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Entrepreneur creates opportunity for other women of color
Watch: "Entrepreneur creates opportunity for other women of color" | 4:18

For Shelly Bell, the future is now – whether people are ready or not.

With Black Girl Ventures, Shelly Bell seeks to disrupt age-old patterns in support of women entrepreneurs.

Recently, we had the opportunity to follow Shelly Bell through her days interacting with other ecosystem builders through the exercises at the ESHIP Summit, a gathering of people from around the country focusing on helping support entrepreneurs in their communities. Shelly is a serial entrepreneur, having started multiple brands, but realized early on that she could also contribute by helping other women of color get their start in business.

Following is an edited transcript resulting from several conversations with Shelly.

I’m Shelly Bell, I’m the founder of Black Girl Ventures. I own a print shop, and I have a t-shirt line. When I started my first ventures my mom invested in me, she gave me $5,000. I hit the ground running, I took my tax money, and I flipped that into more money and bought machines to open my print shop.

And all this great work, head down, working really hard, I’ve gotten some great press and things like that, and realized I didn’t have a community. I didn’t have any support. I was feeling really burnt out.

So, I created Black Girl Ventures to one, give women access to capital. Black women start businesses at six times the national average, yet we receive less than 1 percent of venture capital funds. We create an alternative way to finance businesses that is historically based on black culture, which is the rent party.

One of the ways we do that is we have a disruptive pitch competition. Where your traditional pitch competition is like Shark Tank with an audience, we toss that model out. We throw the judges out. It’s all community engagement. We raise money at the door and we give it away to the founder.

Being a catalyst of economic growth right now means inclusion. It means allowing more voices at the table.
— Shelly Bell, founder and CEO of Black Girl Ventures

Investors invest in people who have the pattern of a white male, which can be no responsibility, they can just go home, sleep on a couch, and build this amazing tech company. It’s like that is the pattern of success. Well, statistics tell us that success happens in other ways, that having a woman on your team saves you money and also enhances your processes. That black women founders or women crowdfunding outpace males. I think that we’re missing out on seeing the new patterns that are available because people are, in my opinion, are being somewhat lazy and relying on the patterns that they’ve already seen.

I feel like it was particularly on me to do this, because I’m a community builder. I faced what it meant to be a woman in a relationship and feel like you had to fall into a role of being a wife and what that meant, as if you can’t exist in two worlds. I can be a mother and a wife and all these things, and also run a business. That’s the message that I would like for women to get and be empowered by. We’ve been multitasking for years. There’s no need to stop now. We’re here to offer support, offer funding, and even just a pep talk if that’s what you need. Those are so many of the things that I needed on my journey. I felt like I had to create that for other people.

The spark that makes a community thrive is probably the one thing that we don’t get paid for and that is empowerment. So yeah, we do training, yes, we are focused on funding, yes, we’re helping people find resources, but ultimately, we’re empowering them. We’re saying, “Listen, you can do this.” Validation is such a huge part of being an entrepreneur. Whether you’re validating your idea, whether you’re validating your existence in a market, whether you’re validating the fact that you should do it against family or people who don’t understand that.

So, part of being an ecosystem builder, whether we’re saying it out loud or not, is we’re validating your existence as an entrepreneur saying, “You can do this and we’re gonna help you do it.” On top of just opening space to say, “If nobody else believes in you, we will.”

By 2045 the majority of the country will be minorities. But that does not mirror economic growth. It means if we’re preparing for the future economically, then we start to look at how we hire diverse. How can now become the majority of people drive economic development, economic growth?

So being a catalyst of economic growth right now means inclusion. It means allowing more voices at the table, differentiating, diversifying, or having different perspectives at the table where we’re addressing what’s the future. A company or investors, they get ahead of the game by, at this point, by including different voices and different perspectives.

Women are the makers, the doers, and the dreamers. Women of all colors, backgrounds, ethnicities, countries. Right now, the future is female, and we need to start thinking about what that looks like and how we start having a conversation around hyping that up.

We’re kicking ass, alright, and taking names! So, the future is female, and people better get ready for it if they’re not.


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