Shelly Omílàdé Bell, also known as Omi, started Black Girl Ventures in Southeast Washington, DC, with a homemade meal, a small crowd, and an idea. After getting laid off twice and starting her own T-shirt line, Omi knew firsthand that women, and especially women of color, have less access to business funding.
She decided to do something about it, and the first of many Black Girl Ventures pitch competitions was born. “We voted with marbles in coffee mugs,” she remembers. “I didn’t think too much of it at first, but people liked it and we kept going.” The marbles translated to real dollars that Omi gave to several hopeful entrepreneurs.
Today, Black Girl Ventures is living out its mission of granting capital to founders across industries who identify as Black and Brown women. Using its “Kickstarter meets Shark Tank” model, the organization has funded 274 businesses over 5 years. Founders have 3 minutes to pitch their concepts, a panel of champions asks questions, and a live or virtual audience votes with their money on the organization’s own proprietary platform.
In addition to hosting the pitches and facilitating the investments, Black Girl Ventures supports entrepreneurs through peer mentoring, co-working sessions, a 4,000-member Facebook group, and a fellowship program that connects founders to business leaders in their ecosystem.
“One of the biggest challenges for underrepresented founders is their lack of access to social networks and influential people who can get them more capital,” Omi says. “We influence alongside them to get them [more visibility].”
Beyond access to capital, Omi understands firsthand all the challenges that come with founding and sustaining a startup: “We’re always looking for tools that can help us alleviate the decision fatigue of a small-business [owner].” Tapping into ride and meal solutions through the Uber for Business platform is one way her organization does this.
The Black Girl Ventures team of 12 is spread across the US and abroad. The pandemic cemented the company’s remote-working status, but ordering meals for delivery through Uber Eats is one way they stay connected. The ability to set location parameters and cost limits using Vouchers is key for controlling the small team’s budget. Everyone can order from wherever they are, and the platform streamlines expenses.
Black Girl Ventures also uses rides with Uber for pitch candidates traveling to live events. Rather than relying on an employee’s personal vehicle, candidates can easily request a ride to take them where they need to go.
The diversity of ride options was also a selling point for the Black Girl Ventures team. For other event-related needs, they use UberXL through the platform to transport themselves or equipment. Omi also loves the opportunity to use Uber Black because she can customize the temperature and noise level to her liking.
When thinking about the future of Black Girl Ventures, Omi has ambitious goals. “We want to fund 100,000 women,” she says. She sees this explosion of new women-led businesses creating 50,000 jobs and expanding internationally.
Omi also has plans to massively scale her organization, and she envisions Uber for Business as a partner along the way. “We’re using [Uber] now as a small team, but [we’ll get] to 100-plus employees at some point. And we’ll need something this solid and clear to help support our growth.”