On Feb. 17, some of the biggest and brightest entrepreneurs of color ascended upon the stock market at Nasdaq headquarters in New York City for a historic bell-ringing ceremony.
In honor of growth-stage businesses, Nasdaq invited several entrepreneurs of color paving the way for sustainable change, innovation and financial well-being in communities across the nation, to sound off the giant floor bell. According to Black Enterprise, the historic event brought in the likes of changemakers like haircare titan Monique Rodriguez of Mielle Organics, Essence CEO Caroline Wanga and millionaire restauranteur Pinky Cole of Slutty Vegan.
Together, the powerful group celebrated their historic achievements alongside Nasdaq Chief Digital Officer Sehr Thadhani and Richelieu Dennis, the CEO of Essence Ventures and The New Voices Foundation, two initiatives that have been helping to fund, foster and cultivate thriving Black and Brown businesses.
What is the New Voices Foundation?
Dennis is the CEO of the Sundial brand, the parent company of booming haircare lines such as SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage and Madam C.J. Walker. Dennis created the $100 million dollar New Voices Foundation to help women of color build and scale their businesses. He’s mentored a powerful list of business-savvy hustlers, too from Honey Pot CEO Beatrice Dixon to Mented Cosmetics founders KJ Miller and Amanda E. Johnson.
During Friday’s Nasdaq ceremony, Dennis stood alongside his mentees Pinky Cole and Michelle Rodriguez as the bell rang. For the trailblazing businessman, the event was big deal for many reasons.
“Seeing is the manifestation of what our ancestors could not do. What they were empowered to do, what they were not able to do, or more accurately, what they were deprived of doing,” Dennis told Black Enterprise. “And so we’re all here getting the opportunity to do that. For me, the future should look like hundreds of thousands and millions of businesses, like the ones that are in this room, driving real change in their communities.”
“Seeing our businesses execute against their purpose on a consistent basis for me is the future because that’s how it’ll change our communities.”
Cole, who joined the New Voices Foundation in January, showered Dennis with praise for believing in her business from day one. Founded in 2018, Cole’s popular fast-food chain Slutty Vegan started out of a small shared kitchen as an Instagram-based delivery service in Atlanta. With hard work and sweat equity, Cole mustered up enough cash to invest $10,000 into her own food truck. By 2019, the company opened up its first brick-and-mortar shop and has since generated over $100 million in business. Later this year, the company is set to open up its first drive-thru location.
“When I was invited to do it, I’m like, ‘Well, why would they want me out of all people?’ Why not me?” the vegan food business guru said. “Because we’re visionaries, we’re colorful, we’re abstract, we think outside of the box and we think at a high level. And it just feels good to be affiliated with people who are doing the work in the community to help take businesses to the next level.”
For Rodriguez, the event was a full-circle moment, proudly reinforcing the dream she had set out to accomplish “nine years ago” when she first launched Mielle Organics in 2014. The buzzing haircare brand has become popular for its lush hydrating oils and hair-strengthening products. In January, Rodriguez scored a partnership deal with Procter & Gamble Beauty, to help expand the brand’s reach to communities of color across the U.S.
“I feel very grateful and humbled and proud to show black and brown boys and girls the possibilities of just having a dream,” said Rodriguez, who joined the New Voices initiative in March 2020. “What for me started nine years ago has led me to ring the bell on Wall Street. That’s nobody but God,” she added.
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