Black and Brown women founders are underrepresented in all industries, but particularly in tech. Let’s consider the journey of a Black or Brown woman tech founder. They are less likely to have a network that encourages them to pursue STEM and entrepreneurship. While we have seen some progress, Black and Brown women graduating with STEM degrees continue to be a minority. While at school, they don’t have the same access to the mentors, internships and support that many of their peers benefit from. They move in spaces where they are rarely seen, valued and understood. Once they have an idea, Black and Brown women tech founders struggle to find the right co-founder or recruit candidates with the technical expertise they need to bring a MVP to market.
Black and Brown women entrepreneurs from all industries are often starting from scratch in terms of business networks when they set out on their entrepreneurial journeys. They don’t have access to mentors, investors and coaches who can make introductions and help them grow their businesses. They often can’t rely on friends and family to provide an initial round of funding, and inequities in banking in communities of color also make it less likely for them to access loans. Due to unequal access to funding and networks, it is a challenge for Black and Brown women-owned businesses to scale up their businesses, hire employees and have the capacity to approach large retailers.
We all know the funding stats: women founders receive only 3% of VC funding, and women of color only a sliver of that. This is not due to lack of talent, experience or capability on their part. Most VCs are white men who don’t know where to turn for deal flow from Black and Brown women founders; they simply do not have exposure or interactions with our demographic. When Black and Brown women do make it to an interview, they must face unconscious biases based on both their gender and their skin color.
I founded Black Girl Ventures four years ago to direct flows of social and financial capital to Black and Brown women-led early stage businesses. In addition to creating access to funding through our signature crowdfunded pitch competitions, BGV provides access to social networks that Black and Brown women founders have been traditionally locked out of. Our signature field of practice, Community Building as a Service, is based on the premise that driving connections between like-minded people with a common interest is a viable business solution for delivering a product or service. Black and brown women in our community gain access to a diverse ecosystem of founders, investors, partners and allies who are committed to changing the face of entrepreneurship.
Our approach has proven to be very successful. In the midst of the pandemic, access to social networks has become even more important. We have seen 100 percent growth in community members and social media following as Black and Brown women are actively seeking out virtual community spaces during quarantine. They participate in our programs to expand their business knowledge, connect with other founders, share challenges and victories, and form partnerships.
Some industries have been more impacted than others - many of our beauty founders have had to pivot. Yet we are proud to have many success stories. After we featured Black Girl Ventures pitch competition alum Chinonye Akunne, founder of Ilera Apothecary, she saw a forty percent increase in sales. This is a testament to the power of our community. We are constantly evolving and coming up with innovative ways to support our community. On November 17, we will be hosting the first national pitch competition for Black and Brown beauty founders in partnership with Rare Beauty Brands.
Black and Brown women founders have been the hardest hit in the pandemic and economic crisis. While adapting and innovating is nothing new for them, they need social and financial capital now more than ever. It’s time for the tech community to give Black and Brown women founders an equal shot in business.
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.
Technology & Innovation
Retail Innovation Center
Investing in People