According to the Harvard Business Review, less than 1 percent of Black entrepreneurs are receiving less than 1 percent of venture capital. This alarmingly low number is what inspired serial entrepreneur Shelly Bell to launch Black Girl Ventures.
“We work to create access to capital for Black and brown women founders,” Bell told MadameNoire. “Prior to launching Black Girl Ventures, I got laid off from work. At the time, I was engaged to a man who did not want me to start a business because he thought it was too shaky. He wanted me to just get a job. I got another job. The job was great. Great money. One day, my boss called me in and said, ‘You’re great, but this is not for you.’ He laid me off again. I got laid off back to back. I was devastated. I went home and called California Psychics. The woman said, ‘When you find the thing you want to do, the money will come and you’re not going to be with that guy. Within a few months, my world was upside down and I had a new baby.”
While the transition was painful, it was during this time that Bell fully embraced her entrepreneurial spirit. Initially, she found success on Air B&B after building a teepee in her living room, and later, she launched a profitable t-shirt printing company using her mom’s retirement money and her personal tax returns. Then, she decided to double back to help other Black women in business.
“I was living my best life and then the news came out that Black women are not getting access to capital,” Bell recalled. “So I said I’m gonna pull a bunch of people together, throw some money in a hat and give it away and that’s literally how it went. Thirty women in a house in Southeastern DC, we put money into a bucket. We voted with marbles and coffee mugs. If you liked that person’s pitch, you put your marble in their coffee mug and that’s how we decided who was gonna win. People liked it so we kept doing it. ”
Black Girl Ventures has since evolved from its simple beginnings in that DC living room, but the spirit of the foundation remains the same.
“It’s like Shark Tank meets Kickstarter all in one,” explained Bell. “Women pitch live and then we help them influence. It’s so unique because on your standard crowdfunding site, the founder has to do all of the work. For us, we actually influence alongside you. Your pitch is the video, judges give feedback, the videos go up, and then you also influence people to give to you. Then we grant out the capital directly to the founder and then they use the capital the way that they see fit.”
Here are 10 things we learned from Bell about Black Girl Ventures and how small businesses can begin acquiring venture capital.