Not everyone can write a check to own a stake in a startup. And not every startup founder wants to sell equity that dilutes her ownership interest. Founders can be obsessively focused on raising outside capital and, in doing so, overlook the power of the consumer to help them grow their business. As consumers, we may not realize how we can wield the power of our pocketbooks to invest in founders. As we enter the height of the holiday shopping season, we talked to two Project W founders who are each building platforms to empower and support women and Black business owners.
Kate Isler, TheWMarketplace (Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp alumna)
Mandy Bowman, Official Black Wall Street (Tech Equity Hub alumna)
Small business owners face innumerable challenges in scaling their business: the cost of a storefront or office, marketing their products or services, finding the right customer base, and expanding their geographic reach. While the large, established ecommerce platforms offer an alternative for CPG companies, they are crowded marketplaces and, for the most part, not mission driven. And they aren't good options for services businesses.
Two Project W alumnae – Kate Isler and Mandy Bowman – have founded companies that present alternatives for both business owners and consumers. The WMarketplace and Official Black Wall Street offer consumers the opportunity to invest in the growth and success of the businesses on the WMarketplace and Official Black Wall Street platforms. And they offer small businesses a gateway through which they can tap into the growing buying power of consumers who want to shop their values.
Kate founded the WMarketplace in 2020 in response to seeing women-owned businesses struggling during COVID and as part of her ambitious goal to fuel the economic success of women and achieve gender equity around the globe. Kate has rapidly grown the company to offer a turnkey solution to women business owners that includes educational workshops, a build-it-yourself storefront, and SBA grants to entrepreneurs to cover the costs of getting their businesses up and running on the platform. Currently, 500 companies are selling approximately 3,000 different goods and services on the platform. The next step in her company's evolution is to develop technology that will enable B2B connections and referrals among women business owners on the platform – think LinkedIn + YELP.
Mandy was similarly mission-driven in founding Official Black Wall Street. Growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, she saw how big box stores were replacing locally owned businesses. And, as her company's name suggests, Mandy was inspired by the original Black Wall Street in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where, until the horrific massacre in 1921, Black-owned businesses flourished. With expertise in social media from positions with Atlantic Records and Essence Magazine, Mandy founded Official Black Wall Street in 2015 as a platform for Black-owned businesses to showcase their goods and services and to connect consumers to businesses in their neighborhoods and beyond. In 2022, Mandy plans to launch Version 2.0 of her platform, which will enable consumers to target location and more categories of products and services and ultimately accommodate ecommerce transactions.
Among the many things Kate and Mandy have in common is their mission to help underrepresented and under-resourced business owners achieve economic success. And they are doing that by harnessing the power of the pocketbook to enable consumers to invest in the success of businesses that align with their values.
The pandemic has accelerated the trend of consumers shopping their values. At the same time Black consumers and women are wielding enormous purchasing power. Yet consumers who want to purchase from women-owned or Black-owned businesses can't always find the right way to connect. And brands of underrepresented businesses still struggle to get into major retailers. That's where the WMarketplace and Official Black Wall Street come in. These platforms are making the connection between value-driven, empowered consumers and the businesses those consumers want to support. The power of the pocketbook can be as impactful as a check from an investor – and it comes without strings attached. Using your spending power with the same focus as you might make an angel investment can have a similar impact – providing the dollars for an early-stage business to grow and prosper.
So, when you consult your holiday shopping list in the next couple of weeks, keep your values top of mind and make an investment in the economic growth of a woman- or Black-owned business through the power of your pocketbook. TheWMarketplace and Official Black Wall Street will help you do that.