We speak with Black Girl Ventures founder Shelly Bell about the lack of diversity and inclusion within the venture capital space and the ways we can work to combat the issue.
Find out more about Black Girl Ventures: https://www.blackgirlventures.org
Learn about Bumble Bizz here: https://bumble.com/bizz
Connect with us: https://linktr.ee/livingcorporate
Ade: “The fact that African-American founders have limited access to investment has been well-documented, but you might not know that that problem is replicated in the venture capital world too. In recent years, several black-owned or directed VC funds and firms have opened their doors with a focus on minority and women-owned businesses, but as it turns out, many VCs are hitting the same obstacles as the founders they’re trying to invest in – access to capital. According to PitchBook, American VC funds raised approximately $40.6 billion in 2016, with this year on course to make 2017 the fourth consecutive year with more than $40 billion raised. But with less than 3% of VC funds employing black [inaudible] investment professionals, only a small fraction of that sum will find its way to businesses owned or run by people of color.” This excerpt is from Barry A. Williams’ article “One Reason Black Founders Don’t Get Enough Funding – Black VCs Don’t Either.” It explains the methods that entrepreneurs of color employ to support their startups, none of them nearly as effective as their white counterparts. The data doesn’t lie. Less than 3% of all VC funding goes to entrepreneurs of color. In a world that is more empowered now than ever before to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, what can people of color do to garner the financial support they need? My name is Ade, and this is Living Corporate.
Zach: [singing] Money, money, money… money!
Ade: Child, what? [laughs] What are you talking about?
Zach: [laughing] What? Listen, today is all about the lack of diversity in venture capital, specifically the reality that there’s a huge disparity in the distribution of funds between white and brown and black entrepreneurs. So it comes down to…
Ade: Oh, right. Money. Okay, all right. Capital. I’m with you now. Well, you’re right. I mean, we live in a capitalistic society. We need money to do anything, so money is the life of startups.
Zach: Yep, and you know what? I have an excerpt from an article I want to share. This is from Megan Rose Dickey of TechCrunch called “Venture Capital’s Diversity Disaster.” Here we go. Quote, “Just 1% of venture capitalists are Latinx. Only 3% are black. White people, unsurprisingly, make up 70% of the venture capital industry, according to a recent analysis by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures. Compared to Kerby’s 2016 analysis, women now make up 18% of the VC industry versus just 11% back then. At an intersectional level, black and Latinx women make zero percent of the venture capital industry,” end quote. So this is talking about the industry, whereas your initial commentary was about VC recipients. But I would contend that the lack of diversity within the industry supports the disparate funding between white and ethnic minorities, especially women of color.
Ade: Right. And to be clear, minorities are out here. Like, we are out here pursuing entrepreneurship, and we do seek funding for our startups. I know we’ve been sharing articles throughout the show, but I have another one. This excerpt is from a Forbes article written by Daniel Applewhite called “Founders in Venture Capital: Racism Is Costing Us Billions.” So it says, “In 2016, the Center for Global Policy Solutions reported that, due to discriminatory financing practices and a bias towards companies primarily operated by white males, America is losing out on over 1.1 million minority-owned businesses, and as a result forgoing over 9 million potential jobs and $300 billion in collective national income. Less than 1% of American venture capital-backed founders are black, and the percentage of blacks in decision-making roles within venture capital isn’t much better. Pattern recognition has enabled VCs to mitigate risks, but has also limited their profit potential and created an inherent funding bias. This bias stems from barriers to early stage capital, a lack of representation in the investing space, and is perpetuated by systems of racism that destroy opportunities within communities of color.” So having read all that, wouldn’t it be great if we could get someone, maybe a person of color–a woman of color, even, who has created a non-profit organization specifically built to acquire VC for ethnic minority-owned businesses? That’s very, very specific, but, I mean, if we can get J Prince on here, if we can get DeRay Mckesson on here, I feel like, you know, big things poppin’. We can be a little picky. What you feel?
Zach: I feel you, and I think you mean our guest, owner of Black Girl Ventures, Shelly Bell.
Ade and Zach: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?
Zach: [imitating air horns] Sound Man, come on. Drop ’em on in there. Let’s go.
[Sound Man complies]
Ade: [laughing] All right, all right. Still extra. Next up, we’re gonna get into our interview with our guest Shelly Bell. Hope y’all enjoy.
Zach: And we’re back. And as we said before the break, we have Shelly Bell, founder of Black Girl Ventures. Shelly, welcome to the show. How are you?
Shelly: Hi, thank you. I’m good. How are you?
