According to recent economic studies, the number of businesses owned by black women is growing at a faster rate than any other demographic, and yet less than one percent of black women entrepreneurs receive venture capital funding. Dee Poku Spalding, the founder of Women Inspiration & Enterprise (WIE) Network, wants to change that.
On Friday, January 11, Poku Spalding brought together several dozen business leaders at Rockefeller Center for the inaugural Black Women Raise forum, the first event of its kind to focus on how to improve black women’s ability to raise growth capital, scale up, and create pathways for the women behind them.
“Right now when you speak to the investment community about how and why they invest, they are investing in people who look like the people who were last successful. Black women don’t really have a shot in that scenario, because if you are only investing in people who look like Mark Zuckerberg, then it’s a non-starter,” Poku Spalding said. “The more that we can highlight other great stories of success, the stronger the trickle-down effect will be for women who are coming up.” The day-long conference included a keynote speech by Thasunda Duckett, CEO of JPMorgan Chase Bank, workshops, and smaller panels all focused on the specific challenges black women face in trying to raise capital for their businesses.
Poku Spalding felt it was important to create Black Women Raise, because the particular needs of black women are rarely addressed at other business conferences. “There are so many conferences that are very broad-based, and we wanted our event to be as useful as possible with this group,” Poku Spalding said. While the event was offered to women who have either raised or generated over $500,000 in revenue, she hopes to expand the network outward to the next levels of black female founders and entrepreneurs.
Networking, she said, is an invaluable resource for black women in all sectors of business, whether that manifests in a neighborhood mothers’ group helping one another with child-care needs, or in creating connections that lead to more equitable resources.
“I’ve found that every time I have a need, I can tap into my network and get to the knowledge, get to the funding, get to the access, very, very quickly,” she said. That network-building is a skill set she hopes to instill through her work with the WIE Network, as well as at the Black Women Raise forum and future events. “There’s value in creating these networks and focusing in on who [you’re] building relationships with and staying in touch with people. It’s been an invaluable resource for me, having strong people around me.”