Meet 3 Black Women Helping to Fund the Future of Beauty and Wellness

Black women in the U.S. are starting businesses at six times the national average. Our companies are collectively generating billions of dollars in revenue each year and creating millions of jobs as a result. Yet, receiving ample financial support continues to be a leading challenge for Black female founders. According to Crunchbase, Black female startup founders have received 0.34% of the total venture capital spent in the U.S. so far this year (and that is a five-year high). 

We’ve seen an uptick in programs and initiatives dedicated to helping Black women secure the funding they need and deserve, but there is more work to be done. Fearless Fund co-founder Arian Simone, IFundWomen of Color creator and general manager Olivia Owens, and Black Girl Ventures founder Shelly Bell are at the forefront of the movement to bridge the funding gap. Their female-led organizations have helped countless Black women and women of color start, scale, and succeed in their businesses. Ahead, learn more about their respective ventures and how they’re helping to empower the next generation of beauty and wellness entrepreneurs.

Arian Simone, co-founder of Fearless Fund

Arian Simone/Design by Tiana Crispino


What led you, Keshia Knight Pulliam, and Ayana Parsons to start the Fearless Fund?

While I was in college at Florida A&M University, I owned a retail store. But prior to owning it, I had to raise capital to open it. And I remember, I didn’t like it too much. There weren’t many Black people to pitch to. And right before the grand opening, I said to myself, Arian, don’t worry about this. One day, you’re going to be the business investor you were looking for. So, that’s the beginning of why I got into this space. 

After that, I went on to grow a PR and marketing company. About 13 years in, I started meeting a lot of people in the venture capital space. That’s when I decided it was time to make that shift. We have had the Fearless platform up and running since 2010. We had event activations and courses educating women of color entrepreneurs. But then we decided it was time to embark into the venture capital space. Keshia [Knight-Pulliam] said she wanted to partner with me on this. Then, I knew we needed a third partner with a true corporate business background. And that’s when Ayana [Parsons] joined.

As we started raising funds, we realized it takes a minute to get to an end goal when you’re raising $50K here and there. So we started to go after institutional money from organizations like Invest Atlanta. Our investors now include PayPal, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Ally Bank, MasterCard, and many others. The Fearless Fund invests in CPG, food and beverage, beauty, and technology companies. And the business has to be woman of color-led.

Black women start businesses at six times the national average but have historically not received enough support to sustain their endeavors. Through your experience building Fearless Fund, what areas do Black women entrepreneurs need support in the most?

Money is definitely the top one. When you need access to capital, no amount of mentorship or education is going to do you any good. Capital is key.

But, we did notice a lack of education and mentorship in this space. So, at our firm, we provide an educational program called “Get Venture Ready.” We educate women of color entrepreneurs on how to get ready for venture capital investment. In addition to that, our portfolio companies are paired with Fortune 500 companies to receive the expertise they need to scale, get acquired, or IPO.

What are some of the Black-owned beauty and wellness brands you’ve helped support? How have they flourished after working with Fearless Fund?

Alicia Scott, the founder of Range Beauty, has a very beautiful story. When she pitched to us initially, she did not even make the top 10, but she was probably one of the happiest people in the room. Next year at the Facebook headquarters, she made the top 10 but she didn’t win. But, she was still one of the happiest people in the room. And then she came for the third time for our “Verzuz-style” virtual pitch competition last year. This time, she won. One thing I can say about her was that every time she pitched and presented, she’d set forth her milestone. By the time she’d pitched again, she’d surpassed her milestone.

She’s somebody who has had continuous growth. Her tenacity to keep showing up with the same spirit says a lot about her character. She’s not just leaning into complexion colors and the lack thereof in the beauty industry. She’s solving a problem by catering to eczema and acne-prone skin within the shades. I knew we could bet on her. She’s an amazing person, very determined, and just needs the proper support. During the same pitch competition, AMP Beauty LA was there. We did not plan on awarding a second place. But, they were very impressive [and received an investment]. 

When you need access to capital, no amount of mentorship or education is going to do you any good. Capital is key.

Pitching is an important part of entrepreneurship. Do you have any tips for beauty and wellness entrepreneurs on developing a solid pitch to present to potential investors?

One thing that will get any investor’s attention is great traction and a good brand story. It’s not going to keep their attention, but that’s what’s going to open people’s eyes to say, “Wait a minute, they have something going on here.” Of course, there are certain things you could look at second. Like, does this business scale? Who are the potential acquirers? Do they have the potential to even IPO? Are they on a runway to 20 to 30 million for the first couple of years? 

