Many Black and Brown women with dreams of starting a business don’t know who to turn to for funding, advice and connections needed to turn an idea into a viable business. Startups led by Black women, for example, receive less than 1% of total venture capital dollars.footnote1 “Women of color have been historically excluded from accessing social and financial capital,” says Shelly Omilade Bell, founder of Black Girl Ventures (BGV) in Alexandria, Virginia. “We must find creative solutions to address this gap.” And when these ventures do get off the ground, they only generate 30% as much revenue as businesses owned by white women.footnote2
To that end, in 2016, Bell, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, came up with a novel way to help Black and Brown women-identifying entrepreneurs succeed: Combine a contest to pitch business ideas with the concept of crowdfunding. BGV holds pitch events where Black women entrepreneurs have three minutes to present their business ideas. Audience members back the ones they like with direct donations using BGV’s crowdfunding platform Raisify.co. “The BGV pitch competition is a powerful fundraising tool because it’s community engagement at its finest,” says Bell. The organization has held more than 45 pitch events in a dozen cities, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Houston, helping raise more than $1 million for the 600-plus participants.
And BGV isn’t slowing down. BGV Connect, its online incubator, gives women access to capital, education, leadership development and connections. “One of the reasons so many founders gravitate to BGV is because we provide the community and resources that have not traditionally been readily available to Black and Brown women on their entrepreneurial journeys,” says Bell. Support from Bank of America, part of its $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity, will help BGV host more local and national pitch competitions, advance the development of the Raisify.co platform and continue with the virtual programming — all part of BGV’s long-term vision to accelerate the success of Black and Brown women-identifying entrepreneurs. “We are working to change the perception of what an entrepreneur looks like and dedicated to building more inclusive local economies across the United States.”