On Thursday, SheaMoisture haircare and skincare products founder Richelieu Dennis announced a $100 million fund for women entrepreneurs of color at the 2018 Essence Festival. The announcement surrounds the New Voices Fund that he’s been prepping for the past year.
“About six months ago, we announced that we were launching the new voices fund,” Dennis told the audience at the press conference during the Essence Festival. “I’m proud to say that we get to officially launch the $100 million New Voices Fund for women of color entrepreneurs here at Essence Festival this weekend. Over the past six months, we have already either invested in or committed to, over $30 million in black women entrepreneurs.”
As reported previously, Dennis sold SheaMoisture to Unilever in 2017. As part of the deal, he vowed to use the capital to create an investment fund for minority entrepreneurs, specifically women of color. Unilever and Sundial Brands, creators of SheaMoisture, agreed to contribute an initial investment of $50 million to the fund.
In addition to creating the fund to provide investment opportunities, Dennis wants to equip entrepreneurs with other resources to help contribute to the success of their companies.
“We are going to leverage the businesses that we’ve built—many of you know, Shea Moisture, Nubian Heritage, Madame CJ Walker,” he said.
There has been a push of late to find ways to invest and provide women of color the funding they need to launch businesses. Women founders received less than 3% of VC dollars in 2018. Investment in black female founders—who in recent years have been starting businesses at higher rates than any other group, so they’re not hard to find—was barely discernible, at .02%.
Recently, Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner of the venture fund Backstage Capital, announced that her new $36 million fund will invest exclusively in black women-led startups.
“When you talk to a group of white, affluent male investors and tell them you’re investing in women of color, the first thing that comes out is, `Oh, that’s really nice of you. That’s a great mission.’ They immediately correlate us to needing a helping hand,” Hamilton said in an interview with Fortune several months ago. “This is not that.”
Yet, women of color have been making progress in landing business funding. A recent study shows that more black women have gained access to venture capital since 2016. According to the new report, which was conducted in collaboration with digitalundivided, JPMorgan Chase, the Case Foundation, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the number of black women who have raised upwards of $1 million from VC firms has more than tripled from 11 to 34. The number of startups founded by black women has also increased 2.5 times from 2016 to 2018, jumping from 84 to 227.
The New Voices Fund provides a way for women of color entrepreneurs to approach Dennis for capital infusion. Because of the parameters of the fund, he is likely looking at businesses that are looking to scale and not just an idea on a sheet of paper.
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—Caroline Clarke, Selena Hill, and Samara Lynn contributed to this report.
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