This venture fund hopes to increase Black wealth by $100 billion by 2030

BY Preta Peace Namasaba June 10, 2024 7:12 AM EDT

While many Black entrepreneurs have the fortitude to start a business, growing and staying in business is an uphill task. Bloomberg reports that eight out of ten Black-owned businesses fail within the first 18 months. This is mainly attributed to Black businesses’ difficulty accessing credit and their likelihood of tapping into personal finances to maintain their businesses. Limited access to business training and mentorship opportunities also curtail Black business owners from achieving their full potential.

For this reason, Melissa L. Bradley, a tri-sector leader with over 20 years of entrepreneurship, investment, and leadership experience founded 1863 Ventures to help underserved entrepreneurs move from high potential to high growth. The business development program is on a mission to create $100 billion in new wealth by 2030 through its non-profit programming and venture fund.

The inspiration behind 1863 Ventures is personal to Bradley. She realized that entrepreneurship was a pathway to financial success while a student at Georgetown University. She ran three businesses, employed her peers, and reveled in the joy and freedom of entrepreneurship. After college, Bradley started a company to provide financial literacy services to Black people having recognized the lack of education and financial literacy options provided to the Black community. Her commitment to providing opportunities for minority businesses was further ignited when she was denied financing by a bank because of her race and gender.

“I went into a bank to get financing, and the associate literally laughed at me. He said that not only was I Black and a woman, but my community also did not have the money to pay for my services. I vehemently remember storming out of the bank telling myself never again. From that point forward, I committed my life to providing opportunities for the new majority,” Bradley explained her inspiration.

An investor, philanthropist, and left-of-center political activist, Bradley was the CEO of the grantmaking organization Tides Foundation, director of investment at CIT GAP Funds, and senior strategist of the Capital Access Program at environmentalist economic development firm Green for All. She worked as the managing director of New Capitalist and served as a Presidential Appointee under Presidents Clinton and Obama. Bradley eventually returned to Georgetown as a professor where she partnered with a group of her students to create an entrepreneurial summit that eventually grew into 1863 Ventures.

Initially, 1863 Ventures (previously called Project 500 and Accelerate 500) ran a program to help 500 Black entrepreneurial-minded residents East of the River in D.C. start businesses and create jobs for their community. What began as a three-year goal turned into an 18-month success story with 527 Black entrepreneurs emerging from the program.‍ The need for business training, mentorship, and capital for emerging Black entrepreneurs had never been more clear.  In 2016, Bradley founded 1863 Ventures to help New Majority entrepreneurs – individuals who have been historically marginalized and disinvested – grow their businesses.

“Once we were able to identify what were the unique needs of each of those segments, then, we’ve now developed respectfully an award-winning set of programs around that, which has allowed us to generate over a billion dollars of new revenue by our businesses. We’ve created over 3,000 jobs in the last five years. And luckily, we had a 95 percent survival rate post-COVID for all of our businesses,” Bradley said about what makes 1863 Ventures stand out in the industry.

The nonprofit currently works with over 3,200 early-stage and growth-stage founders through their formal programs across many sectors and industries. It utilizes capital investments, proprietary curricula, grant money, and corporate and philanthropic relationships to scale enterprises from high potential to high growth. Its investment arm 1863 Venture Fund I develops minority entrepreneurs through its business accelerator programming to provide risk-mitigated investments using revenue-based financing and equity capital. The fund has had so much impact that the District of Columbia selected 1863 Ventures as its General Partner for the Inclusive Impact Equity Innovation Fund, which focuses on supporting historically marginalized founders in the nation’s capital.

With funding from The Rockefeller Foundation, 1863 Ventures has provided additional support to 1,200 Black businesses across 14 cities in the United States. It has also partnered with Capital One to provide 100 Black businesses incorporated in the District of Columbia with curated online business development content, $5,000 grants, and three months of business coaching. Following the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the firm launched the 3Rs program with its partners to help stabilize Black businesses through leveraged capital, tactical content, and structured coaching. 1863 Ventures alumni have created over 2,000 jobs and generated nearly $400 million in cumulative total revenue.

However, Bradley and her team are not yet done. 1863 Ventures seeks to generate $100 billion in wealth for the New Majority by 2030. They plan on becoming a steward of economic development, the go-to model for business development programming for new majority entrepreneurs.