Zach: I’m doing really good. So look, I feel as if you have one of the most straight-forward organization names out there, but talk to us about how Black Girl Ventures came about and what was the inspiration behind it.
Shelly: So with Black Girl Ventures, we work to create access to capital for black and brown women entrepreneurs. It started because I’m an entrepreneur myself. I have a couple of my own ventures. My mom invested in me, and I really hit the ground running in building my t-shirt line called Made By A Black Woman, which fed into me actually starting my own print shop called Misprint USA, and I was grinding so hard at that, but I realized that during the process of me being on my grind I didn’t have a community. And so I’m an artist. I’ve done performance poetry, and so through that I had done a lot of community building. So I’m like, “Hey, you know what? I know how to build community. I know how to bring people together. Why don’t we just throw everybody together and give the money away?” ‘Cause at this time, a lot of the news was coming out about women not having access to capital. And I’m like, “All right. This is a simple solution.” So when I started it, it was really just a matter of bringing people together, everybody throwing some money into the pot, and then us creating, you know, some capital for women entrepreneurs. The first one, I barely even marketed it. We had about 30 women in a house in southeast D.C. We got together. I cooked all the food myself, which I will never do again. [laughs] Yeah, we had about four women pitch. We voted with, like, marbles and coffee cups. Like, I put each person’s, like, name in a coffee cup, and then after they did their pitch, we had everybody in the audience ask questions and then vote by using their marble. So we just gave the money right back out in cash at that time. Like, I wasn’t even thinking that it would be as huge as it’s become. Now here we are two years later, over 20,000 people in our audience. We’re in three states – D.C., Philly, and Balt–I’m sorry, in three–in three–yeah, three states, but three cities – D.C., Baltimore, and Philly. We’re about to do–in the fall we have Chicago, Atlanta, and then another D.C., and we’re in conversation with a lot of the small- to mid-sized cities about coming there next year. We’re talking to people in Kansas City. We’re talking to people in Durham, in Memphis, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, because the larger cities we found are some really great, like, validators to say, “Oh, we did New York, we did Chicago, we did D.C., we did Atlanta,” but really we’re looking at, like, where do people have the most need with the least, like, activity that is culturally censored for them?
Zach: That’s amazing, and again, I’m just so excited that you’re here. You know, I’m curious, what are some of the common misconceptions about venture capital that Black Girl Ventures seeks to clarify?
Shelly: Yeah. So common misconceptions about venture capital. Huh. I’m not–like, I’m not exactly sure that I would say there’s common misconceptions about venture capital per se. Maybe that it’s, like–venture capital has become very sexy, and I think that people just don’t understand who should get it, why they give it. Like, venture capitalists want to make money. Like, that’s it. Like, the center of the day, the center of the round, how can your thing bring return? And if you are not so hardcore about that on your business, then you’re gonna have a long road to go with venture capital. It’s not grant capital. It’s not a loan. Well, I mean, there’s different kinds of deals that can be what you call a convertible note, which is basically a loan and [inaudible] and some other investment jargon, but ultimately you should just know that it’s about the returns. Like, can you give return on investment? And fairly quick, you know? But quick in this sense means, you know, five years, three to five years. Like, it’s a long game too, but the people want to see that the potential for returns are there.
Zach: So in building out Black Girl Ventures, at what point did you realize, like, “Wow, this is a–this is really significant.” Like, “This has some serious traction to it?”
Shelly: Probably I would say at the beginning of 2017. I had a volunteer team of seven people where we decided to do it quarterly, and the first one we did, it was in March of 2017, and we started getting in applications at that time, and so we got a nice amount of applications with a low amount of marketing. ‘Cause again, like, I’m just kind of throwing it out there, my network and the word of mouth being spread. Over the course of the year, just seeing it move and grow and grow and grow and then winning Entrepreneur of the Year for 2017 for [inaudible] D.C. and the people who voted for that. I mean, just like, I think the reaction from the women we serve is really what was caused me to be like, “Wow.” Like, “We’re really doing something.” Like, our Baltimore winner from October of 2017, when she won, she cried. We did South by Southwest, and the girl who won, she cried for, like, 5 minutes, and they’re–and the things that they’re saying to me is that sometimes this is maybe their first win, is coming into a place where a group of people are supporting you, and, like, a group of people are just there to support you, a space that is created [inaudible] and then an audience of people who are there to support you. So I think, like, as the–as the audience has grown and as our traction has grown and the feedback that we’re getting back, I’m just like, “Wow, okay. So we’re not stopping this.” Like, we’re gonna keep going. Yeah, just seeing the reaction from the audience, seeing the reaction from the people that are pitching has been the thing.
