Impact Stories

First-person stories from people impacted by Ford Fund

Black History in the Making – 1863 Ventures is Making Entrepreneurship Possible for Women and Founders of Color

February, we celebrate Black leaders and Black-led organizations with the annual kick-off of Black History Month. The once week-long event became a month-long celebration in 1976, as a time to honor the legacy and contributions of African Americans.

At Ford Fund, we are amplifying the work of our partner organizations by showcasing their past, present, and vision for the future. In the coming weeks, stay tuned for additional features with Black leaders making an impact in our communities.

Seven years ago in a Georgetown University classroom, a student project sparked the genesis of 1863 Ventures. Founded by the dynamic Melissa Bradley – a wife, mother, serial entrepreneur, and McDonough School of Business professor – this initiative began as a two-day entrepreneur conference with a mission to uplift historically under-resourced small businesses. Fast forward to today, and 1863 Ventures, fueled by the unwavering support of Ford Fund, has transcended its roots, impacting the lives of more than 3,200 women and founders of color. This isn't just history; it's the ongoing reshaping of the entrepreneurial landscape.

We underestimate the power of women – given the right support, they truly can change the world. Melissa Bradley Visionary Founder of 1863 Ventures text to the right of 3/4 shot of Bradley with arms crossed, leaning against a metal frame

"We underestimate the power of women – given the right support, they truly can change the world," said Bradley, who is a champion of social entrepreneurship or businesses that make a profit and create a positive impact. Backed by a wealth of experience in finance and entrepreneurship, Bradley points to the numbers: "Women entrepreneurs in the U.S. represent the 5th largest GDP. When women start businesses, they fail 25% less than men and generate 40% more sales than men. Inherently, women-owned businesses and businesses run by people of color are focused on solving community problems. Women business owners hire within their communities and create more jobs."

Celebrating half a decade of partnership and collaboration with Ford Fund, 1863 Ventures stands as a model of impact and innovation. Bradley, reflecting on this pivotal 5-year journey shared, "When you're able to get on the ground locally and create an ecosystem of people to support a common goal, amazing things can happen."

One thriving ecosystem that's come to life from this collaboration is HERImpact, a dynamic pitch competition that launched in 2018. Ford Fund and 1863 Ventures have championed HERImpact, offering a platform for women social entrepreneurs to scale their ventures, fostering greater impact and long-term sustainability. Through HERImpact, over $300,00 in cash prizes and in-kind support have been awarded to help women and founders of color grow their businesses.

If you're a Ford employee with a passion for impact, take an active role in supporting 1863 Ventures. Make a direct impact by purchasing the products and services crafted by these innovative entrepreneurs. Stay connected on social media @1863ventures, where you can share and amplify their inspiring stories. Read their insight research to deepen your understanding of the entrepreneurial journey for founders of color. And finally, stay in the loop with their community – subscribe to their newsletter and ensure you're among the first to receive invitations to their annual Town Hall. Everyone is invited and warmly welcomed!