, Founder Of 1863 Ventures, Melissa Bradley, Is Helping Entrepreneurs Build Black-Owned Businesses, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Founder Of 1863 Ventures, Melissa Bradley, Is Helping Entrepreneurs Build Black-Owned Businesses

According to the U.S. Census, there are about 2 million Black-owned businesses in the United States. Of these nearly 2 million businesses, only around 124,000 are “employer firms.” With historical and systemic barriers to entry for Black business owners, combined with the economic impact of COVID-19, 58% of Black business owners said their business’s financial health is “at-risk” or “distressed.” Despite a 28% closure rate across all U.S. businesses, 41% of Black firms closed their doors during the pandemic. In 2020, 1863 Ventures was able to help 92.5% of their companies survive, and 58.5% of them increase their staff or have no change at all. At the head of that work is Melissa Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures, whose work is guided by a goal to create $100 billion in new wealth for the new majority by 2030.

Entrepreneurship has always been a part of her calling. While in college, Melissa ran three businesses, giving her the ability to employ herself and her peers. “I realized the joy and freedom of entrepreneurship was aligned with my calling,” Bradley says. Upon starting a company to provide financial literacy services to Black people, Melissa recognized the lack of education and financial literacy options provided to the Black community.

“I went into a bank to get financing, and the associate literally laughed at me. He said that not only was I Black and a woman, but my community also does not have the money to pay for my services,” she recalls, “I vehemently remember storming out of the bank telling myself never again. From that point forward, I committed my life to provide opportunities for the new majority.”

In 2015, as an Adjunct Professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, Melissa Bradley partnered with a group of her students to create East of the River, an entrepreneurial summit supporting emerging business owners from Southeast D.C. The summit became a fiscally sponsored entity called Project 500, now Accelerate 500, Inc. dba 1863 Ventures through this group’s fantastic work. With the fiscal sponsorship of Washington Regional Area Grantmakers (WRAG), the organization kicked off its first program to help 500 Black entrepreneurial-minded residents East of the River in D.C. start businesses and create jobs for their community. Their commitment was explicitly to surface 500 entrepreneurs in three years in D.C., and what began as a three-year goal turned into an 18-month success story with 527 Black entrepreneurs emerging from the program.

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This milestone spoke to the high need for business training, mentorship, and capital for Black entrepreneurs. “From our learnings, this was even more apparent for Black entrepreneurs who had been in business beyond 1-3 years. There was a clear need to support local entrepreneurs. A need to help our community create wealth for itself and begin to change our trajectory towards tangible economic prosperity,” says Bradley.

In 2016, Melissa founded 1863 Ventures with a clear goal in mind: helping New Majority entrepreneurs – individuals that have been historically marginalized and disinvested – grow their businesses through rigorous programming, consistent coaching, personal and professional mentoring, and access to capital. The 1863 Ventures team is comprised of serial entrepreneurs and investors. Collectively they represent over 60+ years of business and entrepreneurial experience. Their prior careers experiences include PayPal, Google, IBM, World Bank Group, DC DSLBD, Georgetown University, U.S. Treasury Department, and the White House, to name a few. In addition, 1863 Venture’s board of directors comprises professional executives representing Capital One, The Economic Club, Optum, and formerly Google.

Over the past four years, 1863 Ventures has been able to work with over 2,500 early-stage and growth-stage founders through their formal programs across a multitude of sectors and industries. Through its community of entrepreneurs, coaches, and investors that work collaboratively to create jobs for the new majority, 1863 Venture’s entrepreneur membership now represents nearly $300 million in revenues and several thousand jobs.

In 2020, although COVID-19 adversely impacted the entire world, people of color were disproportionately affected. Due to the systemic and institutional racism that persists in our country, Black and Brown entrepreneurs suffered as communities of color received less access to health services support, and businesses received less access to government-backed financial support.

, Founder Of 1863 Ventures, Melissa Bradley, Is Helping Entrepreneurs Build Black-Owned Businesses, The Nzuchi News Forbes

In the wake of this deadly phenomenon, 1863 Ventures launched the 3Rs program – Recover, Rebuild, Resilience – in partnership with Capital One and the Rockefeller Foundation to help stabilize Black businesses through leveraged capital, tactical content, and structured coaching. Our goal is to administer $850,000 in grant funding and foster a pipeline of 1,200 Black entrepreneurs across 14 cities through our program.

Through 3Rs, 1863 Ventures has expanded its support to business owners beyond its traditional accelerator programs and created a robust process to help businesses impacted by COVID-19 and racial unrest to recover, rebuild and become resilient. “We are helping businesses recover through curated training; rebuild with 1-1 coaching and access to a community, and become resilient through capital and participation in our existing accelerator programs,” Melissa exclaims.

Although Melissa Bradley and 1863 Ventures have made a fundamental difference in the lives of Black and Brown business owners, the work doesn’t end here. Melissa’s goal for the future of 1863 Ventures is clear. “In 5 years, our organization will be the number one leveraged business accelerator for government agencies, financial institutions, and universities to partner with to help elevate and empower new majority founders,” she says. In addition, Bradley plans to make their programs available in every geographic region Black and Brown entrepreneurs reside and be the go-to model for business development programming for new majority entrepreneurs.

Her advice to business owners of color:

Find a community.

“Being an entrepreneur is a team sport, she says, “you need to be surrounded by people who can be supportive and hold you accountable for your business growth.”

Money is a means to an end.

An entrepreneur should not focus on the money but on the resources needed to build and scale a business. Unfortunately, business owners too often seek dollars but then do not have the appropriate plan to execute.

You are in control of your destiny.

“Do not allow other folks to dictate your potential,” Bradley advises. Instead, entrepreneurs of color must be resilient and relentless because the journey won’t be easy.

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