Zach: So how important–how important would you say resilience is for those who are seeking venture capital and really seeking to engage that space? People who are seeking to gain capital.
Shelly: It’s everything. I mean, resilience is it. Like, there’s nothing else. [laughs] Because you’ve got to keep pushing. You want to keep refining your idea or your business to get to know where those returns are coming back, and venture capital is not for everybody. So, you know, you could be the person that needs to crowdfund. You could be the person who needs a loan. You could be the person that needs to focus on customer acquisition. Venture capital may or may not be the thing for you. I think it’s–again, it’s become sexy now because you can get a large amount of money at once, but at the same time, you know, you’re building a relationship where you have to–you have to make sure that you’re getting ret–that the returns are coming back. So, I mean, the resilience comes when you get a no, you know? Like, a “No, that’s not gonna work for me,” or a “No, I don’t think that idea is gonna bring returns, or “No–” Nos are kind of hard to get when you’re in need. So when you’re, like, really wanting, needing the money to get to a certain place and you feel like you just can’t get it, when you’re focused on venture capital in particular, it can be hard, and especially because, like, there’s a lot of translation work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of cultural misunderstanding between, like, VCs and entrepreneurs. There’s still a lot of work to be done on, like, you know, women getting invested in and women of color getting invested in and, like, diversity and inclusion when it comes to people’s portfolios, because the pattern that has been consistently matched is white male who can sleep on couches for months and, you know, not eat to build a business, and so people, you know, venture capitalists have traditionally said, “Okay, this is the model for who builds successful companies.” I think we’re seeing that shift a little bit with the rise in investment in the beauty industry for black women in particular. I think we’re gonna see a shift more as more people start pushing out that, like, “Hey, these industries,” and even black and brown folks that own tech companies can also be invested in and show returns and that, like, the only pattern–I think we’re gonna start seeing or showcasing a new pattern to match. This is one of the things that we at Black Girl Ventures are passionate about, is saying like, “Hey, yes, the white guy that sleeps on couches for months, goes home and just doesn’t eat and builds a major tech company, yes, that’s one pattern and that has worked, but also it’s the, you know, black woman straight out of college who has been working on her idea the entire time. Also it’s the, you know, woman of color in general who has, you know, pulled together as much money as she can from her family and her community to put into her idea and is now seeing, you know, 3X, 5X, 10X returns. Like, also it’s the beauty business–the beauty industry, also it’s the feminine care industry, also–you know, also it’s the hair industry. Also it’s the child care ind–you know, I think that as we–the health care industry. You know, I think that as we–as many people as we can push out into the open that are doing different kinds of businesses that also can show returns, that also can match up to what VCs are looking for, we can start to create a new pattern for people to match.
Zach: So, you know, I wanted to ask this a little bit earlier, but I don’t want to end this interview without asking now. So I–what really caught my eye about making sure that we wanted to have you on this show was a blog post that you wrote on Medium where someone reached out to you and said, “Okay, yeah. Black Girl Ventures. How would you feel if it was White Male Ventures?” Would you mind talking about the blog that you wrote in response to that? And I believe it got a ton of traction. Would you mind just talking a little bit more about that particular piece?
Shelly: Yeah. So I was on Bumble, the dating app, looking for dates, and I swiped this white guy right, he swipes me right. On Bumble, you know, women have to do the initial greeting, so I greet him, and then he comes back and says, “Oh, well, if I started a company called White Male Ventures, you would go ape[shit?],” and my response to him was, “No, that would be venture capital. Have you seen who’s getting it?” And he said some other rude things, but not before I could get it–he deleted the thread, but not before I could get a screenshot of the message. And so I was just–something was just, like, [inaudible] about it, so I did. I went to Medium, wrote the article, posted [inaudible], and then instead of having, like, an emotional response towards him or, like, racism or, you know, all of these kind of discrimination, diversity and inclusion type stuff, I decided to just use it to talk about what we are doing and the work that we do want to see in the world and the work that all of these amazing women’s organizations are doing, and I listed the women’s organizations in the article. And so I just–I pushed it to Twitter, you know, like any other Medium post that you write, and I didn’t–I didn’t think twice about it. So I noticed that people–you know, I was getting some traction on it, and Bumble actually tweeted me back, you know? But I’m thinking, “Oh, okay.” You know how sometimes if you tweet things, people will say, like, “Oh, thank you,” or, you know, “Thank you for your mention,” or “We’re sorry you went through that,” or something like that, so I’m just thinking it’s just a regular post. I didn’t even look at it at first, and