Orange Is the New Black Actress Discusses Similarities Between Acting and Entrepreneurship
By Colin McEvoy on November 16, 2017
For Tanya Wright, acting and being an entrepreneur are two sides of the same coin.
The actress who has appeared in such hit shows as Orange is the New Black, True Blood, and 24, is also the founder of HAIRiette, a hair product line infused with an exotic blend of fruit and oils, dedicated to the serving women with “dry, curly, coily, and kinky hair.”
Wright was the featured speaker at the inaugural event for “LaunchBox Ladies: From Passion to Profit,” an event series organized by the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox focusing on the unique challenges and victories of female entrepreneurs.
“I like to think that acting is inherently an entrepreneurial pursuit, and I think that the hair care line is really an extension of that,” Wright said to a crowd of more than 150 people at the Penn State Lehigh Valley campus in Upper Saucon Township.
Wright said she found many parallels between acting and her experience as an entrepreneur. Both require resourcefulness, creativity, determination, and “the will to keep it going” even in the face of constant rejections and challenges.
The Lehigh Valley LaunchBox is Penn State Lehigh Valley’s business accelerator for early stage entrepreneurs, aimed at spurring economic development, job creation, and student career success through academic programs, training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university-community collaborations.
Penn State Lehigh Valley Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson said the “LaunchBox Ladies: From Passion to Profit” series was conceived in response to female students who would often express passion for their fields, but did not see how it could be applied to entrepreneurial pursuits.
“They did not understand how their degrees and their passions could be converted into opportunities,” Richardson said. “So we thought this event could be relevant to the broader community, and also incorporate some of the needs and aspirations for our students who have untapped potential in the entrepreneurial space.”
The Lehigh Valley LaunchBox previously awarded Wright and HAIRiette a micro-grant, which the program awards to small businesses or startups through a competitive selection process led by a committee of stakeholders from Penn State Lehigh Valley and community.
Wright started her acting career as a teen, making her first television appearance as the girlfriend of Theo Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Since then, she has portrayed a police officer on NYPD Blue, a presidential advisor on 24, a sheriff’s deputy on True Blood, and the wife of Laverne Cox’s character on Orange is the New Black.
In addition to her acting career, Wright said she was partially inspired to start her own company after reevaluating her life following the death of her brother, which she described as both a traumatic experience and a defining moment in her life.
“My grief was profound after my brother’s death, but fortunately, I’m an artist, so I had some place to put it,” Wright said. “… My brother’s death led to reevaluations of what I am a capable of, which led to part of the business.”
Wright acknowledged that her status as an actress in popular television shows has given her an advantage in her entrepreneurial pursuits. However, she said that does not mean it has not been hard work, and that she has had to invest her own money, personally court potential buyers, and continually work to keep advancing the company.
“We all have a superpower,” Wright said. “Mine is that I’m an actor. I spent 30 years of my life doing that, and if it ain’t helping me now, then shame on me, right? But we all have something that’s a superpower. Find it, and use it as a key to get into the door.”
Richardson said four in 10 new entrepreneurs are women, and 44 percent of those starting firms are women of color. Additionally, female entrepreneurs plan to create more jobs than their male counterparts in the near future.
Yet, she said, female-owned businesses tend to start smaller and stay smaller. Only 10 percent of venture capital around the world went to women between 2010 and 2015, and while male-owned businesses started with $58 billion in funding in 2016, women received only $1.5 billion.
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