Omi Bell, entrepreneur and founder of Black Girl Ventures, is a force that moves forward in the world that leaves you thinking about the big questions. We sat down with Omi to hear more about why resilience is a key to the entrepreneurial experience and what keeps her getting back up to show up with joy day after day.
It’s such a broad question, but tell us your story. How did you get where you are today?
I never know where to start. I had my first child at 17 and my second at 21. As a single parent in the U.S., in a country where making a living was really built for two incomes, I was on public assistance for 10 years before I even became an entrepreneur. I saw it as a means to an end. To help get me to that place where I had control of my own life and finances.
I had some great jobs working in K-12, I worked in a patent trademark office as a patent examiner. Then in 2015, I got laid off twice and I knew I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. But I was with a man who didn’t want that for me. I did the only thing someone could do when they’re looking for clarity–I went to a psychic. I felt really defeated. And the message I got was ‘When you find the thing you want to do, the money will come. And oh, by the way, you won’t stay with this man.’
So there I was. I had three children, I ended my engagement, and had no job. But hitting bottom was one of those moments when I realized, it couldn’t be someone else to get me up. I was the magic.
How did that entrepreneurship journey look? What led to Black Girl Ventures?
I tried a lot of different things. I had an Airbnb teepee in my living room I’d rent out, then I started a line of printed tees in support of the LGBTQIA+ community that failed. The shift was when I realized I had printed: “Made in America. Black owned.” And it took off. We invested my mom in particular, a lot of our resources to help scale the business. I learned how to sell more and better, and how to refine my story and have face time with customers.
As the business got bigger in 2016, I came across this statistic that said Black women were starting businesses at 6x the national average, but they weren’t getting the capital to continue growing. And my attention shifted to solving that problem.
The whole thing started with 30 women in a room pitching ideas. And the community just kept growing. We’d host get-togethers locally across various cities, we did live events at bigger and bigger venues. Women would come, pitch their ideas, then the audience would vote with their dollars. We expanded our reach to say anyone could participate in the voting, but Black and Brown women would win. And then the pandemic hit. We had been working on our virtual capacity because of the demand we already had. After the murder of George Floyd, participation boomed and we were ready to meet that moment.
Why is the work Black Girl Ventures so vital for women of color, and women of color business owners?
When my grandmother died, I remember the conversation was around who would get her stuff. There was no estate. Nothing she could leave to pass on wealth to the next generation. The work at Black Girl Ventures isn’t just about having a platform, it’s about economic development for women of color. Financial health, medical health, everything is related. Infusing capital into homes helps sustain families. I’m optimistic that the world of finance can become equitable, but there needs to be effort to make those changes.
So how is this partnership with MiiR a good reflection of your and Black Girl Ventures’ values?
What MiiR stands for is impact, engagement, and people. You wouldn’t assume most brands care about people in the way they do, but MiiR does. You want a partner that engages with your ideas, which is what led to creating the three designs on the collection.
Tell us what each design means to you.
Each design represents not just my journey and not just the journey of women and Black women. You can really say it’s the story of America. It takes resilience and strength because you get knocked down constantly and you have to get back up. The rose growing from the concrete shows what it means to break the mold and be joyful while doing it. And you can’t do any of it without community. I’m not the only one. There’s an entire community of people who want the same thing.
What keeps you motivated in your work at BGV?
I’m obsessed with changing people’s lives. It’s narcissistic to think that someone will be fundamentally changed when you set out to do something, but I like to think about it as a performance. When you go up to read poetry or sing, you get up there thinking I hope someone likes it. But it’s that other layer when someone comes away feeling changed, that’s what keeps me going.