Women's History Month will be commemorated in 2022.

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BGV's pitch program draws inspiration from the 1920s-era rent parties when African Americans faced discriminatory housing rates. Black women entrepreneurs receive just 0.34 percent of the total venture capital spent in the U.S. in 2021. Capital One's investment will ensure every sophomore at Spelmanite enrolls in the Braven Accelerator Course over three years.

Two full years since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus as a pandemic, women have shown their full potential as drivers of the economy, as heads of households, and as the face of the future. At Capital One, we aim to showcase their courage and boldness during Women’s History Month. 

In March 2022, Capital One will once again carry the international #courageto theme forward, highlighting women who have boldly challenged the status quo, celebrating the many ways that women show courage everyday in the workplace, home, and community. As part of our spotlight, we interviewed Shelly Omilâdé Bell, founder of Black Girl Ventures and Aimée Eubanks Davis, founder of Braven to understand how they define courage through their work and what they’re doing to break down racial inequities and empower other women to lead with courage. 

Community or Nothing

Shelly Omilâdé Bell is no stranger to courage. She landed her first job at the age of 17, graduated with a computer science degree, and never managed to let career hurdles hold her back from success. In 2016 Bell founded Black Girl Ventures (BGV), a nonprofit that addresses the unique challenges Black and Brown women face in accessing social and financial capital to grow their businesses. BGV’s pitch program draws inspiration from the 1920s-era rent parties when African Americans facing discriminatory housing rates hosted “social dances” as a way to collect money for rent. 

BGV offers a blueprint of sorts for Black and Brown women to build social capital and to tap into career development opportunities that bring them closer to having leadership roles. Nearly six years since Bell built the organization from the ground up, BGV is now the largest ecosystem builder for Black and Brown women founders on the East Coast. BGV has funded 264 women of color and held over 30 BGV Pitch Programs across 12 cities impacting over 2,000 participants. BGV pitch participants are collectively generating over $10 million in revenue and supporting 3,000 jobs. 

For Bell, the success of BGV and its women founders comes as no surprise. 

“My community or nothing’ leadership style is what has kept us sustainable,” says Bell. “It’s important for us to make our community proud and make that part of the work we do. I want to be part of a legacy that builds generational wealth to leave to our kids,”

Bell’s mission is anchored in her personal lived experiences. Prior to founding BGV, Bell was laid off from two jobs, launched a t-shirt and printing business that didn’t make it off the ground, and encountered multiple barriers in the venture capital ecosystem. With Black women entrepreneurs receiving just 0.34 percent of the total venture capital spent in the U.S. in 2021, Bell explained that one of her greatest strengths has been to bring people together through community building events. Her experience in bringing women together through pitch competitions where people dropped marbles in the coffee mugs of women whose pitches they loved led to a revelation that would set the BGV mission in motion. 

“I wanted to be the founder I needed,” says Bell. 

The demographic divide in the generational wealth gap is stark. Various think tank reports show wealth is unequally distributed across the United States with Black households holding 12.7 percent of the wealth of the typical white household. Whereas white wealth has a downstream cumulative effect, Black and Brown families are more likely to tap into savings to absorb immediate setbacks. 

As for Bell, she’s hopeful that the ten competitions BGV will hold in 2022 will continue to serve more people who want access to funding.

“The more ‘no’s you get means the more you know,” she says. “Just being able to create a container, a space where we can provide feedback, helps us normalize the ability to articulate business plans and allow people to get back what they need for their entrepreneurship journey.”

“Capital One’s support and partnership means more than just capital,” says Bell. “It means the founders can grow their small businesses in other ways too. Nowadays there is no shortage of people starting businesses. Revenue is a good business validator for the resilience that these founders have had to have these past few years. We want to keep that sense of community going.”

Go Together; Go Further

As a child, Aimée Eubanks Davis quickly realized that there are major disparities between the educational opportunities afforded to children in different income brackets. Offering a sobering reality, the Opportunity Atlas—a joint data tool by the U.S. Census Bureau and Harvard University—finds that a child’s zip code can have an oversized impact on life outcomes. 

“I always felt it was unfair that my childhood friends, who were just as worthy of expanded opportunities, did not have access to them, especially because their parents were working hard,” says Eubanks Davis. “They had done nothing wrong; they were no less talented; and I believed they deserved to have access to high quality educational and enrichment opportunities.”

As part of Eubanks Davis’ lived experiences, she made it her mission to help students attain the American promise of high quality educational and enrichment opportunities. In her early teaching career, she met talented young people who

“weren’t landing the opportunities because they lacked the hidden career-preparation skills that their wealthier peers had access to through their personal networks.” 

Education has the potential to be an equalizer, yet it’s been reported that “only 30% of our country’s 1.3 million first-generation or low-income college students enrolled each year graduated and secured a strong first job or entered graduate school.” That’s in part because students from humbler backgrounds lack the social capital or networking opportunities that their wealthier peers have.

“Equity is quite a buzz word, but I find it a hard word to live into when there are systems that have to bring it into reality, like compensation,” says Eubanks Davis. “I believe that women and people from underrepresented racial backgrounds in the professional workforce would not be getting paid pennies on the dollars in comparison to their peers, if there was more transparency around how organization’s design their compensation systems and not abhorrent inequities based on gender and race.” 

In 2013, Braven stepped in to bridge that gap and get underrepresented college students on the path to socioeconomic mobility by giving them the courage to move ahead with their dreams and helping them battle stereotypes and imposter syndrome, both of which impede the confidence needed to get and thrive in a strong first job. Capital One’s catalytic support helped Braven expand its program to its first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) institution, Spelman College for women in Atlanta. The recent investment will ensure every sophomore Spelmanite enrolls in the Braven Accelerator Course over the next three years.  

These days, Eubanks Davis is showing her courage as a leader by being transparent about decisions based on equity. 

As part of her leadership principles, Eubanks Davis emphasizes two core values at Braven. One is to “Go Together; Go Further,” which recognizes and celebrates that our diverse and inclusive community is our greatest asset. The other is to “Live Your Legacy,” which she says is about aligning our actions with our beliefs and having the courage to do what is right, even when it is hardest to do, which in effect, creates transparent and equitable environments.

Through their organizations, Eubanks Davis and Bell have demonstrated that the courage to lead helps to embolden and activate courage within other women in underrepresented communities. 

“Others paved the path for us, so we must do it for others,” adds Eubanks Davis. 

Capital One is listening to, partnering with, and investing in people, small businesses and communities to foster an enabling environment that helps them fulfill their full potential. Investments made in Black Girl Ventures and Braven are part of Capital One’s Impact Initiative, an initial $200 million philanthropic commitment to advance socioeconomic mobility. In a continued effort to address structural barriers to racial equity, Capital One is also investing an additional $10 million in existing and new partners that meet the most pressing needs in the lives of underrepresented communities.

Source: CapitalOne newsroom


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