Bentonville startup launches new cohort for Black entrepreneurs following $1.3 million Walton Foundation grant

Bentonville startup launches new cohort for Black entrepreneurs following $1.3 million Walton Foundation grant

Funds will be dedicated to advancing the health of Black-owned businesses

BCN Staff – March 17, 2021 — Bentonville-based startup programmer Venture Noire announced today that it is the recipient of a $1.3 million multi-year grant from the Walton Family Foundation that will be used to fund a new cohort initiative for Black-owned startups and entrepreneurs.

Through support from the Walton Family grant, Venture Noire plans to launch its new “In The Black” project later this year. Venture Noire Founder Keenan Beasley said the eight-week course will be dedicated to advancing the overall health of Black-owned businesses in key fields like consumer technology, healthcare, and fintech. The first cohort will culminate with a showcase in Northwest Arkansas attended by industry leaders and investors. 

“This is all about how do we improve Black business health. There has been an obsession with raising venture capital (VC), but frankly, I think it has stifled us a bit,” said Beasley, who started Venture Noire out of his Brooklyn apartment. (That) is only one of many vehicles to help capitalize your business and get it on the pathway to financial health, which is really the goal.”

Instead of focusing on securing investments, a time-consuming process that often takes the entrepreneur’s focus away from operations and growth, Venture Noire’s new cohort training will educate entrepreneurs on identifying and achieving other key impact metrics such as increased revenue and payroll per employee, Beasley said. Improving the health of Black-owned businesses will create an opportunity for those within the community to build generational wealth which over time will close the gap. 

“I see a lot of entrepreneurs lose confidence when they’re not able to pull in millions of dollars in VC investment like we constantly see of some startups in the news. Seeing this pains me because too many entrepreneurs believe that VC capital is the only way to be successful, or to prove that your business is successful,” said Beasley.

“It’s my goal to teach aspiring entrepreneurs that there are other, often more attainable ways to scale a business and I hope that by doing so we will create healthier and longer-lasting Black-owned businesses,” continued the former Procter & Gamble executive. “I am extremely grateful to the Walton Family Foundation for continuing their belief in Venture Noire and the change we’re looking to create.” 

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Walton Family Foundation influence

The new $1.3 million grant comes only a few months after the non-profit, Bentonville-based entrepreneurial service organization first announced the completion of its first round of funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which came through The Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. That funding was able to provide programming and resources, including access to capital, to over 1,000 Black and minority-owned startups nationwide. 

“Venture Noire is making significant strides in advancing inclusive entrepreneurship in Northwest Arkansas,” said Yee Lin Lai, program officer with the Walton Family Foundation. “Through innovative programming, the organization will support local Black-owned businesses and draw minority talent to the region.”

In early February, the Walton Family Foundation announced a new strategic plan for its next five-year grantmaking cycle. The plan reflects the foundation’s mission to tackle tough social and environmental problems with urgency and a long-term approach to expand access to opportunity for people and communities.

Working across its three, longstanding programmatic areas – protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, improving K-12 education, and investing in the foundation’s home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta – the plan places a strong emphasis on supporting innovative and inclusive solutions that support individuals and organizations striving for change in their communities.

“Today’s challenges are more complex and interconnected than ever, and solutions require setting ambitious goals, bringing people with different ideas and backgrounds together, and developing innovative approaches,” said Annie Proietti, board chair of the Walton Family Foundation. “As we work toward lasting change for tomorrow, we are committed to unlocking opportunity today and breaking down barriers that stand in the way.”

The five-year plan prioritizes three goals across the Walton Family Foundation: championing community-driven change to ensure the foundation’s work reflects the voices and needs of communities in which it works; prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion in the grants the foundation makes and the voices it engages; collaborating with partners to develop innovative approaches that bring people, resources and ideas together from across government, local communities, and the private and philanthropic sectors. The Walton Family Foundation, which includes three generations of the descendants of Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton, said it will provide more than $2 billion in philanthropic support over the next five years to achieve these goals.

Through the end of 2020, Venture Noire said it has hosted 27 total events, worked with over 200 Black and minority entrepreneurs and has helped to officially launch four new businesses which resulted in additional job creation. With the Walton Family Foundation support in hand, Beasley said Venture Noire is now seeking to raise $5 million in its second fundraising cycle to launch two cohorts featuring up to 20 startups to further support this ecosystem of underrepresented founders in the U.S.

In Arkansas, Venture Noire is now the third Black-centric group to spearhead a major fund-raising vehicle to enhance the growth of Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs in the Natural State. During the virtual Black Founders Summit sponsored by Little Rock-based ReMix Ideas Inc. on Oct. 22, organizers announced two “first-of-its-kind” venture funds for black-owned small businesses, startups, and sole proprietors that have been unable to access COVID-19 funding at the state, local and federal level.

At the summit, Southern Bancorp CEO Darrin Williams announced the state’s first $5 billion venture fund for black-and Hispanic-owned businesses and investors at the local summit. Williams, whose bid to become Arkansas’ first Speaker of the House before the Republican majority took over control of the Arkansas legislature in 2013, said Southern Bancorp and Pine Bluff-based Simmons First Bank have seeded the fund with $1 million each, raising $2 million to kick-start fundraising efforts. 

Southern is Arkansas’s largest Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with nearly $2 billion in assets, while Simmons First is one of the nation’s fastest-growing regional banks with assets nearing $23 billion at end of 2020.  At that same summit, ReMix and the Little Rock-based Urban League of Arkansas also announced the formation of the Advancing Black Entrepreneurship Fund to raise and award $1 million to Black-owned businesses by November 2021.

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Bridging the Black wealth gap

Venture Noire Founder Keenan Beasley

Beasley said Venture Noire’s mission will also seek to address income inequality by improving minority workforce creation and development, ultimately helping to close the racial wealth gap in America. He said most current conversations and corporate funds dedicated to supporting Black-owned businesses are aimed at improving access to venture capital investment for Black entrepreneurs. 

“When we talk about the wealth gap that is just increasing in this country, something that is one of the biggest plagues of this nation, we ask ‘how do you actually solve that?’ It is not through venture capital, which is less than 1% of all business financing, it is really going to be through debt-lending, community support, and through credit cards – these are the normal things that most of us use to start our companies,” said Beasley. 

“So, what I want to do is say, ‘let’s demystify what it is like to be an entrepreneur and talk about what is the goal of (financial) health,’” added Beasley. “The goal of financial health is increasing revenue and increasing payroll per employee. If you have those two things – you’re in a good spot.”

Venture Noire is recruiting qualified entrepreneurs, across the US, to join the inaugural course program, interested candidates can apply here. For more information on Venture Noire, or to back the entrepreneurial service group’s $5 million capital campaign, visit here.

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