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Empowering BIPOC Women Entrepreneurs

The power of an all-BIPOC, all-women accelerator cohort, and why it was so transformational.

Authors: Andrea Perdomo, Director of Portfolio Advancement

Last October, Common Future set out in search of ten organizations actively working to dismantle economic inequality—particularly by giving power back to communities left out of prosperity. After a rigorous ten-week review of 264 applications from across the country, we selected ten organizations—all led by BIPOC women—actively working to dismantle the racial wealth gap. Over the course of our three months together, we focused on removing social, financial, and political barriers in the way of these organizations enacting transformative change. Last month, the Common Future Accelerator 2023 Cohort came to a close as we hosted a Virtual Summit featuring the ten organizations as key speakers in four-panel conversations attended by over 230 people.

According to the Aspen Institute, “business ownership plays a significant role in wealth creation/accumulation and could help address the racial wealth gap in the U.S. while also creating jobs and stimulating the economy more broadly.” This sentiment is echoed repeatedly in theories around how specifically supporting Black women will further help close the wealth gap. Thus, we created this program to model what is possible when an accelerator is intentional about supporting BIPOC women entrepreneurs.

Through our program, we disbursed $500,000 in unrestricted grants to the ten organizations participating in our cohort—along with direct guidance for each organization’s leadership in the form of curated workshops and office hours—and facilitated over 100 introductions to a powerful network of mentors, investors, and leaders.

“Thanks to the connections and mentors, we are on our way to being able to hire 2-3 new staff members at the end of the summer. It was so helpful to have the Common Future programming and team support provide advice for the fundamental decisions around our organization’s structure.” —Roya Bagheri, The COOK Alliance

Program participants received $500,000 in unrestricted grants, which helped our cohort attract or fundraise $2.5 million in cumulative capital by demonstrating their capabilities and making substantial progress toward their goals.

“The Common Future grant helped us with credibility and the foundational tools needed to pursue larger grants.” —Roya Bagheri, The COOK Alliance

Those initial funds served as a catalyst by unlocking opportunities for additional financial support and enabling these organizations to make even greater strides in their respective missions:

  • Change Labs utilized the funding to support the launch of their coworking space on the Navajo Nation—marking a milestone achievement for their cause.
  • SEED notably advanced their product development, sped up progress by several months, and extended the working hours of a key team member.
  • While waiting for a larger government grant, the $50,000 grant helped the COOK Alliance “keep the lights on,”—as Executive Director Roya Bagheri explained—and sustain their ongoing projects.
  • National Black Food & Justice Alliance directed the funds directly into their non-extractive capital pool for Black farmers, intending to track the outcomes resulting from loans and grants provided.
  • For Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), the funding contributed to their general operating support and enabled them to offer retirement and life insurance benefits. 

Our specialized accelerator provided a platform for these BIPOC women leaders to connect, learn, and support each other in their respective journeys. In an era where representation is crucial, this all-women cohort shattered barriers and created a space for marginalized voices to be heard. 

Below are our insights around the importance of an all-women, all-BIPOC cohort, and the transformative power it held:

1. Psychological Safety

Creating a safe space where BIPOC women can freely express their ideas, concerns, and challenges was crucial.

In a society where systemic biases persist, BIPOC women may have experienced isolation, microaggressions, or imposter syndrome in predominantly white or male-dominated environments. By creating a BIPOC women accelerator cohort we were able to offer an environment where participants can find understanding, validation, and shared experiences. This psychological safety encouraged open dialogue, vulnerability, and fostered a sense of belonging that was empowering and liberating.

“The program summit provided the opportunity for genuine connection, vulnerability, and support from other women who understand where you’re coming from and what you’re trying to build. That’s very uncommon in these types of spaces.” —Ariana Miller, African American Alliance of CDFIs

2. A Real Community

Intersectional community in solidarity has transformational power.

The shared experiences of navigating intersecting identities while doing racial justice work provided a strong foundation for genuine relationships among our cohort. Intersectionality is a social and political resource that can create the conditions for change, and we saw that in action. The bonds formed within a BIPOC women accelerator cohort created networks of friendship, collaboration, and mentorship that we hope continue long after the program ends. Through this newly created community, participants have gained access to a diverse range of expertise, perspectives, and opportunities that can fuel their personal and professional growth.

“The open discussions and how people shared their personal feelings, their thoughts, and challenges made me feel seen and not alone.” —Jessica Stago, Change Labs

3. Dismantling Imposter Syndrome

The power of increased diverse representation at all levels

Imposter syndrome—a psychological pattern wherein individuals doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as frauds—disproportionately affects BIPOC women due to societal marginalization and lack of representation in the rooms they navigate. Recent data from McKinsey & Company shows that women make up less than 25% of C-suites, and Washington Post reports that people of color make up eight percent of C-suites. BBC reported that “women, women of [color], especially black women, as well as the LGBTQ community are most at risk,” when it comes to imposter syndrome. As Forbes explains, “it’s not surprising that underrepresented employees can continue to feel imposter syndrome no matter how high they climb in their careers.”

We chose to address imposter syndrome directly within our accelerator by supporting the women in sharing their stories, celebrating achievements, and receiving recognition from peers who understood their journey.  We also connected participants who opted in with certified executive coaches. This collective empowerment enabled these powerful BIPOC women to realize and leverage their true potential.

“I came into the space with imposter syndrome; knowing what work needs to be done to address the racial wealth gap for Native women but not feeling like I had the right or the place to put my solution to work. The connections made by Andrea and the encouragement she gave that I don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” helped me to know that I do know what I’m doing, I do have the right to do this work, and that I should have a seat at the table. “ —Onawa Hynes, Hozhonigo Consulting

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