Inside The BrainTrust Founders Studio, A New Incubator With $100 Million Ready To Support Black Beauty Brands

Inside The BrainTrust Founders Studio, A New Incubator With $100 Million Ready To Support Black Beauty Brands
  • PublishedJune 7, 2022


Kendra Bracken-Ferguson has founded three companies, developed digital strategy for Ralph Lauren and partnered with Halle Berry on the star’s health and wellness company, Re-Spin. Across this work, she’s learned one thing: “I am someone who likes to partner to build brands, help people express their vision, and really bring that to life,” she says.

Bracken-Ferguson is taking her mission to an even bigger platform: Through her consultancy, BrainTrust, she’s unveiling a new Founders Studio for Black-owned beauty and wellness companies. Part incubator, part accelerator and part community hub, Founders Studio is launching with 25 entrepreneurs on its platform and more than $100 million in soft capital and business services from Shopify, JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, AfterPay, BeautyUnited, Clearco and SHE Media.

The BrainTrust Founders Studio will connect entrepreneurs with resources according to the stage of their company: if pre-seed or pre-revenue, a founder will be directed to education modules walking them through how to make a business plan, how to secure a manufacturing facility, and how to implement a direct-to-consumer strategy.

Founders who are a little further in their entrepreneurial journey—perhaps they have six months of a product in the market and are generating revenue—might get funneled into the Studio’s “grow” program, which helps entrepreneurs analyze product-market fit and connects them to Chase business bankers to shore up their financing and Clearco or BeautyUnited contacts for operational support. And for founders who have already secured funding and are looking for their next raise, or looking to exit, the Founders Studio “accelerate” program will offer financial and executive coaches.

“It’s everything from HR support, to finance, legal and insurance” help, Bracken-Ferguson told Forbes. In short, the Founders Studio offers advice and business connections that would have helped her as a younger founder—resources that are all too often not accessible for Black and brown entrepreneurs.

“The generational wealth that allows significant levels of funding from friends, family, and networks is simply not as widely available to most Black founders due to systemic economic oppression, lack of confidence in Black and women founders, and flat-out bias,” says Lauren Napier, a former celebrity makeup artist and founder of Lauren Napier Beauty. She knows this firsthand: Despite her 20 years of experience in the beauty industry, and great credit, she was denied funding when she was first starting out—so she started her company with a tax refund and her personal credit card. 

Napier is one of the 25 founders of the Studio’s first class of entrepreneurs and is using its resources to start a new entrepreneurial venture. Other founders in the program include Brown Girl Jane co-founder Tai Beauchamp, CurlMix CEO, and cofounder Kim Lewis, and Charbon Plus founder and CEO Lucien Aymerick Eloundou.

“I took time to have one-on-ones with every single founder in the Studio, and it opened my eyes to things that I maybe took for granted,” Bracken-Ferguson says. For example: “A lot of founders don’t know that even if you get shelf space in Target or Sephora, you still have to have a certain amount of insurance, so we have certified insurance brokers who can help you with that.”

Ultimately, Bracken-Ferguson says, the goal of the Founders Studio is to help entrepreneurs grow their companies sustainably, creating businesses that will achieve long-term success—not simply brands that have gotten a temporary revenue boost from a retailer signing the 15% Pledge.

“2022 has to be about moving beyond the pledge,” she says, noting that in addition to helping smaller brands grow, she hopes the work of the Founders Studio helps hold its bigger corporate partners accountable to their diversity and inclusion commitments. “It’s not enough for a brand to be on a shelf for one year. The true success is when we can look five years later and we can see that a brand has tripled in revenue dollars and in their retail footprint.”

Written by Maggie McGrath Oct. 20th 2021

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