Business Growth & Strategy

How 1863 Ventures turns entrepreneurs into CEOs

Melissa Bradley summit

Washington, D.C.-based 1863 Ventures operates in a unique space. It’s a nonprofit accelerator, a venture capital fund and an education platform designed to teach newly minted entrepreneurs how to build a business from the ground up.

But the organization goes a step further. The brainchild of Melissa Bradley (pictured, right), a former Presidential appointee and an adjunct professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, 1863 Ventures focuses on underserved and underrepresented entrepreneurs, giving them a foundation and pathway for success.

We spoke to Bradley about 1863 Ventures, its programming and why it’s important to serve what she calls “The New Majority.”

The need for training, mentors and capital

Vistage: 1863 Ventures operates in a fascinating space as a nonprofit accelerator, a VC fund and a learning platform. Can you talk about how 1863 Ventures started and how it has evolved since then?

Melissa Bradley: 1863 Ventures evolved from a 2015 entrepreneurial summit I created with students at Georgetown University called Venture DC to support emerging business owners from Southeast Washington, D.C. In 2016, we created a fiscally sponsored entity named Project 500 to commit to surfacing 500 D.C.-based, Black entrepreneurs in three years. The organization found 527 founders in just 18 months.

These milestones signaled the need for business training, mentorship, and capital for Black business owners and underscored a clear market opportunity to support local entrepreneurs in creating generational wealth. Today, 1863 Ventures is an independent, Black-led nonprofit organization providing access to capital and delivering business development programs to New Majority founders to bridge the gap between entrepreneurship and equity.

V: You used the term “New Majority founders”? What do you mean by that, and why is it important to serve this group?

MB: The term “New Majority” stands for underrepresented and underserved individuals, including but not limited to Black, Latino, LGBTQ+ communities and people of color. Racial inequities have cost the American economy upwards of $16 trillion. For context, only 1.3 percent of U.S. venture capital money went to Black-founded businesses in 2021, and Latino-owned businesses received a mere 2.1 percent.

We believe entrepreneurship is an increasingly viable pathway for building wealth. New business applications have increased more over the last two years than in the past 15. In 2021, 11 percent of new business owners were Black, compared to just three percent in recent years. An astounding 17 percent of Black women are in the process of starting or running new businesses. That’s compared to just 10% of white women and 15% of white men. Latina women, moreover, are the fastest-growing segment of business owners, having grown 87% since 2007.

Guidance to accelerate and scale

V: The uniqueness of 1863 Ventures comes partly from the programming it provides to entrepreneurs at the $50,000, $250,000 and $1 million ARR levels. What are these programs’ functions, and how do they help entrepreneurs at each level?

MB: 1863 Ventures is dedicated to improving the state of innovation and entrepreneurship in America by stimulating New Majority Founders via business development curricula, mentorship and fundraising opportunities. Our programs are tailored around the core functions of managing a business to provide comprehensive strategic guidance to entrepreneurs as they accelerate and scale their businesses. The one-on-one counsel we offer is crucial to breaking down concepts, including customer development, lead management, financial planning, affiliate management, product management, HR management, debt vs. equity funding and more.

V: 1863 Ventures has raised more than $43 million to help fund New Majority companies. Can you share some of your favorite founder success stories?

MB: It is a privilege to be instrumental in someone’s personal and professional development, and when they reach milestones, their road to success is placed into perspective. We are interested in helping entrepreneurs on their journey from founder to CEO. I think about New Majority founders like Janice Omadeke whose company, The Mentor Method, is a portfolio company of 1863 Venture Fund I.

Janice recently became the first Black woman in Austin, Texas, to achieve a venture-backed tech exit with the acquisition of Mentor Method by The Cru, a New York-based professional training and coaching company.

Leveling the playing field

V: Why is it essential that 1863 Ventures occupies a space like this, being more than an accelerator and fund, but also an organization whose mission, in part, is to “de-risk New Majority investment” and “steward economic development”?

MB: It costs at least a quarter of a million dollars more for a Black founder to create the same exact business as their white peers. Based on structural racism and generations of economic deprivation — with all the challenges marginalized people continue to endure — it is unrealistic to expect New Majority Founders to have the same trajectory and growth as their white counterparts. 1863 Ventures exists to level this playing field and enable access to capital as well as business development resources to accelerate New Majority-led businesses.

Rethink fundraising

V: What’s next for 1863 Ventures? What new initiatives, programs and ventures are in store for 2023?

MB: We are proud to partner with corporate and philanthropic organizations to further our mission of creating generational wealth for New Majority communities. In 2023, we are excited to continue programmatic work with Goldman Sachs, Ford Motor Company Fund, and Fiverr, among others, to offer fundraising opportunities, business training and mentorship.

On the fund side, we consider ourselves the venture capital fund for the District of Columbia and will begin a new year of administering investments for the Inclusive Innovation Equity Impact Fund on behalf of Washington, D.C.’s Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Office of Planning and Economic Development. Stay tuned for a new accelerator program we are developing in-house as well.

V: Finally, as a founder and CEO, what is the best advice you’ve received for navigating business growth?

MB: Re-imagine how you think about fundraising. When I started my first company many years ago, I was like, “I hate fundraising.” And a white man said to me, “Yeah, but it’s not you asking them to help you. It’s you inviting them on the journey because you’re going to be successful.”

I would also say: Talk to other entrepreneurs about funding. Everybody is looking for money, and we all find it in different places. If we communicate with one another and share resources, we’ll all be better off.

Photos courtesy of 1863 Ventures.

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 27,000 high-caliber execu

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