Shelly Bell is on a mission.
The founder of Black Girl Ventures wants to help black and brown women founders find alternative access to capital. In 2016, she launched Black Girl Ventures (BGV) with the aim of creating “a solution to wealth disparity and lack of access to capital.”
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Earlier this year, Bell was on the verge of launching new chapters in 25 cities and then, “Boom. COVID-19 hit,” she said.
But being the determined woman that she is, Bell wasn’t deterred. Armed with funding from the Kauffman Foundation, she opened two chapters, one in Houston and one in Philadelphia.
BGV provides black and brown founders with resources such as learning experiences, online peer-to-peer mentoring, education, leadership development and most importantly, “a community that looks like them.”
The next level
Bell wanted to take things a step further, so she devised a plan to allow black and brown female founders to pitch their businesses in a room and allow the audience to donate capital.
“It was clear that black and brown women were not receiving access to VC funding,” Bell told Crunchbase News. “So I thought, ‘Let me create something where the community can get involved.’ ”
The organization began with its signature event, the BGV Pitch Competition, in 2017.
“Think SharkTank meets Kickstarter,” Bell said. “But it was a live event. And we started traveling across the country with Google Cloud for Startups and others as partners. We went from 40 in a room to more than 200.”
Bell even took the competitions to SXSW, and despite its cancellation, she made it virtual this year.
In addition to helping women raise money, BGV funds and scales “tech-enabled, revenue-generating businesses (under $1M) founded by people who identify as black/brown and woman.”
Over time, the group has traveled to numerous cities, funded 41 founders, and created a pipeline of hundreds of black or brown women founders.
A founder herself, Bell is the brains behind Made by a Black (MBABW) Woman, which “doubles as a movement and a marketplace” by creating a retail space offering clothing, accessories, and home decor created and curated by women of color.
The murder of George Floyd and its emotional aftermath was, naturally, shocking to Bell. It wasn’t the first case of police brutality Bell had seen since she founded Black Girl Ventures. But this one was different, she told me, in that it was “undeniable.”
Suddenly, Bell found her organization inadvertently in the spotlight and was floored by an unsolicited outpouring of support from a number of companies and people, including: eyewear retailer Warby Parker (her largest donor so far), Miir, Interscope Records, Sio Beauty, and others.
“I’m happy to see support going to grassroots organizations such as ours rather than just to a few organizations like the NAACP,” Bell told Crunchbase News. “There’s a lot of us out here doing lots of great work on the ground. And grassroots organizations like ours don’t usually get that funnel of capital I’m seeing. It feels like the changing of a tide.”
Bell plans to use the donations BGV has received to continue her plan of launching chapters in 25 cities across the country.
Illustration: Dom Guzman