Table of Contents
- Aurora James launched the 15 Percent Pledge to increase opportunities for Black entrepreneurs.
- The nonprofit says it’s helped generate $10 billion in revenue for Black entrepreneurs since 2020.
- Here’s how it plans to generate $1.4 trillion in wealth for Black entrepreneurs by 2030.
In 2020, a racial reckoning in the US led to a powerful moment for Black business owners.
From February 2020 to August 2021, the number of Black entrepreneurs in the US increased by 38%, making Black Americans the fastest-rising class of business owners. Black founders also saw an increase in support and interest from both consumers and behemoth companies. But that support has waned, and capital that was promised to Black entrepreneurs has trickled in.
Aurora James, the founder of the fashion brand Brother Vellies, wants to make sure Black entrepreneurship continues to flourish. In 2020, she launched the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit that aims to increase opportunities for Black entrepreneurs by guiding companies through the process of making meaningful commitments to them. The pledge asks retailers to allocate 15% of their shelf space to products from Black-owned brands, since Black people make up nearly 15% of the US population, according to the US Census Bureau.
Leaders of the nonprofit said in its inaugural gala on Saturday that the 15 Percent Pledge had helped generate $10 billion in revenue for Black entrepreneurs since 2020. It works with 28 retailers and has helped more than 400 Black entrepreneurs build relationships with companies like Sephora, Nordstrom, and West Elm.
James said her goal for the 15 Percent Pledge is to generate $1.4 trillion in wealth for Black entrepreneurs by 2030, adding that increased access to venture capital was integral to their success.
“Black-owned businesses are underfinanced and undersupported,” James told Insider at the event. “You’re going to see the pledge expand to make sure we’re building that support ecosystem for Black entrepreneurs.”
LaToya Williams-Belfort, the executive director of the 15 Percent Pledge, said it focuses on entrepreneurs because of their ability to “trickle down” opportunities: Support for Black businesses can help entrepreneurs create jobs, hire more employees, and contribute to Black communities.
“When Black business thrives, the Black community thrives,” Williams-Belfort added.
James, Williams-Belfort, and Emma Grede, the chair of the 15 Percent Pledge, told Insider how the nonprofit plans to reach its goal and further support Black entrepreneurs.
More pledges create more opportunities
At the event, James said the nonprofit could achieve its objective of generating $1.4 trillion in wealth for Black entrepreneurs if giant retailers like Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Target would sign the pledge.
When a retailer signs the pledge, the nonprofit connects it with Black businesses and then tracks its progress to hold it accountable. For example, when Sephora signed the 15 Percent Pledge in the summer of 2020, it carried only seven Black-owned brands. Today, it carries more than 20.
Grede said that getting more retailers to sign the pledge is imperative to helping close the racial wealth gap because it gives Black entrepreneurs the opportunity to have their products seen and bought by millions of consumers.
A focus on Black female entrepreneurs
Black female entrepreneurs in particular need support and a seat at the wealth-building table, Williams-Belfort said. A 2021 report from the Harvard Business Review found that while 17% of Black women in the US were starting or operating new businesses — compared with 10% of white women and 15% of white men — only 3% were running mature companies.
The report hypothesized that access to capital could dictate which types of businesses Black women launch and that without vital funds they lean toward creating businesses with low margins in crowded and competitive markets.
Before 2021, only 93 Black women had raised $1 million or more in venture capital, according to ProjectDiane, a biennial report on the state of Latina and Black women founders by the organization DigitalUndivided. Additionally, it found that Latina and Black women founders received a small percentage of the $166 billion in VC funding raised in 2020.
Pushing venture capitalists
After the murder of George Floyd, many venture capitalists committed to increasing capital for Black entrepreneurs. But even with those promises, Black entrepreneurs received 1.3% of the venture capital raised last year, Axios reported in February.
At the event, James told Insider the nonprofit would look to hold venture capitalists accountable.
“The economic landscape has shifted for Black Americans,” James said. “But there’s a lot of work to be done.”