What are your hopes and dreams for the Fearless Fund and the future of Black entrepreneurship?

We plan on having more funds in our fund franchise. Fund two and three will all be larger sizes as we continue to grow. As far as the future of Black entrepreneurship, there are a few things I hope for. One, getting equal opportunities to be able to sell equity in our businesses. That’s something I definitely desire to see and something we’re starting to grow towards. I hope that valuations will be equal and of benchmark to our Caucasian counterpart. Right now, we are the fastest-growing entrepreneur demographic but the least funded. I look forward to seeing more Black and Brown check cutters in order to change that statistic.

Olivia Owens, creator and general manager of IFundWomen of Color

Olivia Owens/Design by Tiana Crispino


How did you land at IFundWomen? 

I have watched my mom navigate her entrepreneurship journey pretty much my entire life and watched her struggle to access capital and scale her business. It wasn’t until she found IFundWomen that she was able to really learn some of the critical tools when it comes to raising funds for your business. She was able to raise $30K on IFundWomen. 

At the time, I was making a career path switch. I was really looking to find an opportunity aligned with my purpose in life, which I define as helping people become a better version of themselves. That was important because it allowed me to explore different avenues, and IFundWomen couldn’t have been a better fit. I was the first hire on the team outside of the co-founders in 2017. And I’ve been coaching women entrepreneurs on crowdfunding since day one. 

At what point did you recognize you wanted to start IFundWomen of Color? What has the first year been like?

After three years, we looked at the data and saw that while women of color represented 70% of our community, they only represented about 30% of the funds being raised. We see a similar disparity play out across other funding options like venture capital. So, we decided to launch IFundWomen of Color in January of 2020 with Caress as our founding partner. They provided a $1 million investment. 

We had no idea what 2020 has in store for us. As we navigated through March, we quickly recognized that we needed to pivot the work we were looking to do and transition the funds towards COVID-19 relief. We quickly supported 200 women of color in our community with COVID-19 relief grants, thanks to Caress. Now, we’re running the Caress Dreams to Reality Fund, where we’re taking two cohorts of 75 women of color entrepreneurs through a fundraising intensive to help them prep, launch, and execute successful crowdfunding campaigns. 

Black women start businesses at six times the national average but have historically not received enough support to sustain their endeavors. Through your experience building IFundWomen of Color, what areas do Black women and women of color entrepreneurs need support in the most?

I definitely think there is a sentiment that Black women are over mentored and underfunded. But I think another important statistic to bring into the conversation is that the average annual revenue of a Black woman-owned business is $24K. That is a key indicator that education around building revenue-forward businesses is critical to ensuring that we can move the needle. The worst thing you can do is go into debt funding the earliest phase of your business. So, we have made a low-risk debt-free option accessible to help Black women entrepreneurs get funded in the early stage and prove some demand.

In addition to that, I think having a support system is huge. A lot of the work we do in IFundWomen of Color is learning how to leverage each other. We explore what it looks like to support each other not just with your dollars but with your expertise. All of that is so critical because we know what a lonely road entrepreneurship is. And last but not least, I’d also say a critical thing is getting comfortable with making the ask. It’s not just about putting your head down, grinding it out, and working really hard. It’s about putting yourself out there and asking people to believe in you.

It’s not just about putting your head down, grinding it out, and working really hard. It’s about putting yourself out there and asking people to believe in you.

What are some of the Black-owned beauty and wellness brands you’ve helped support? How have they flourished after working with IFundWomen?

We have a ton—I’ll give you a few. There is Kim Roxie from Lamik Beauty. She received a COVID-19 relief grant from Caress and raised $75K from 400 funders on our platform. She just launched her products on Ulta.com, which we’re really excited for her. There’s also Maryam Ajayi from Dive in Well. She raised $84K on our platform from 1200 funders and was featured on Create and Cultivate’s 100 list. Those are just a few examples, but I think the really exciting part of this work is getting to see what these entrepreneurs continue to do. 

Pitching is an important part of entrepreneurship. Do you have any tips for beauty and wellness entrepreneurs on developing a solid pitch to present to potential investors? 

Pitching is where we start with every entrepreneur. Your messaging around what you do and your unique value proposition is critical to being able to communicate your value to other people. My first tip is don’t bury the lede. Your personal story is important, and it has a place in your pitch, but you only can hold people’s attention for so long. So, give them the critical information: what you do, who you are, and what makes you different. 

