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Black Girl Ventures is coming to Cincinnati to help women of color grow their businesses

'We can actually be instrumental in your journey'
Shelly Omilâdè Bell is smiling in this portrait. She's wearing a white suite and has long, yellow fingernails.
Posted at 4:18 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 13:02:25-04

CINCINNATI — Greater Cincinnati’s Black and brown women business founders soon will have a new opportunity to grow their companies.

Black Girl Ventures is teaming up with Kroger for a pitch program that will give business owners a chance to win cash prizes, get technical training and grow their networks.

Business owners have until Sept. 26 to apply for the program, which will take place Nov. 4.

The BGV Pitch Program mixes “the premise of Shark Tank and Kickstarter,” said Shelly Omilâdè Bell, the founder and CEO of the Black Girl Ventures Foundation.

“It’s pitching and crowdfunding together,” she said. “But crowdfunding has an opportunity cost attached to it. You have to have a network already. You have to have great production prowess. And so we actually create that production and we crowdfund alongside the founders so they’re not having to do it all by themselves.”

To participate, founders must have been in business for at least a year, must have a product that has been tested and works, and they must be generating some revenue.

“We want to be able to grant people who can actually expand or grow based off of the grant,” Omilâdè Bell said. “The reason that we ask for you to be at least a year in business and to have an actual functioning product, or minimum viable product, is because that’s where we can be the most helpful. We can actually be instrumental in your journey.”

Omilâdè Bell launched Black Girl Ventures in Washington, D.C., in 2016. She said the organization’s goal is to help women of color access capital to grow their businesses, thereby creating jobs and strengthening communities.

Since its founding, Black Girl Ventures has funded 264 women of color, held more than 30 BGV Pitch Programs across 12 cities and has served more than 2,000 participants. Participants in the group’s pitch programs are collectively generating more than $10 million in revenue and supporting 3,000 jobs.

Omilâdè Bell said she wanted to bring a pitch competition to Cincinnati because of the good work of MORTAR, Lightship Capital and other local organizations and corporations that are working to support minority business owners. She said she connected with Kroger after the killing of George Floyd last year prompted so many companies to amplify their efforts to help minority-owned businesses and minority communities.

Shelly Omilâdè Bell is standing in this portrait. She has short, blonde hair and is wearing a white suit.
Shelly Omilâdè Bell

As part of its work with Kroger, Black Girl Ventures has selected six Cincinnati Fellows. They are local business owners who will organize the Cincinnati pitch competition and work with the founders who apply to be part of it. They are:

· Alexis Williams, founder of Selfie City Cincy

· Alice Msachi, owner and CEO of NKC Accounting

· Erikka Gray, CEO and founder District 78 and co-founder of PAUSE.

· Calisha Brooks, founder of Soul Care

· Terri Hurdle, founder of T Marie Consulting

· Cyrina Thomas, chief plastic officer at Precious Plastic Cincy

“Their mission on the ground is to give people an opportunity for access to capital through the pitch competition,” Omilâdè Bell said. “We have helped them map out and understand the Cincinnati ecosystem itself.”

That allows the fellows to advocate for other business owners and learn more about the good work happening throughout Greater Cincinnati, she said.

“We’re trying to break that barrier of you don’t know what you don’t know,” Omilâdè Bell said. “So you know that these efforts for Black and brown women exist, and you know there are other leaders in the communities besides some of the people that just have become the go-to.”

Eight businesses will be chosen to take part in the pitch competition out of all that apply. The pitch competition will allow all those in the audience to vote with their dollars using Black Girl Ventures' Raisify platform for the founders whose pitches they like best.

Omilâdè Bell said the Cincinnati companies that take part in the upcoming pitch program don’t necessarily have to make products that could be stocked in Kroger stores.

“We’re pretty industry agnostic,” she said. “In Cincinnati, we want to make sure that we’re pulling in a pool of people who absolutely need support, especially considering the number of businesses that have had to shut down or pivot during the pandemic. And we’re still not out of the pandemic. So we want to make sure that we can be as supportive as possible.”

More information about the BGV Cincinnati Pitch Competition is available online, including how to apply and how to RSVP.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been reporting on women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 20 years. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.