Black women in business dates back to a time when women were not seen as an economic powerhouse. However, following in the spirit of trailblazing entrepreneurs like Madame CJ Walker, one of the country’s most known self-made millionaires, and Annie Malone, founder of Poro College, a beauty and cosmetics school, Black female entrepreneurs continue to break barriers and provide their community an opportunity for economic prosperity.
The WELL, or Women Entrepreneur Leadership Lab, was founded in 2018 by business owner Nakeia Drummond. Based out of Baltimore, Md., NLD Strategic, Drummond’s business, launched The WELL in hopes of bridging the gap for Black women businesses. With more than 42 percent of new women-owned businesses opened by Black women, most of them have no employees and are considered one-woman bands. Despite being the fastest growing business owner population, African American women are less likely to receive capital and the financial resources to help their businesses cross the five-year mark.
“We’ll be three in October and it started because I, as a business owner, experienced all the things that most of us do — the loneliness, isolation. I would go to networking events and groups and not quite feel like it was for me or that I fit. I wanted to collaborate, but didn’t know where to find those partners that were ideal for me,” says Drummond. “I started having these round tables with other Black women business owners and what came out of it was we all shared a lot of common things among ourselves. We wanted a community where we saw ourselves and our challenges and our needs represented.”
Partnering with General Motors and the National Business League, The WELL is leveling the playing field for Black women and making access to business resources easier. Through its Early Entrepreneur Growth Program and a $50,000 dollar investment from General Motors, The WELL looks to graduate a class of 20 members from across the nation, host a pitch competition for the cohorts and provide 10 scholarships with Detroit being one of the receiving cities along with Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC and Baltimore. The six-month accelerated program will work with Black women who own businesses that are less than two years old or generate below $25,000 dollars in revenue.
“Black women are the fastest growing sector of entrepreneurs in the country, regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation and/or gender, but the least supported in terms of opportunity and growth of revenue. This national partnership kicking off in Detroit between The WELL, General Motors and the National Business League (NBL) aims to address this continued barrier to entry into the marketplace by providing technical assistance and ongoing education and training,” says Kenneth L. Harris, Ph.D., national president and CEO of the National Business League, Inc.
In addition to the Early Entrepreneur Growth Program, another way The WELL looks to serve Black female entrepreneurs is through capital and relationships with banks. Establishing a transparent system of trust and support between the women who are a part of The WELL and financial institutions help to create authentic conversations and real-time assistance.
“We are deliberate about finding Black women bankers and building relationships with those bankers,” says Drummond. “What we’ve seen is that those Black bankers have gone back to their banks and presented the cases of these women as whole people with real stories and not just a set of metrics.”
For General Motors, continuing to invest in Detroit and build, encourage, support and strengthen Black-owned businesses in the city is paramount. Standing firm on their diversity and inclusion initiatives, the auto giant’s partnership with Drummond came as the entrepreneur participated in a pitch day for the company.
“Supplier Diversity is the economic engine that drives empowerment, equity and inclusion into our supply chain and business community. As such, General Motors is proud to partner with NLD Strategic in support of the advancement of Black woman-owned businesses. Our mission is to serve as bridge builders, connecting an ecosystem of diverse suppliers, communities, advocacy organizations and customers. It is with this spirit that we invest in unique initiatives, such as the Women Entrepreneur Leadership Lab, that will uplift powerful and influential local Black business owners.”, says Cheryl Greer, GM Supplier Diversity program manager.
Having more than 49,000 Black-owned businesses nationwide, with just over 400 located within Detroit city limits, the push to create wealth and success is palpable. Providing the women in The WELL with coaching and informed programming, the NBL will also be responsible for finding and recruiting new cohorts to take part in the program. The National Business League is the first and largest nonprofit, non-partisan and non-sectarian for Black business professionals and tradesmen founded by Civil Rights pioneer, educator and author Booker T. Washington.