If you’re a Black woman who’s starting a business, then you may want to check for Shelly Bell, the founder of Black Girl Ventures. The company was created with one purpose in mind: funding the businesses created by Black and brown women. Getting access to capital isn’t easy. In fact, studies show that while Black women are leading the way creating companies, consistently have less access to funding issues and generate lower revenue. Bell is disrupting that norm.
Bell recently spoke to NewsOne about the money chase, community-building and more.
NewsOne: Tell us about your business.
Shelly Bell: Black Girl Ventures works to create access to capital for Black and brown women founders. One of the ways we do that is through our unique crowdfunded pitch competition, which can be described as a mix between Shark Tank and Kickstarter, but live. In these competitions, Black and brown woman-identifying founders pitch from a stage, and the audience votes with their dollars for the pitch that they favor. In four years, we’ve funded 76 women and more than 170 women have come through our pipeline. We focus on community, leadership development, and entrepreneurial education. We have an incubator platform called BGV Connect, where we directly connect women to business services, business referrals, resources, courses, and more. We also have weekly virtual coworking sessions as well as virtual pitch practice to help women become more fluid when talking about their businesses.
NO: What made you interested in starting your company?
Bell: Prior to starting Black Girl Ventures, I had other companies, including a T-shirt line and a successful print shop. During that time, I realized how lonely a journey it was and I felt the effects of lack of access to capital. Despite that, I was able to level up my company by doing business with corporations and building my network. I figured that if women are not having access to capital, then we can collectively do something about it. I decided to pull people together, pull some money together, throw money in a hat, listen to women pitch, and then give it to the woman whose pitch we favored. It was awesome and people loved it.
NO: What’s special about Black Girl Ventures?
Bell: One of the main reasons so many founders gravitate to BGV is because we provide the community and resources that have not traditionally been readily available or accessible to a lot of Black and brown women on their entrepreneurial journeys. I know firsthand the struggles in accessing social and financial capital and I wanted to solve that for women who look like me. With BGV, my goal is to provide all the things that I needed in my journey that were just not available at the time. We also remain very agile and engage deeply with our community so there is a real relationship and they trust us to provide what they need to level up in their businesses.
NO: You’ve had several successful businesses. How did you prepare for entrepreneurship?
Bell: I didn’t necessarily prepare for entrepreneurship. I got laid off and decided that I was not going to work for anyone again. I’ve never been a really great employee. I think that sometimes when you’re working for someone else, it’s best for that company that you just come in and do what they ask you to. I was never that kind of person. I always wanted to solve problems. Black Girl Ventures has allowed me to really exercise all parts of who I am. I get to be creative, I get to use my computer science expertise and be an engineer solving problems. I get to work with the community that I love and that I’m a part of.
NO: What are some of the unique challenges your business faces?
Bell: Access to capital. We’ve been successful at growing, building relationships, and creating a really great network, and therefore, we face those challenges head-on with networking. One of the things I would say we uniquely face as an organization is the capacity to solve the problem because the problem is so huge— Black people have not been in business long enough without interruption so that we can catch up to our counterparts.
I would say another unique challenge that we face is that we don’t have the space to charge our entrepreneurs for everything that we do because we realize that there’s a lack of access to capital for them to run their businesses. We’ve been fortunate to find great talent, but we are always looking for recurring people who can be really great at working with us and changing the world with us.
NO: What’s next for your company?
Bell: We’re launching our BGV Scout Program, which will be the first of its kind. It will include working with more community builders across the country to help find viable Black and brown woman-identifying companies for Black Girl Ventures to fund.
We have a few large partnerships that will be coming up soon and we’re launching the first Black Girl Ventures pitch competition focused on beauty founders only. Our pitch competition season is starting in September and will run to the first Friday of December. We will have pitch competitions in Atlanta, DC, Houston, Birmingham, and New York, as well as the national beauty competition.
Find out more about Shelly Bell and Black Girl Ventures. Check out Bell on NewsOne’s panel, “Business First: Dismantling the Economic Effects of Institutionalized Racism.”