New Program Accelerates Black Women Entrepreneurial Leaders

Diverse group of women in business

Over the past two years, the number of firms owned by Black women has soared by more than 160%.

During that same time, Shakenna Williams ’94, the director of global initiatives at Babson College’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, has met with women of color across the country to discuss the challenges they face as entrepreneurs, and what they were looking for if they had access to an accelerator program.

What Williams discovered was a desire not only for greater access to capital, but also to mentorship, networking, platform opportunities, and entrepreneurship education.

These findings led to the establishment of the Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (BWEL), an accelerator that helps Black women entrepreneurs scale their businesses. Williams shared her journey leading up to the founding of BWEL in a presentation titled “Closing the Racial Wealth Gap” at the College’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Village winter series, a string of interactive sessions on values-based leadership with Babson experts and industry leaders.

Coaching, Mentoring, and Bonding

BWEL’s spring 2021 cohort kicks off its experience in February with a daylong symposium. The 12-week program features executive coaching and on-demand learning. Participants will not only learn how they can grow their venture but also develop camaraderie and sisterhood.

“The value of diversity and entrepreneurship is a pillar of Babson’s approach to entrepreneurial leadership,” said Vice President of Innovation D.R. Widder MBA’99.

Access to capital also remains an obstacle that BWEL has set out to eliminate. In 2019, on average, Black women-owned businesses earned just $24,000 in revenue, while non-minority, women-owned businesses earned $218,800, according to the American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.

Reform could bring a monumental economic impact. If the average revenue of minority, women-owned businesses matched that of white, women-owned businesses, 4 million new jobs and $981 billion in revenue would be created.

“How do we move the needle to make sure these Black businesses are competitive and get full access to all resources?” Williams said. “We want to reach the women in underrepresented communities. Funding, we can do better.

“We are number one in entrepreneurship. I want Babson to be number one when it comes to Black entrepreneurs as well.”

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