Shelly Bell and Kate Goodall have been friends for years. They’ve also been frequent professional partners.
The alignment makes sense, given the missions of their respective organizations. Bell’s Black Girl Ventures (BGV) funds Black and brown women-founded businesses, including through pitch events in several cities; Goodall’s Halcyon is the Georgetown-based incubator for social enterprises that recently announced a new impact investing strategy. Bell has served on the Halcyon cohort selection committee, while Goodall has served as an adviser and board member for BGV.
So, indeed, it wasn’t too surprising when the orgs announced at the end of 2020 that they were formally working together: The two are launching an incubator specifically for Black and brown women-founded ventures.
Over eight months, 10 entrepreneurs will participate in monthly business planning and pitch sessions, culminating this August with a week spent in D.C., where they’ll be connected with a national network of investors. Applications were open nationwide, and the inaugural cohort will be announced this month. [Update: See the list of accepted entrepreneurs below.]
After talking about such a partnership for about a year, “the timing aligned, organizationally, societally,” Bell told Technical.ly. “We just decided now is the right time.”
The partnership is also indicative of what Goodall and Bell call a collaborative D.C. entrepreneurship ecosystem. Their orgs have worked with the likes of 1863 Ventures, SEED SPOT, Village Capital, Amazon Web Services and other local and corporate partners. It’s about more than connecting underrepresented founders to funding, but to social capital, too — the more organizations a founder can get connected to, the more resources they’ll receive, and the more likely they are to succeed.
“How do you take two really strong organizations and collaborate in a way that creates such a ripple effect in our community around what it means to collaborate?” Bell said. “The relationships bring the money. And so for us, it’s, how do we use our relationships, our relationship with each other, to bring more relationships to more Black women in the community? And then what does that mean for the entire ecosystem?”
Such connections are particularly important for women founders, who face bias at all stages of the entrepreneurship journey. Their credentials are often discounted — and while pitching, they’re asked more prevention questions, while men are asked more promotion questions, Bell pointed out.
“It’s tough to watch women that you know have the same amount of traction as a guy still have to over-defend themselves and [see] the amount of time it takes them to raise the same amount of capital, or they go in and ask for less capital than a guy with the same amount of traction,” Goodall told Technical.ly. “I certainly see that all the time, and that’s frustrating.”
"The relationships bring the money. How do we use our relationships, our relationship with each other, to bring more relationships to more Black women in the community?"
One way for organizational leaders with strong connections to counter that is to encourage others in power to support promising founders: “If you have the ability to endorse, endorse away,” she said.
Or, if you have the ability to fund, do that. Bank of America contributed $170,000 to the program, part of the corporation’s four-year, $1 billion commitment to causes advancing racial and economic equity, as announced in June.
Before this partnership, all three organizations were already familiar with each other — BGV had long been a Bank of America business customer, for one. Successful corporate partnerships depend on a shared commitment to a cause, yes, but also trust resulting from longstanding relationships, Bell said.
“This is an opportunity for [Bank of America] to further align what they believe in from a corporate social responsibility standpoint with their customers directly,” she said. “We’re a customer, and what our experience is like with them is a first-hand experience. Then, we extend that into the community.” (Goodall calls Bell “the queen of corporate partnerships.” BGV’s founder recently secured a $500,000 award from Nike, another example of her ability to connect with big brands.)
Though this incubator is nationwide, D.C. can still benefit, as it’s staged as a potential landing pad for the entrepreneurs who will come through the program. The founders might choose to launch an office from the region, or hire locally.
But since much of the programming needs to be virtual anyway, “it’s a larger opportunity” for Halcyon and BGV to reach more founders, Bell said, “especially considering the pandemic.”
For those founders who may come through the incubator and stay in D.C., or who are currently based here, one of the biggest challenges they’ll face is how slowly capital moves from institutional investors.
“D.C. is just a conservative capital town,” Goodall said. “There’s plenty here — plenty — but because perhaps it’s 20% lawyers who live here, or because it’s generational capital and we still really need to work very actively to disrupt those networks, for a number of reasons, it is much slower. A case in point: One company that came to Halcyon got West Coast and East Coast valuations, in D.C. and over in Palo Alto, and they were valued at $10 million over in California, and $1.7 [million] in D.C. And the reality was probably somewhere in between those numbers — it was probably neither, because we know the West Coast is very inflated.”
The way to speed things up? More collaboration.
“We’re all aware of this, though, in the city, and we’re working to liberate a little more of that capital, educate new investors and nontraditional investors, investors that aren’t always represented,” she said. “We’re working to create more of that in this ecosystem.”
These 10 entrepreneurs were accepted into the Halcyon-Black Girl Ventures intensive, as announced on Feb. 22:
- Mandy Bowman, Official Black Wall Street (New York City)
- Nimi Fafowora, Beem Box (California)
- Bridget Jones, Chisel Technologies, Inc. (D.C.)
- Vernee Hines, Upbrainery (Houston)
- Laura Thomas, Effective to Great Education (D.C.)
- Elizabeth Dawes Gay, Ìpàdé (D.C.)
- Candi Reddick, Mindful Maroon (Atlanta)
- Symone Gates, Sincerely, Bädé (New York City)
- Jasmin Hinnant, Sojo Signal (New York City)
- Omolara Fatiregun, Thrive! (Massachusetts)