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Community-Led Capital: The Key to The Path Forward



Introduction


In the landscape of scaling entrepreneurial ventures, access to capital remains a challenge - especially for Black women entrepreneurs. Despite our prowess and potential, traditional financial institutions often overlook Black women, hindering our advancement. Amidst these struggles, however, a beacon of hope is emerging through community-led capital initiatives. Through entities such as the New Voices Foundation, and influential leaders such as Richelieu Dennis, many underestimated Black women-owned businesses are being amplified like never before. 


One such pioneering example is  Pressed Roots, a New Voices Foundation-backed company, where founder and CEO Piersten Gaines secured a remarkable 3.1 million in investments! Pressed Roots investor pool includes notable figures like Howard Schultz and Naomi Osaka. 


Pressed Roots is not just a business; it represents a revolution in the beauty industry by becoming the first silk blowout bar specializing in textured hair care. New Voices Foundation recently highlighted the company’s success across their social media platforms, recognizing them as a part of the #NewVoicesFamily. This is a level of relational support that we haven’t seen often. New Voices is not merely comprised of a foundation and fund, but a family of diverse entrepreneurs whose voices often go unrecognized. 


Blaze Group happens to be part of the New Voices Family!  We were accepted into the family through the 2023 Madame C.J. Walker PACE Bootcamp Grow & Scale Cohort, a three-month accelerator supporting founders of color from all industries. AARP sponsored the program and McKinsey & Company partnered to bridge us to industry-leading strategy and advisory. Beyond the program, founders in the family are matched with opportunities, events, and resources within the New Voices ecosystem. 


So many of our favorite Black women entrepreneurs are a part of the #NewVoicesFamily and have been positively impacted by this community specifically when seeking capital. Melissa Butler, founder of The Lip Bar Inc., Beatrice Dixon, founder of The Honey Pot Company, and many other Black women entrepreneurs are a part of the #NewVoicesFamily and have gone on to receive funding from investors, including the New Voices Fund itself to build their businesses to where they are. 


Figure 1: Excerpt from 2023 State of Black Women-Owned Businesses Report®


The Data Speaks for Itself


Challenges faced by Black women entrepreneurs are not simply anecdotal; they are grounded in data and stark statistics.  As the 2023 State of Black Women-Owned Businesses Report® highlights, the issue of access to external funding is reflected in the sentiments of Black women entrepreneurs themselves. When asked to rate the accessibility of external funding on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least accessible, the average rating was 2.1. This indicates a widespread belief among Black women entrepreneurs that external funding is not easily accessible to them. Additionally, 75% of Black women entrepreneurs have no relationships with business bankers, leaving them without essential advocacy and coaching that could potentially alleviate the exclusion they face.


These obstacles lead many Black women entrepreneurs to rely on bootstrapping, with 95% tapping into personal savings and 36% utilizing personal credit cards for startup capital. These statistics reveal the historical challenges faced by Black women, a demographic often omitted from the warm hand-offs that fuel the industry. Merit is not the primary barrier to funding access for Black women entrepreneurs. Instead, we are marginalized by systematic exclusion based on race and gender, which continues to exacerbate disparities in capital allocation.


Figure 2: Excerpt from 2023 State of Black Women-Owned Businesses Report®


Advocacy: New Voices Foundation


Amidst these challenges, community-led capital initiatives have emerged as a source of hope and support for Black women entrepreneurs. The New Voices Foundation, led by Richelieu Dennis, founder of Sundial Brands and Shea Moisture, has played a vital role in empowering Black women entrepreneurs by providing access to capital, expertise, and networks.


In November 2017, Richelieu made history in the beauty and personal care industry by negotiating the acquisition of Sundial Brands by Unilever – one of the biggest natural beauty/personal care deals in the U.S. and the largest consumer products transaction by a majority Black-owned company. This purposeful move led to the creation of the $100 million New Voices Fund, empowering women of color entrepreneurs. He stated that he established the New Voices Fund not only to provide financial support to women entrepreneurs of color but also as a means to "take care of and invest back in the community" which has served as the foundation for his success as a business owner. 


Within six months, the fund already either invested in or committed to, over $30 million in Black women entrepreneurs. Dennis also established the New Voices Foundation to holistically support these entrepreneurs by providing support services, including leadership development, networking opportunities, and a platform to highlight the strides and successes of diverse entrepreneurs. We at Blaze Group can vouch that New Voices often highlights the companies in their portfolio across social media, including actively supporting our Webby Awards voting by soliciting community votes.


In December 2018, Richelieu added another incredible milestone by purchasing Madam C.J. Walker’s historic estate, Villa Lewaro, via the New Voices Foundation. After its restoration, Villa Lewaro will serve as a learning institute for women of color entrepreneurs, providing curriculum-based learning and resources to help them build, grow, and expand their businesses. 


The New Voices Foundation has made substantial investments in women of color-owned businesses, having facilitated $2,620,000 in non-dilutive capital and matched support dollars for 206 companies. Furthermore, winning companies have raised $14,200,000 in equity investments, and the New Voices ecosystem as a whole has accessed $26,900,000 in grants, equity, and debt capital. The foundation boasts a strong community of 25,500 registered member companies. Blaze Group has directly benefited this these visionary initiatives, having completed New Voices Foundation’s Madame C.J. Walker’s PACE Bootcamp in the  Grow & Scale cohort of 2023. 


Community-Led Capital: A Form of Resistance


At Blaze Group, we understand that starting a business can be a daunting task. That's why we believe in the power of community-led capital. It's about coming together as a collective force, pooling our resources, and building a network that believes in our potential as Black women entrepreneurs. From SoLo Funds, which is democratizing access to capital by making peer-to-peer lending much more accessible, to Barter Black, which offers capital in the form of resources through community bartering that transcends the limitations of currency, these platforms exemplify the beauty of community-led capital.


When other entities fall short, community-led capital says, "I've got you." It's a nod of recognition to our worth, our ingenuity, and our ability to thrive despite the odds. It's a reassurance that we are not alone in this journey, and together, we can create our own pathways to success.


Blaze Group is also a community-oriented organization that acknowledges and embraces the collective power of entrepreneurship within the Black community. We fuel our passion with determination and the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed, especially Black women entrepreneurs. We proudly support initiatives like the New Voices Foundation and partner with companies like Kiva to offer crowdfunding options that provide unprecedented access to business financing without the traditional limitations of commercial banks. Through our #FundBlackWomen lending team with Kiva US, we have helped to power the collective lending of nearly $200,000 in capital for Black women entrepreneurs. 


Conclusion


Lean into the strength of community-led capital. Let's champion and uplift each other, because when we join forces, there's no ceiling on what we can achieve. This isn't just about funding; it's about building a village of resilience, empowerment, and unyielding support. With that, we'll pave the way for a future where Black women entrepreneurs flourish, thrive, and lead with unwavering grace and determination. 


The stories of resilience, innovation, and success in the face of adversity are not anomalies. They are a testament to the indomitable spirit and potential of Black women entrepreneurs. By supporting Black women through community-led capital, we are not just saving ourselves – we are ensuring a more vibrant and equitable entrepreneurial landscape for all.  


Blaze Group believes in your potential and wants to be a part of your journey as a friend, mentor, and advisor. If you're looking to start or grow your business, Blaze Group is here for you with open arms! 


To join BLAZE and learn more about how to support Black women entrepreneurs, please visit our website at https://www.blazegroup.io/




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