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Creating long-term connections and opportunities for black and brown women founders

by Becky Lattof on


Throughout her career, Shelly Bell has worked as a K-12 educator, patent examiner, spoken word artist, print shop owner and computer scientist. She leverages her vast career experience to grow her non-profit, Black Girl Ventures (BGV), which transforms entrepreneurship by reimagining how black and brown women founders get access to financial and social capital. In just a couple of years, BGV has raised more than $2 million for black and brown women founders, provided funding to more than 130 women-led organizations and served more than 5,000 women. 

In this episode of the Participate podcast, on the heels of International Women’s Day, hosts Mike Washburn and Dr. Julie Keane talk with Bell about how she’s using Communities of Practice to power entrepreneurship, level the playing field and open up doors for women to play lead roles in community development.

Developing the layers of an innovative funding system for entrepreneurs

Black Girl Ventures disrupts traditional funding by enabling crowdsourced funding from local communities. Through BGV-styled pitch competitions, inspired by Shark Tank and Kickstarter, BGV provides the opportunity for black and brown female funders to give three-minute pitches, follow up with Q&A sessions and be voted on by the audience, who chooses three top founders for each event. All participants gain access to resources to help them continue growing as entrepreneurs.

An inside look at BGV pitch competitions

Bell is able to spin up pitch competitions quickly and spanning the country using credentialed courses on the Participate platform for event organizing and facilitation training. Successful execution and funding from pitch competitions may hinge upon unique factors by location, so hubs have been developed with specific planning resources by city to help establish what BGV calls “hyperlocal infrastructure.” Making sure that organizers have the necessary resources to gather partnerships, sponsors, funding, dedicated volunteers, venues and vendors helps broaden the success and impact of a pitch competition. A Community of Practice supports BGV in creating a space for event resources, success stories, leadership skills and relationship-building.

The importance of creating space for authentic connection

"Being authentic has been threatened by corporate America, and the idea that authenticity is a little bit too outside the box,” said Bell. “But it is actually a great foundation for being the best employee or executing in a way that makes sense to really really grow your company or to grow inside of companies."

Communicating in an authentic way can bring about new ideas and possibilities that may not otherwise be discovered. Bell emphasizes the importance of connecting people without any set expectations and pushing the boundaries of what community means. BGV uses events, such as weekly virtual coworking, mentorship within online learning courses and WhatsApp to connect people and create authentic community.

Bell also hosts a podcast called A Dose of Disruption with Shelly Bell, which highlights business news, random thoughts, powerful conversations and attainable actions to become a better entrepreneur and manage money well. She and her guests tackle critical issues, such as her conversation with Aerica Shimizu Banks about identity and challenging inequity in the workplace.

A Dose of Disruption with Shelly Bell, featuring guest Aerica Shimizu Banks

Bell wants to empower people who haven’t always been put in the right spaces to get the resources and connections they need and have their great ideas heard.

“I want to find as many ideas across the world that I can and as many entrepreneurs," said Bell.

To learn more about building inspiring, authentic learning communities like Shelly Bell and BGV, click below.


Learn more about Communities of Practice

Becky Lattof

Becky Lattof