Shelly Bell

Shelly Bell, founder and chief executive officer of Black Girl Ventures, has set in motion plans to allocate the $500,000 investment from Nike Inc.

Last week, Nike said it had partnered with Black Girl Ventures to provide funds to Black and brown women-identifying founders with access to community, capital and capacity-building to support entrepreneurship.

Black Girl Ventures, based in Washington, D.C., is the largest pitch competition globally for Black women founders. The organization has funded 76 women of color, held over 25 BGV Pitch Programs across eight cities and served over 170 participants.

In an interview Wednesday, Bell revealed Black Girl Ventures will launch a fellowship in the Chicago area which will give an opportunity for women to receive a stipend and wraparound assistance to grow their businesses. That will include coaching, mentoring, leadership and development, and media training. They will also work to get them media opportunities. “The point is to make them go to leaders in their ecosystem,” said Bell.

For all Black Girl Ventures grant programs, companies need to be at least a year in business, founded by a woman who identifies as Black or brown, and generate under a million in revenue.

Bell said they are looking for women who want to build relationships, community and grow their company and themselves. “While the financial capital is one of the biggest challenges, it sometimes overshadows the fact that there’s still this huge gap and access to influential relationships. The money actually comes from relationships,” said Bell. She said they help all types of  businesses ranging from  consumer packaged goods to virtual artists who have products.

As far as the $500,000 Nike gift, she said each woman would receive a $10,000 stipend. “This is a full-on fellowship experience,” she said.

Bell said she became acquainted with Nike through building relationships. “My board chair did a cold outreach to introduce us to one of the team members who was working on the project. Through that we stayed diligent with follow-up,” she said. When the time came, “we were responsive and had all our ducks in a row.”

“It’s one thing to respond to the call, you have to be ready to handle those calls and talk about this as a organization,” she said.  She said she wanted to give a special thanks to Jerome Brooks, social and community impact manager, inclusive communities, at Nike, and his team. “The Black employees inside these corporations are the real M.V.P.s,” she said.

She said Black Girl Ventures works with companies such as Visa and Google. “Google Cloud for Startups was how we were able to scale across the country initially,” she said. Google Cloud for Startups empowers companies to grow with the same tools and infrastructure used to build Google.

Providing an example of how Black Girl Ventures helped a company, she said they recently launched their first pitch competition for sustainable beauty products. They partnered with Rare Beauty Brands, which brought ultabeauty.com to the table. The winner was Kim Roxie of Lamik Beauty in Houston, who will have the opportunity to have her products sold on Ultabeauty.com.

Bell said the key is to give founders the opportunity to meet with corporations. “We want to be the conduit. We’re working with these corporations so we can offer up the supply chain, and we can diversify the supply chain. That’s going to be the key for this to be sustainable.” She said it goes beyond just an infusion of capital.

The organization hasn’t started working formally with students yet, but did an event where it brought student entrepreneurs to Google on a panel. One of them has a candle company, which is now being sold at Macy’s and she believes they just got a deal with Target. “One of the companies that we funded out of Atlanta, is a mom and kid duo, which also has their product in Target after one of our competitions. When we support a woman, we’re supporting the generations of people she supports,” said Bell.

Bell said they decided to allocate the Nike money to Chicago, because they’ve done their pitch competitions twice there.

Asked what she considers the three biggest challenges for Black-owned businesses today, she cited access to financial capital, access to influential networks and ability to hire. “If you don’t have the capital and COVID-19 has suspended the operations, you have to do a lot of this yourself, and that’s not sustainable,” she said.

She added that the majority of Black-owned businesses start as solo founders, and investors are going to be looking for people with teams.

Nike’s $500,000 contribution further builds on its commitments to Black Girls CODE, NAACP Empowerment Programs and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Nike’s Black Commitment is expanding its focus to local investments in 2021 that drive action and impact in partnership with the Black community. Beginning this year, the Black Community Commitment will support a series of grants that will total $1.75 million to organizations working on behalf of Black communities in seven U.S. cities: Boston, Memphis, St. Louis, Portland, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City.

Nike continues to support such partners as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, PeacePlayers and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. Last year, Converse committed $100,000 to both the Equal Justice Initiative and LDF. The Until We All Win community grant program, started in 2019, provides a total of $4 million each year to nonprofits working to level the playing field for the eight communities represented by NikeUNITED Networks. Jordan Brand and Michael Jordan pledged an additional $100 million over 10 years with a focus on social justice, economic justice, and education and awareness.

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