Crowdfunding entrepreneurs who historically don’t have access to capital

A conversation with Shelly Bell, founder, Black Girl Ventures

Starting a business at any time can be challenging. The global health pandemic and the economic crisis it has created are making that challenge even more daunting, especially for new business creators who have historically been left behind when it comes to financing opportunities.

Before COVID-19, the number of Black-owned businesses was on the rise with Black women leading the way despite facing major challenges, including a shocking lack of access to capital. While the average startup in the U.S. raises an average of $5 million in capital, female-owned Black startups raise about $30,000 and received just one percent of the venture capital funding available.

Shelly Bell, the founder of Black Girl Ventures, is on a mission to help women of color find alternate means of funding. Bell is my guest on this episode of the Work in Progress podcast.

Kickstarter Meets Shark Tank

Bell is a business strategist, a serial entrepreneur, and—in her words—a venture catalyst for Black and Brown women. She founded BGV in 2016 to give these businesswomen access to capital, community, education, and leadership development.

According to Black Girl Ventures, the lack of access to capital for women is becoming a more prevalent part of the entrepreneurial conversation, although solutions to the issue are still evolving. BGV is focusing all its programs and events to address the issue head on.

Its signature BGV Pitch Competition provides crowdfunding through events Bell describes as “Kickstarter meets Shark Tank in which the audience actually goes into their own pockets and donate to the founders that they like the best.”

​”We started doing it at a WeWork and from there we just started to steamroll and get bigger and bigger. In 2018, we landed a partnership with Google and that really allowed us to scale around the country. So then we started going to different offices, Chicago, Atlanta, DC, New York, Detroit, and SxSW in Austin.” BGV is now transitioning to virtual pitch sessions because of the ongoing pandemic.

Bell says the Pitch Competition started as a way to get money into the hands of one woman but it has now shifted to a way to get money into the hands of many women at each session. “It was a way to scale up funding. It started with the top person getting the capital. Then we went to ‘vote with you dollars’ so everybody in the competition can get capital. All eight people who are pitching now get access to some levels of capital.”

BGV also hosts Connector Incubators, which provide coaching and referrals to Black and Brown business founders. There is also a corporate mentoring program which matches Idea Stage, Pre-Seed, and Seed Stage founders within BGV’s network to mentors at large and established organizations.

A Psychic, a Teepee, and a Onesie 

As we discuss in the podcast, Bell is a serial entrepreneur. And her telling of her story of moving from being a computer scientist to the owner of a successful clothing and accessories brand—Made by a Black Woman—is fascinating, entertaining, and inspirational.

It features, as the headline suggestions, a psychic, a teepee, and a onesie.

I encourage you to listen to my full interview with Shelly Bell for Work in Progress here, or find us wherever you get your podcasts. Look for the logo below ????. Thanks for listening!

Episode 145: Shelly Bell, Founder, Black Girl Ventures
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts

Also, check out financial tips for entrepreneurs in this challenging economy from our media partner Million Stories. Watch their videos and check out their resources here