Page 1

estimated read time: 6½ minutes

Venture Noire founder

Keenan Beasley helps Black business founders thrive by Davina van Buren

Photo: Lonny G a

My goal was never to be an entrepreneur. It was to fulfill my passion and purpose.

rd n

er

Although Keenan Beasley grew up in a family of nine to fivers, he has always had the heart of an entrepreneur. As a kid in Los Angeles, he collected recyclable cans for the deposits and mowed yards during summer so he could buy Christmas presents for his sister and parents. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a degree in law and systems engineering, Beasley embarked on a corporate journey as a marketing executive, managing and leading such multibillion-dollar brands as Tide, Gillette and Garnier at Fortune 100 companies like Procter and Gamble and L’Oréal USA. As a senior executive in these powerful ecosystems, Beasley not only mastered business fundamentals, but he also discovered why mission-focused organizations value a team-player mentality: “What makes a great company is that everyone works toward a shared vision, which eliminates the ego,” Beasley says.“You don’t work for people; you work for the company. Ideally, everyone has the same clear vision for the organization – then you can create a roadmap to achieve that.” These lessons served Beasley well in 2014 when he started BLKBOX, an integrated marketing firm in New York City. His team of young, hungry entrepreneurs delivered everything from brand development and creative solutions to a unique custom insights and analytics platform. They soon garnered an impressive portfolio of clients including Facebook, Beachbody, Western Union and Taco Bell, earning industry recognition and media accolades.

A 18

EleVate Magazine

May 2021, Issue 1

PERSERVERANCE

COMMUNITY, COLLABORATION AND CONFIDENCE   VENTURE NOIRE FOUNDER KEENAN BEASLEY


We need to shift the conversation from raising venture capital and getting money from outside sources to simply building great businesses, and allow the rest to take care of itself.

And yet for Beasley, something was missing: “I lacked a sense of community within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially in New York – it just wasn’t as tightly knit as places like Silicon Valley,” he says. “Particularly as a Black founder, I felt isolated.” Around that time, Beasley started to notice an increasing number of news stories about entrepreneurs acquiring venture capital funding. Though his company was profitable, he wondered if he was missing an opportunity. After an exploratory conversation with a friend who’d recently raised millions in venture capital, Beasley realized that outside funding has its place – but comes with downsides. Beasley knew there must be other founders who shared his feelings of isolation and desire for self-sufficiency, so he posted on an invite on Instagram for fellow entrepreneurs to meet at his Brooklyn apartment. He’d cook; they’d bring their favorite drink. “Seventy-five people showed up, and I realized there was a Black entrepreneurial community in New York City  –  we just hadn’t come together yet,” he says. “We were all fighting in our individual corners instead of coming into the ring together.” That night and during subsequent meetings, Beasley began to recognize a theme amongst his diverse colleagues: They were intelligent, driven and hard working, but many lacked the confidence to be an entrepreneur. “That is a critical skill set for a business owner,” Beasley says. “You need to be unbelievably confident. Then you need to think very big and believe in possibilities, especially when the thing you want to create doesn’t exist. Because of...systemic racism and institutional barriers. We have to bring back that sense of imagination and confidence and instill that in the community.” Beasley saw an opportunity to create an ecosystem for Black entrepreneurs, focusing on building great businesses – regardless of how they are funded. “Whether founders raise venture capital, take out loans, use credit cards or savings....it doesn’t matter,” he says. It’s about coming together, building amazing businesses and tackling the wealth gap in this country. That’s my passion.” In 2019, Beasley founded Venture Noire, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Black and minority entrepreneurs, out of the same Brooklyn apartment where those 75 people first came together in search of comradery. Venture Noire’s mission: connect corporations with communities to improve Black business health.