then something was just telling me to look at the post, so I looked at the post, and it is one of the content editors, and she’s just like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m sorry you went through this, but we love what you’re doing, you know? Send me an inbox message.” So I DM’d her my email. We end up–she emails me and says, you know, “We don’t stand for this kind of thing on our platform. We’re sorry that you had to go through this. We’re a woman-owned company, and we see that you’re a woman-owned company, and we love what you’re doing. We want to figure out how we can get involved with what you’re doing. Can we sponsor a pitch competition? Can we see if we can offer mentors? Whatever you want. The ball is in your court.” So from there, I’m just–I see the email and I’m almost in tears because I’m just like, “Oh, my God.” Like, one, my journey as building this movement, like, I’m constantly figuring out and pressing for corporate sponsors, and, like, now I’m looking at engaging, like, employee resource groups as well because we learned that, through Black Girl Ventures being on internal calendars and being shared internally, that it’s actually activating black and brown employees to be able to, like, feel like they can be a part of the community and what other community work they can do. So then I’m just like, “Oh, my God.” Like, I’ve been really saying, like, if we could just start with one really great corporate sponsor, we could push into some different directions to improve some of the cases that we want. So we’ve been in conversation with them ever since then, and that was about three months ago. So now Bumble is actually–and this will be my first announcement of it, Bumble is our–one of our official sponsors right now for three pitch competitions. They’re sponsoring us for the Chicago, Atlanta, and the next D.C. competition, which are all coming up in October. Atlanta is October 12th, Chicago is October 19th, and D.C. will be October 26th. Bumble has a Bumble Bizz side, so on Bumble you can look for people you want to date, you can look for people just for friends, and then you can look for professionals. And so we’re being sponsored by Bumble Bizz, which is the professional side, and the awesome thing about it is we’re gonna make it so that people can find each other at the event by using their proximity. So they can register for the Bumble Bizz app, and then you’ll be able to actually connect with people in the room. It will be the official app for the [inaudible] pitch competitions and hopefully beyond because it’s such a great tool, and you can find people that you want to hire, you can find people to mentor you, you can find people who are doing the work that you’re doing just to ask questions of. So it’s a powerful business, actual professional app on that side.
Zach: That’s incredible, and definitely shout out to Bumble Bizz. Air horns for that, and you know what? Also, Shelly, what’s really incredible is that–what I’m hearing is the fact that you took the time to speak truth to power and not kind of shrink away from one, a frustrating and insulting moment, and you used it for a platform to speak to what you actually, to your point, are doing, so that’s amazing. Where can people learn more about Black Girl Ventures?
Shelly: Yeah. You can find us at BlackGirlVentures.org. You can also follow us on Instagram @BlackGirlVentures, you can follow us on Twitter @BGirlVentures, and on Facebook it’s Facebook.com/BlackGirlVentures.
Zach: Okay, that’s great. So we’re gonna make sure that we have all of that in the show notes as well as the Medium link to that amazing post, and we’ll make sure to have the Bumble Bizz info in there as well. Before we let you go, do you have any shout outs? Any parting words?
Shelly: Yeah. I wanted to just–I wanted to just mention a couple of our BGV alum who are killing it right now. We have Brittany Young, who has–the name of her company is B-360 Baltimore. B-360 works with kids who ride dirt bikes, ’cause dirt bikes are typically illegal to ride on the street, and she transforms them into engineers by helping them learn how to actually fix their dirt bikes and, like, actually, like, create 3D helmets and some really cool things. She is now an Echoing Green fellow and was just featured on the Afropunk stage for their solution session. We have Miracle Olatunji, who just–the name of her app is OpportuniME, and she’s 18 years old. She placed third in our competition. Her web app helps students find opportunities for scholarships and internships, and she just made it into the Y Combinator virtual startup school, which is major. Y Combinator puts out–their incubator, that’s where Twitter came from and a couple of others, like Airbnb. Like, your huge apps that are out right now. So I just wanted to mention them ’cause they are, like, doing such great work. And, I mean, there is a ton of other women that we work with and serve that I’m super proud of and rallying for, so shout out to all the BGV alum, and check us out. We’ll be coming to a city near you soon.
Zach: Shelly, this has been amazing. I just want to thank you again for taking the time to be on the show. We definitely consider you a friend of the pod, and we can’t wait to have you back.
Shelly: Thank you. This was great. Thank you so much for having me.
Zach: No problem. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace.
Ade: And we’re back. Wow, so shout out to Shelly and Black Girl Ventures. They’re addressing such a need.
Zach: Yeah, and she has so much going on. We really appreciated her being on the show. Like, make sure y’all check out the show notes to learn more about Shelly and everything happening over at Black Girl Ventures.
