measured growth.
Speaking of Unity, what is your opinion on all the crazy divisions we see all over the world, including your native country, Ethiopia?
I would like to mention that I truly am saddened by the political and ethnic divisions that are taking place here in the United States and Africa. Why can’t people just get over themselves and sue for peace and unity? Ethiopia, for instance, is not a place for only Ethiopians. The AU and other key organizations are rooted there.
I see many things wrong historically and the way they have been pushed over the years has not helped us to find unity and prosperity. The earlier we started fixing things by taking back the narratives, the better. I am actively involved in several civic movements helping to raise the consciousness of the youth not to be part of the same ethnic thinking of our ancestors and move towards oneness and prosperity.
What were your key driving forces to becoming an entrepreneur?
It takes constant learning. You become an expert in so many different things because at inception you are required to wear many different hats to keep the business afloat. People ask how I generate new ideas; I tell them new ideas come from the universe as it is infinite. All I do is align myself with it.
As an entrepreneur, I take on a lot of foreseen and unforeseen risks. Besides the obvious financial risk, there are also emotional and career choice risks. But I have learned to be focused and not be distracted by people or things. To grow as an entrepreneur, I learned to anticipate my clients’ needs. I like to learn new ways and I love being with people and at places that I can learn. It has not been easy; the journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur is full of ups and downs but if one stays focused and run the course even in the toughest times, it can turn out to be a blessing.
How did you avoid the bureaucracy as a government contractor to find a niche?
That is a great question. It is called being astute in business. I did not try to avoid it, I probably couldn’t if I tried. There is no escaping the Kafkaesque bureaucracy. I only worked around it by building good relationships. For successful businesses, ethics and good organizational culture must be paramount.
2020 was nerve wracking for some businesses but looks like a banner year for you. How did you pull that off ?
I agree with you. The year 2020 was a peculiar kind of year but in spite of the odds we pushed on. I would say it takes discipline. Remember what I said about being eager to learn? We survived because we tried to keep abreast of all the available programs that we rely on to keep us busy. So, when some people were closing their businesses and other people were hunkering down due to the pandemic, we were working and get- ting paid. We needed the break to restructure and reset, so I did not see pandemics as a pandemic. The restrictions did not stop us, rather, it gave us more time to organize our activities.
If you were to advise me on business decisions right now, what would it be?
I would say, don’t ever impede yourself or begin on the notion that a venture will not work out. Start with the belief that you have a great product or idea and push along with that conviction. There is no pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur, you figure it out as you go but try to never lose yourself in pursuit of anything. Stay true to yourself. I don’t fear anything or get jittery about any situation, I have meditated my way out of fear, so I have none, not even death.
What does your company culture emphasize?
We worked on building trust and good relationships. If you ask anyone, they will tell you that transparency is at the forefront of our company value. Our clients always come first so I guess you can say we have a pragmatic culture. However, culture alone will not take a business far enough as it needs to be supported by other elements like clarity, capacity, and foresight.
As a successful entrepreneur, what would you say are spe cific factors or decisions that contributed to your success?
There are many factors, but since you say specific factors, I would include discipline, positive thinking, and being a risk-taker. Hard work and determination are also inclusive. I work between 7 and 10 hours daily because I always want to get things situated in one day. I do not have time to joke around other than running a successful business, I would recommend entrepreneurs invest their time in personal development and mental health. Those are what have contributed to my success. I hope to inspire younger women to become entrepreneurs. I encourage them to get a college degree as well, but I would like to mention to those who want to pursue entrepreneurship that many important skills are not actually taught in schools.
Do you have people who doubted your business decisions? Did any of them turn out to be right?
Oh yes, and it’s funny that you ask this question. Almost everyone I knew doubted that I was making the right decision. As things panned out, none of these people turned out to be right. I realize that doubts can also motivate. It can make you put in every energy you have in order to prove them wrong. Fortunately, I didn’t have to try too hard. I believe this has to do with providence. I have so much faith in God and what He is able to do, and He shows up for me at every point.
What motivates you?
I am motivated by life itself – living, learning, and finding ways to contribute to society. My family motivates me greatly. These amazing people are the main reason I wake up every day and strive to achieve success. My mentors and the entire community that is cheering me on and holding me together, even when I am on the brink of giving up motivate me. My employees and partners who put their trust in me motivate me daily.
Has being an immigrant been a blessing or a curse to you or your business?
It has been a blessing. I have faced some huddles here and there, but they have not been insurmountable. One thing with the African immigrant community is that they tend to be very close-knit, but that worries me. As good as being close-knit might sound, it can also lead to a lack of perspectives in diversity issues, which in turn can result in not having access to information needed to succeed.
What advice can you give to women who aspire to be like you?
Women have always been and will continue to be the pillar of society. There are numerous men out there that wouldn’t be standing but for the women in their lives. Yet I believe that women should not settle for what is available. It is important for women to have the growth mindset of learning and improving. The stronger the women are as pillars, the stronger the family unit and the better the community.
Have you ever made any decision that you regretted?
This is another surprising one, but I can tell you that I have never made any business decisions that I regretted. I have made moves that I thought were mistakes, but they turned out for the better. If you ask me if there is anything I would do differently, I will probably say, I should have invested my time wisely during my younger days. The older I get, the more I value my time.
What support systems have helped you to be successful?
The support I get from my family and community has helped me immensely. As a result, I’d like to pay it forward and inspire others, especially women, to stand in their power and be independent. Women face so many cultural, social, and religious challenges in the community which hinder their financial and personal growth. They have been conditioned to live a certain way, but they need to break from that and grow into their own potentials.
Has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
It was challenging in the beginning, but I am doing fine now. I know many people do not discuss these things but becoming an entrepreneur is financially and mentally challenging. At times, I would get caught up in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare and my family has to witness my frustration. However, as I mentioned earlier, having a solid support system is priceless.
What are your favorite things to do?
I love spending time with family, meeting good people, advocating for people, and lifting them up. I also enjoy traveling and experiencing authentic live music. I love all types of music including Opera and I enjoy every bit of fun our beautiful state has to offer, including hiking, skiing, horse riding and so on. I love reading books too. My favorite authors are Carl Jung, Charles Bu koski and Joe Dispenza. I also think John Dee is brilliant.