D.C. Entrepreneurial Instruction and Mentorship Network helps Jamaican native catapult her tech-forward beauty brand

WASHINGTON – (March 29, 2021) – Washington, D.C., entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups test the viability of an idea or product, create successful business models and develop go-to market strategies.

The funding is part of the Wells Fargo Foundation’s strategy that combines business expertise with resources to create more economic opportunity for people and a greater community impact. Wells Fargo is committed to making a positive societal impact and this support will enable EDNDC to provide the training necessary to assist rising entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups.

As an extension of GW’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, EDNDC is designed for Washington’s aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs across all industries, and works closely to develop their ideas through free training and counseling services with instructors and local mentors. The GW Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship hopes the program will be an essential step for inventors and entrepreneurs looking to bring new technologies and innovations to market or those pivoting when old models no longer work.

“EDNDC is a wonderful pre-accelerator opportunity for D.C.-based entrepreneurs to receive the support they need to strengthen their businesses post COVID-19,” Qyana M. Stewart, EDNDC program director, said. “This joint venture between GW and Howard University means the D.C. entrepreneurial community will have access to unique resources as part of a larger mentorship network. It also means that we can extend these resources to businesses that represent diverse industries from tech, to health and beauty, and everything in between. We have already seen impressive success as the first round of participants advance through the program. I look forward to witnessing the impact as the program grows.”

Shanice Black, a native of Jamaica and founder of the tech-forward digital beauty brand Bèlsou, is in the current cohort of the EDNDC program and describes her experience as a game changer. 

“The idea of Bèlsou came when I received a high-cost bill for an advanced eczema prescription cream that was not covered by my insurance,” Black said. “At the time, my eczema was so out of control, I was desperate for a solution and didn’t have the time to research more affordable alternatives so I paid for it. While going through this process, I wondered how many other people were like me struggling to understand their skin – and trying to find what works and what doesn’t work, floundering for a solution while their self-esteem and confidence are on the line and being limited by knowledge or cost.”

The name Bèlsou originated from the Creole term bèl, which means “beautiful,” and sou, an ancient African-Caribbean practice Black grew up admiring. A sou-sou is an informal savings club where mostly women ban together to form a collective savings fund to support their families and gain financial stability. Today, the tech-forward beauty brand aims to inspire smarter skincare purchases by connecting consumers to quality products, professionals and services that are suitable for their skin type; making the process more simple, affordable and beautiful.

A GW MBA graduate, Black spent the duration of her MBA program identifying foundational skills of entrepreneurship and uncovering the challenges women face as it relates to skincare, but yearned to build a strong network. Following the completion of her program, Black was introduced to EDNDC and has built a community filled with industry experts and mentors who have all walked this path before.

“Being part of EDNDC has me constantly excited about the future of Bèlsou and its potential impact,” Black said. “Because of this program, I am constantly reimagining the process and a potential future where women can consume and make educated skincare choices in a way that is affordable, simple and fun.”

Over EDNDC’s introductory pilot program, 75 entrepreneurial teams and small business owners from diverse backgrounds, including emerging neighborhoods and under resourced communities, will receive business counseling and strategic assistance from industry experts. Teams will receive an introduction to the Lean Startup methodology of business model development, including the customer discovery process, which helps businesses scale and adapt their business models based on interviews with potential customers. 

“Without the generous support of Wells Fargo Foundation, there would be no EDNDC,” Bob Smith, director of I-Corps programs at GW, said. “Together with our partners at Howard University, Pepco and the Washington, D.C., Economic Partnership, GW is excited and proud to help the next wave of D.C. entrepreneurs take the right first step in their innovation journey. We also look forward to contributing to building a strong, integrated, equitable and inclusive D.C. entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many inequities, the new program could help inventors, entrepreneurs and established business owners pivot to provide innovative solutions aimed at COVID-19.

“The pandemic has highlighted the deep inequalities that still exist in society.  There are dramatic disparities across education, health and economic opportunity. This program is part of the multi-faceted effort needed to address these issues and will help support underrepresented founders,” Grant Warner, director of innovation at Howard University, said. “The partnership between GW, Howard University, Wells Fargo, PEPCO and the Washington, D.C., Economic Partnership will help activate and catalyze entrepreneurs throughout the district and position the region for inclusive economic growth post-pandemic.“

The EDNDC program will provide the necessary expertise and training that entrepreneurs need to take the next step and succeed.

“The Wells Fargo Foundation is proud to support the Entrepreneurial Development Network, a partnership between George Washington University and Howard University,” Anna Bard, Wells Fargo senior vice president & community relations manager, said. “D.C. entrepreneurs like Shanice Black, and many others, will benefit from curriculum pertaining to their business stage, expert university faculty and supportive mentors who have personally experienced the joys and challenges of owning a business. This is a critical addition to D.C.’s small business ecosystem, and I can’t wait to watch participating businesses thrive.”

To learn more about the EDNDC program, please visit: https://innovation.gwu.edu/edndc.