PERSERVERANCE

May 2021, Issue 1

EleVate Magazine

COMMUNITY, COLLABORATION AND CONFIDENCE   VENTURE NOIRE FOUNDER KEENAN BEASLEY

19 B


Venture Noire helps entrepreneurs through curriculum, mentorship and access to capital. The organization identifies global and regional problems, researches potential solutions, then executes those solutions in partnership with entrepreneurs in their network. Venture Noire’s ecosystem includes dozens of minority-owned startups on the cutting edge of technology, innovation and creativity. “A lot of entrepreneurs lose confidence when they’re not able to pull in millions of dollars in venture capital investment,” Beasley says. “This pains me because too many entrepreneurs believe venture capital is the only way to be successful or to prove your business is successful. It’s my goal to teach aspiring entrepreneurs 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.” In 2020, Venture Noire received a multiyear grant from the Walton Family Foundation. This grant allowed Beasley and his team to research and understand the journey of entrepreneurship for people of color. “There isn’t much data on that,” he says. “We talk about how difficult it is to fundraise, but that’s only a small part of being a business owner.”

It’s hard to have that sense of fearlessness when you are constantly overwhelmed with stories of failure.

@davinavanburen

In March of this year, Venture Noire received a second grant from the Walton Family Foundation, bringing its total funding to $1.3 million. Through support from this second grant, Beasley and his team launched In The Black, a new program that facilitates eight-week courses dedicated to advancing the overall health of Black-owned businesses in key fields like consumer technology, healthcare and fintech. These cohorts of motivated minority entrepreneurs culminate with a showcase in Northwest Arkansas – Venture Noire’s home base – for industry leaders and investors.

20

“There are lots of founders, but sometimes what we need is founding teams,” says Beasley. “It’s OK for us to come together and collaborate. If we both want to launch a skincare brand, maybe I’m good at marketing, and you’re brilliant at finance. As co-founders, we might make a very dangerous team. So maybe we come together and build something even bigger, faster by doing it together. I want to make sure we’re open to those opportunities.” Instead of focusing solely on acquiring venture capital, In the Black courses will educate entrepreneurs on identifying and achieving other key impact metrics such as increased revenue and payroll per employee. Beasley believes that improving the health of Black-owned businesses creates opportunities for those within the community to build generational wealth, closing the gap over time.

EleVate Magazine

May 2021, Issue 1

PERSERVERANCE

COMMUNITY, COLLABORATION AND CONFIDENCE   VENTURE NOIRE FOUNDER KEENAN BEASLEY


@_keenanbeasley

@keenanbeasley

Photo: USC Undergrad Chloe Johnson

We can work in teams and be unstoppable. Venture Noire is also launching educational networking events and a podcast through its Cafe Noire program. When it’s safe for everyone to travel, they plan to create an Entrepreneur Village summit series where current and future business leaders will participate in immersive experiences while strengthening their network and business skills. When Beasley talks about his nonprofit’s plans beyond this second year, it’s impossible to conceal his excitement: “I’m extremely energized and passionate about this space because I’ve had a chance to interact with so many incredible entrepreneurs,” he says. “And the excitement isn’t coming from an idea in my head – it’s coming from the energy I feel in the community and what I’ve seen in their desire. That grit – it’s special.” For Beasley, it all comes back to confidence. Diverse entrepreneurs face unique challenges in the business world; it’s essential to share knowledge and resources so everyone can advance together, faster. Being part of a diverse entrepreneurial community can be profound for those who have never experienced it. “You will meet challenges, but you learn how to power through them – that is what’s required in the entrepreneurial space,” he says. “Perseverance is a relentless pursuit of your passion and your goals. When you believe in something so strongly that you are intensely focused on going after it, that purpose fulfills you. As entrepreneurs, we must tap into that.”

PERSERVERANCE

May 2021, Issue 1

EleVate Magazine

COMMUNITY, COLLABORATION AND CONFIDENCE   VENTURE NOIRE FOUNDER KEENAN BEASLEY

21

Profile for Street2Ivy

Venture Noire Founder Keenan Beasley helps Black business founders thrive  

Community, Collaboration & Confidence Venture Noire founder Keenan Beasley helps Black business founders thrive by Davina Van Buren Estima...

Venture Noire Founder Keenan Beasley helps Black business founders thrive  

Community, Collaboration & Confidence Venture Noire founder Keenan Beasley helps Black business founders thrive by Davina Van Buren Estima...

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded