Former astronaut Jemison urges morality in business

Business owners should morally judge the work their company does. That was the message delivered from the first African-American woman to go into orbit to a crowd of entrepreneurs and others at a multicultural business conference at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Mae Jemison, the keynote speaker for the daylong Summit: The New Color of Money on Friday, peppered her speech with personal references (she’s a longtime “Star Trek” fan), while saying business people shouldn’t limit themselves or their role in thinking about the overall impact their company has on the world and the future.

“Societies give special dispensation to businesses,” said Jemison, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut who orbited the earth in 1992. “In fact, here you can mess up really bad and sometimes you’re not even held personably liable for things. We excuse behavior that is unconscionable in other areas of our society as ‘It’s just business.’

“But we have to remember people make up businesses. There are people making those decisions.”

She reminded her audience of the estimated $1 trillion in buying power communities of color have in the United States.

Jemison, herself an entrepreneur who has served on the board of several Fortune 500 companies, described growing up on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s and said she never considered she wouldn’t make it to space.

During her speech, she also encouraged the audience not to burden themselves with labels such as “right-brained” or “left-brained” but to be both intuitive and analytical because the two aren’t mutually exclusive – and having both leads to better judgment.

“We have to judge the work that we do; we have to understand how it contributes to our vision of the future. We have to have a vision for the future, one that includes everyone, one where we see ourselves as having a connection to other people,” she said. Jemison received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 500.

In addition to the keynote speech, the summit offered seminars on topics like going green, starting and managing a new business, securing loans and winning a business contract with a Fortune 500 company.

“I came for any insight, any pointers,” said Dawn Samuels, who is considering expanding her Colorado Springs event planning company into the Denver market.

Samuels got more than she expected.

“I enjoyed it,” she said. “[The speech was] very inspirational.”