Ade: Exactly. Well, look, up next we’re gonna get into our Favorite Things. Join us.
Zach: So my favorite thing right now has to be Jamaican food. Sheesh. Let me tell y’all, so good. Rice and beans. Like, just rice and beans. [laughing] Why is it so good? I did not know something so straight-forward could taste so delicious, but it does.
Ade: So I have this theory. Stick with me here.
Zach: Okay. All right.
Ade: That, hands down, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, taste bud for taste bud, the Diaspora has the most flavorful food in the world. Like, the entire African Diaspora put together just, like, will punch you in your taste buds every single time.
Zach: I just–I really agree with that, right? I mean, ’cause my two other favorite dishes are Thai food and Indian food. Now, I don’t know where they land in the Diaspora, but I know they’re brown, right?
Zach: Yeah, no, it’s delicious, and so shout out to all my real Jamaicans. That’s right, shout out to my Jamaicans. [laughs]
Ade: [laughing] As opposed to fake ones?
Zach: [laughing] As opposed to fake Jamaicans. Shout out to my real Jamaicans out there. Would it be offensive to add some air horns right here?
Ade: I do not know. Let’s, like, move on from the Rachel Dolezal section. [laughing] But I’m gonna go ahead and oblige your need for your air horns.
Zach: Thank you. Sound Man, go ahead and drop some air horns specifically for jerked chicken, rice and beans, beef patties, salt fish. You know what? I’m ’bout to name the whole menu. Sound Man! Just drop the air horns.
[Sound Man complies]
Ade: [laughing] All right, okay. Just don’t run off to Jamaica on me, because I will join you and never leave the beach. All right, so my favorite thing right now actually is a book called So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba. It is one of the very first novels written by a Senegalese woman in French, and it is a seminal work in African literature, particularly written by a woman. It is an account of one woman writing to another–they’re both widows–written within the context of Muslim women in mourning, one writing to the other and trying to kind of talk her through this extremely patriarchal process of grief and trauma, and it is–it is a story of sisterhood, it is a story of anxiety, of motherhood, of grief, of independence, of women sustaining each other, and obviously this is something–maybe not obviously, but it’s something that appeals to me as a feminist and as a woman who one day hopes to raise strong women and who hopes to, you know, hold my sisters up in the same way. So I’m gonna use the term woes, as much as I dislike the originator there, but I’m certainly gonna get a hard copy of So Long A Letter for all my woes. It is very much a book that lends itself to having a conversation about what it means to have a sisterhood. So that’s my favorite thing. [laughing] You went from this high of “Let’s eat, I’m ’bout it,” and I was like, “Let me tell you about how solid we need to be right now.”
Zach: [laughing] No, but the juxtaposition is what makes us great. We’re like the PB and jelly sandwich of podcasting. I don’t want to say of all podcasts.
Ade: Okay, but first–but first, I need to know – what kind of jelly are you? This will make or break our relationship. I want you to know this right now.
Zach: #JellyBandit. I love jelly, but let’s figure it out.
Ade: Wow. You think you know someone. Goodness.
Zach: [laughs] I love jelly. Jelly is great. Actually in Houston, there’s a jalapeno jelly, jalapeno strawberry jelly, and it is amazing.
Ade: [air horns going off] #StrawberryJelly. #StrawberryPreserves. #–you are just not [inaudible]. Like, I don’t–I don’t–
Zach: So that is my–that is my favorite jelly though. Like, what is your favorite?
Ade: I feel like I’m about to get kicked out the gang for this, but I like fig preserves. Now, hear me out.
Zach: Fig preserves are good. I like fig preserves.
Ade: Okay, and just like that, you saved our friendship. Okay.
Zach: [laughs] That’s very funny. Fig preserves are great.
Ade: Fig preserves. I have–I made a cornbread once with goat cheese, rosemary and fig preserves, and I know somebody is going to say something along the lines of, “Die, you monster,” and I want you to know that it was delicious and I’m willing to take that. I’m going to die on that particular hill. Great. Preserves are great.
Zach: So anyway, I do feel as if–again, I feel as if it’s this type of repertoire, right? This tit-for-tat, as it were, that makes us special, so I appreciate you.
Ade: Oh, okay. [inaudible]. Appreciate you too.
Zach: Anyway, [laughs] thank y’all for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @LivingCorporate, Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate.com. If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, make sure you email us at email@example.com. Check us out–
Zach: [laughing] All right. Make sure to check us out on Patreon as well. Again, we’re Living Corporate, so just pull us up anywhere and you’ll find us. That does it for us on this show. This has been Zach.
Ade: And I’m Ade.
Zach and Ade: Peace.
Kiara: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.