Shelly Bell’s unwavering optimism helps her to see everything as a problem to be solved, not just in business, but in the community and the world at large.
It’s what distinguishes her from many would-be entrepreneurs who jump from one business idea to the next without committing to anything. Bell, the founder, and CEO of Black Girl Ventures uses innovation, determination, and a never-ending stream of positive energy to overcome issues and achieve her objectives.
Keep an Eye on Me.
Bell’s problem-solving abilities stem from her diverse background. She worked in a variety of businesses after getting a computer science degree, including education, patent and trade, workforce development, and vacuum cleaner sales. Her entrepreneurial adventure, however, began in an unusual manner. Many entrepreneurs have a tale about how they started their company in their living room. Bell’s story is similar, only there was a teepee in her living room, and inside the teepee was a complete stranger.
Her first business venture was Airbnb, where she rented out a teepee in her living room. When she first came up with the notion, it was met with skepticism.
“Everyone said, ‘Nobody’s going to sleep in a teepee in your living room,'” Bell remembers. “And I answered them, ‘Yes, they will; keep an eye on them.'”
She didn’t understand she wasn’t cut out for the hospitality profession until she hosted her first visitor.
“I immediately discovered that I didn’t want people sleeping in a teepee in my living room,” Bell laughs. Bell, ever the optimist, didn’t see this as a setback. Instead, she began looking for her next business opportunity.
It arrived in the form of a T-shirt line, which started off badly but eventually became her first great success.
“It was terrible, and no one bought it.” “It was a dud,” Bell admits. “I was on the phone with the printer and said, ‘You know what, it’s created by a Black woman; I should put it on the shirt,’” she says.
She created a “Made by a Black Woman” logo and printed it on her tees, and people took notice. Bell used her tax refunds to buy her own printers, while her mother invested her retirement monies in the company. She and her mother hustled at events all over the country selling the garments, and a line of infant bodysuits made it into Essence magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide.
Google and Amazon soon followed with orders. Her unwavering hope and foresight had finally paid off.
She considered how happy she would have been if she had stayed in this line of work. But there’s always another adventure and a new problem for Bell to solve.
This time, it wasn’t a new business opportunity that drew her attention; instead, it was a news article that revealed an astonishing statistic: Black women start firms at six times the national average, yet earn less than 1% of venture funding.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Someone should do something about that.'” She responds, “I could do something about it.”
The company Black Girl Ventures was founded. A gathering of 30 ladies in a house in Washington, D.C. was the first event. The women in the audience voted on a winner who would receive their combined investment capital to launch their company.
The project took off from there. A collaboration with Google catapulted Black Girl Ventures to new heights. It now functions as a combination of Kickstarter and Shark Tank. With their money, audience members vote on enterprises. Black Girl Ventures also offers a program that teaches entrepreneurs about leadership development.
Bell’s business superpower is commitment: she accomplishes what she says she’ll do, whether it’s renting out a tent in her living room or changing the lives of other women. That’s a good thing because she doesn’t take her future as an entrepreneur or Black Girl Ventures lightly.
“I want to make a difference in the world,” she says. “That thought has energized me. I want everyone to believe that they have something that has the potential to transform the world. “Because you certainly can.”