As D.C.’s Google Digital Coach, Shelly Bell helps small and minority businesses navigate the search engine’s business tools. She’s also the founder of Black Girl Ventures, MsPrint USA, and the Made By A Black Woman clothing line featured in Essence Magazine.
Shelly Bell assists Black women entrepreneurs, through providing assets with her business, Black Girl Ventures. (Courtesy Photo)
Bell became a mother at 17. She went on to pursue a computer science degree at North Carolina A&T and graduated in four years. After college, she had another child and became a teacher. After working in education for a bit and building up her first successful venture, Bell split with her business partner to go back to the corporate world but never lost sight of doing it alone as a business owner. After stints working at government agencies and a pay cut to go back into teaching, Bell finally made the leap to found Seven City Art Society, an arts based organization that would eventually turn into Made By a Black Woman.
Bell’s success with the Made By a Black Woman line, recently refreshed with “Black Panther” #WakandaForever apparel, led the enterprising founder to establish MsPrint USA, a custom apparel and merchandise print shop dedicated to, not just empowering women entrepreneurs, but also printing on U.S. soil rather than outsourcing to foreign economies.
These past entrepreneurial achievements led to Bell’s most recent pursuit with Black Girl Ventures formerly known as Black Girl Vision (BGV). BGV works to create assets- social and financial capital for Black Women entrepreneurs- to combat the statistic that African American women receive less than one percent of venture capital by building a community that nurtures and funds their ideas.
The Boss Up event is essentially crowd funding meets pitch competition, meets poetry slam, combined with a “Vision Fund.” The vision fund is created with money taken at the door by participants and fans with the winning pitch taking home that event’s proceeds for seed funding. BGV also sweetens the pot by providing the winner with free legal and accounting consultation as well as customer merch and apparel from MsPrint USA for her business.
Bell started her pitch competitions with 30 women in a house in Southeast after the need for a founder’s community and a way to empower and encourage other black female entrepreneurs. The unique format fits Bell’s background as a nationally recognized performance poet and community organizer to create a one-of-a-kind experience that includes call and response elements and poem at every event. This creates an energy that resonates with Black Girl Ventures’ core demographic.
“It has to be serious enough for us to pay attention and listen to Black women’s stories but also light, fun and engaging enough for us to stay engaged after we leave those rooms,” she said.
Black Girl Venture recently hosted a pitch competition at the WE DC stage of South By South West in Austin, sponsored by Washington DC Economic Partnership, but D.C. residents won’t have to book a ticket to join the Boss Up movement. BGV will be hosting its next pitch competition here in DC at WeWork Navy Yard March 29th at 6pm. For more information about the event or Black Girl Venture checkout blackgirlventures.org.