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Black Girl Ventures CEO on funding women of color

Shelly Bell, Founder & CEO of Black Girl Ventures, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers and Reggie Wade to discuss how her company is investing in women of color.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Now, we know that Black women struggle to gain access to capital to build and expand their businesses and our next guest is trying to change that. We have Shelly Bell, Founder and CEO of Black Girl Ventures along with Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade here for this conversation.

So Shelly, you recently held a pitch competition. It's one of the largest pitch competitions. How does your pitch competition work? I know it has an element of crowdfunding as a part of it, which seems to really ignite a lot of community buy-in to some of these companies.

SHELLY BELL: Yeah, it's the largest rent party for entrepreneurs. So the way it works is we couple, like, "Shark Tank" and Kickstarter. So what it looks like is women pitch on stage and then the audience actually has the opportunity to donate their funding to vote for the pitch that they favor. And then we grant out to the entrepreneurs.

We've been doing this for four years now across about 12 cities. We've funded 130 women directly. Our founders represent about $10 million in revenue and about 3,000 jobs.

REGGIE WADE: Shelly, Reggie Wade here. And earlier this month Nike announced that it's putting a $500,000 investment into Black Girls Venture. Could you talk a little bit about how you got started with Nike and what's that partnership going to look like?

SHELLY BELL: Yeah, great question. I mean, our story is the epitome of just do it. [LAUGHS] I started Black Girl Ventures in a house in southeast DC with 30 women who were just willing to come together, throw money in a hat, and give it away. So when we think about the energy of just do it, those conversations really went fairly simple. And we had thought about, like, what's the vision? What do we want to see in the world? What do they want to see in the world? And we arrived at this place.

So what we're going to do with that is we're going to put three murals across three cities to really represent and lament today's woman entrepreneur. Who will be the [INAUDIBLE] that our kids will look up to? Yes, we can reach back to Madam CJ Walker, and we always will, but we have people like Jewel Burks, Jessica Mathews, and women who are raising money-- capital right now and building amazing things that we want to lament them.

We also have-- we will be launching a fellowship in the city of Chicago where when we'll-- we're moving them from being business owners, or just being business owners, to being business leaders because we feel like voices at the table are going to be important to really make the ecosystems thrive.

REGGIE WADE: Shelly, you started with a tech background. You were in the tech industry. How do you feel that's prepared you for what you're doing now?

SHELLY BELL: Oh my goodness. I'm a computer scientist and I would say my engineering brain has been the reason why I've been able to build. So having a creative side and also having this engineering mindset. The National Science Foundation has been doing research for a while like how people should think like a computer scientist. I think is so true because thinking in those ones and zeros, and engineering, and solving problems is exactly how I built Black Girl Ventures. Thinking about, like, well, if there's an access of capital problem, why don't we just involve more people who may have some levels of capital, pull it together, and now we'll have a heap of capital to be able to grant out?

- So Shelly, I'm wondering what your advice is from doing this work to Black and Brown women looking to start a business, looking to raise capital, but particularly in 2021 as we still struggle through this pandemic.

SHELLY BELL: Yeah, I mean, right now the ability to go direct to consumer via using social channels is everything. So people can, you know, you can create a product tomorrow, go online, and start selling it. I mean, of course, you want to be more strategic than that, but study the markets. I mean, I think this is one of the things that people don't tell entrepreneurs as often, like, find the market research and the companies that are looking at the market trends.

And then you want to be consuming information in three ways-- alongside your customer, as your customer, and about your customer. You want to go deep in what your business model is, who your customer is, and then figure out the social channels to get to them. Everybody's at home, you know, for the most part. So there's a huge benefit to the pandemic in the business sense.

REGGIE WADE: Shelly, I know you have a background with working with folks in K through 12 education. What have you seen when you've gone into some of the K through 12 schools and spoken to the young women there? What's some of your advice that you would give them if they're a little scared to really go after their dreams?

SHELLY BELL: You know, it's interesting, Reggie, you bring it, but I've-- I've lived a lot of lives. So yes, I was a K through 12 educator for about seven years and, you know, I've seen classrooms where there were like one or two girls in an engineering class. I taught AP Computer Science, in fact, likely, one of the first Black women to teach entrep-- to teach AP Computer Science in the city of Alexandria. And, you know, I had one girl in every-- every time I taught the class.

So I would say, like, if this is your interest and something you're passionate about, stay in it. You know, don't give up. There are women out here like me and the older you get, you'll see more and more women actually. And I think today there's more women in computer science classrooms, and in computer science, or in tech in general. So stay in it and keep focused because we are out here waiting on the other side of school. But I also want to ask more teachers and people to encourage girls to get into tech.

- All right, Shelly Bell, Founder and CEO of Black Girl Ventures, Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade, thank you both for joining us for this very important conversation on increasing access to capital for Black and Brown women starting businesses.

SHELLY BELL: Thank you. Thank you for having me.