The other piece is to try to anticipate any potential questions an investor or somebody reviewing your grant application might have. For example, if you’re an in-person business, of course, a natural question will be how are you navigating the pandemic? How are you accounting for virtual? Showing that you’ve already thought that through builds an investor’s confidence in you upfront.

What are your hopes and dreams for IFundWomen of Color and the future of Black entrepreneurship?

Our number one KPI at IFundWomen is funding volume for women entrepreneurs. Anything we do maps back to that. So, expect to see more capital, coaching, and opportunities for connections for Black women entrepreneurs. With that much-needed capital, I’m excited to continue to see Black women create amazing solutions for the obstacles that we face daily, whether through inclusive makeup, safe spaces, or mental wellness. 

Shelly Bell/Design by Tiana Crispino


What led you to start Black Girl Ventures?

My first experience in entrepreneurship was building a tent in my living room and putting it up on Airbnb. I learned about supply and demand. Later, I started two businesses: Made By a Black Woman, a line of custom apparel, and MsPrint USA, a print shop for clients like Google and Amazon. Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I saw firsthand how the lack of access to social and financial capital limited the growth of Black and Brown women-founded businesses. When I started Black Girl Ventures, I wanted to create something I wish I had had access to when I was starting as an entrepreneur.

Black women start businesses at six times the national average but have historically not received enough support to sustain their endeavors. Through your experience building Black Girl Ventures, what areas do Black women need support in the most?

Black women receive less than 1% of venture capital funding despite being the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs nationally. We’ve been historically excluded, so what we’re trying to do at Black Girl Ventures is build more inclusive startup ecosystems so that Black and Brown women have an equal shot in business. The most common issues Black women founders face are lack of access to financial capital and influential social networks, and the ability to hire. Our community and our crowdfunded pitch competitions are designed to help close the gap.

On your website, you note the Black Girl Ventures Pitch Competition is patterned after the Harlem Rent Parties. In what ways does that translate into how your pitch competition is structured?

The Harlem rent parties of the early twentieth century brought together African Americans to raise funds for the exorbitant rents charged by white landlords. From the start of Black Girl Ventures, I realized the importance of community. We are the friends and family round that many Black and Brown women founders don’t have access to. Our crowdfunded pitch competitions rely on the community to fund businesses. While supporting businesses, we have a good time and incorporate poetry and music into our events.

When I started Black Girl Ventures, I wanted to create something I wish I had had access to when I was starting as an entrepreneur.

What are some of the beauty and wellness brands you’ve helped support? How have they flourished after receiving support from Black Girl Ventures?

In December 2020, we hosted a national pitch competition with Rare Beauty Brands focused on the beauty industry. The winners were Kim Roxie of Lamik Beauty, a clean beauty brand for multicultural women; Gianne Doherty, founder of Organic Bath Co., which focuses on clean and healthy skincare products; and the WELL Summit, which brings education, awareness, and inclusivity to the health and wellness conversation; and Takia Ross of Accessmatized Make-Up Artistry and lip product line KiKi Thunda Cosmetics

Another company we’ve supported is Goddess Detox, a wellness company founded by Olanikee Osibowale, providing self-love-inspired products to help women reconnect and spiritually, physically, and emotionally detox. Support from Black Girl Ventures has helped these companies gain exposure and scale their operations.

Pitching is an important part of entrepreneurship. Do you have any tips for beauty and wellness entrepreneurs on developing a solid pitch to present to potential investors?

At Black Girl Ventures, we really focus on the pitch because that makes all the difference in securing funding. It doesn’t matter how great your idea is if you can’t communicate your value. Founders only have a few minutes to share their stories and persuade someone to invest capital in their business.

We look for founders who can answer the following questions: What is your vision? Why did you create this product or service? How will it make your community better? What is your business model? What sets you apart? How will you generate revenue after you secure capital? Do you understand your audience? Our pitch competitions are designed to help Black and Brown woman-identifying founders practice and perfect their storytelling.

What are your hopes and dreams for Black Girl Ventures and the future of Black entrepreneurship?

Our mission at Black Girl Ventures is to provide access to capital, capacity, and community to Black and Brown women founders to create economic advancement. We are thinking about the long-term impact of our work over the course of decades. Supporting Black and Brown women founders is creating a pathway to building generational wealth in our communities, which will result in a more equitable society. We’re working to bring about systemic change and build more inclusive local economies across the United States. Ultimately, our work is about changing the face of entrepreneurship and narrowing the wealth gap.

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