How to Build Back Better

By Shelly Bell, Founder & CEO of Black Girl Ventures

Black and Brown women small business founders have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and economic downturn. But there’s a way forward, and it starts with changing the face of entrepreneurship.

2020 has been a year of unprecedented social and economic upheaval. Pre-COVID19, Black and Brown women founders were already at a disadvantage, receiving less than 1% of venture capital funding despite being the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs nationwide. The pandemic and ensuing financial crisis has made their economic security even more precarious. Now is the time to level the playing field.

Black Girl Ventures is an organization that identifies, disrupts and directs flows of financial and social capital into the hands of Black and Brown women founders. We prioritize access to social networks as much as access to financial capital. Black and Brown women founders need support, connection, feedback, and guidance to grow their businesses—all things I wish had been available to me when I started my entrepreneurial journey.

I believe in the power of community to drive social change. I’ve structured Black Girl Ventures GV around that belief, and implemented it as an intentional practice. Our work is rooted in Community Building as a Service, a field of practice directed toward ecosystem building that leads to driving the connections between like-minded people with a common interest as a viable business solution for delivering a product or service. In scaling Black Girl Ventures, I am blessed to have the support of the social networks I have cultivated over the past few years—a diverse ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, partners and allies who share my commitment to changing the face of entrepreneurship. When the pandemic hit in March, we knew that Black and Brown women founders would be the most impacted. Coverage gaps in the Paycheck Protection Program excluded many Black and Brown small business owners. Many Black and Brown communities lack critical infrastructure like hospitals and banks. Without banking relationships, it is virtually impossible to access loans. Most people do not have enough savings to hold them over. According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses have been forced to shutter due to COVID-19, compared to just 17 percent of white-owned businesses.

Because the Black Girl Ventures team is highly in tune with our community, we were able to rapidly pivot to respond to their needs. Our proprietary platform, SheRaise, made it easy for us to bring our crowdfunded pitch competitions online and increase visibility and funding for our participants. As Black and Brown women were searching for virtual spaces to be in community, we launched BGV Connect, an incubator which offers educational resources, training, and networking opportunities to close to 700 women. Our weekly virtual coworking sessions are a safe space where they can exchange ideas, share resources, and form partnerships. Our weekly pitch practice meetings allow them to move from simply telling the story of their business to selling the vision behind it, with confidence.

Our approach is paying off. As the pandemic and police brutality have brought to light our nation’s systemic inequities and institutionalized racism, we have received a massive influx in donations and support. Partnerships with companies ranging from Paypal to Warby Parker to Bumble to Johnnie Walker have allowed us to expand our programs, multiply our impact, and reach new audiences. 

To date, BGV has funded 76 entrepreneurs across eight cities through our signature crowdfunded pitch competition program, and built a highly engaged social media following of more than 35,500. We recently crossed the million dollar mark. It is a privilege to be able to help Black and Brown women founders build economic security, particularly in a time of such uncertainty.

While I remain optimistic about the future of Black and Brown businesses, many entrepreneurs and small business owners are really hurting right now. PPP was just the beginning. In this case, time, access and innovative policy are the key to an equitable future. The problems are structural and we won’t be able to move forward and build back better without bipartisan solutions. The average Black family has one-tenth of the wealth of the average white family. We need policymakers on both sides to commit to real change, including increasing access to and building trust in banking institutions, developing infrastructure, and investing in Black and Brown communities.

We are being ushered into a new way of living, working, and engaging with one another. Let’s look at the current crisis as an opportunity to build back better. We must set aside our differences and work together to ensure nobody is left behind. Investing in Black and Brown women founders is a powerful step towards a just recovery, paving the way to a more inclusive and equitable economy.

 

Named as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 100 Powerful Women in Business, Shelly Bell is a computer scientist, system disruptor, and business strategist who moves ideas to profit while empowering people to live, build, and foster better relationships. She connects entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations in order to diversify their talent pipeline, increase equity, and grow their brands. 


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