Maxine Waters and CEO of Essence Ventures Richelieu Dennis Discuss Black Purchasing Power
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The room was packed with well-dressed Black people carrying briefcases in one hand, and tech devices in the other. It was here that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) kicked off “A Wealth Building Celebrity Speaker Series” at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s recent annual conference. Her guests were two highly successful Black entrepreneurs. One was Richelieu Dennis—who co-founded a personal products company using his grandmother’s natural recipes. Today, he is CEO of Sundial Brands, and Founder of SheaMoisture skin and hair care products. More recently, Dennis became the new owner and CEO of Essence Ventures—parent company of the once again wholly Black-owned ESSENCE Magazine. Joining him onstage was Bryan Scottie Irving, Founder and CEO of Blue Skye Construction whose multimillion building projects dot the nation’s capital. Their dialogue with Waters was timely. A newly released Nielsen report titled “From Consumers to Creators: The Digital Lives of Black Consumers” analyzes the buying power of African-Americans—with revealing results. Black purchasing power hovered around $1.3 trillion in 2017. And it’s expected to rise to $1.54 trillion in 2022, outpacing the total national population. That whopping 108 percent increase in Black buying power between 2000 and 2017 outperformed the 87 percent rise in White buying power, and all races combined during the same period. Moreover, the report found that digital media is among the strongest drivers increasing African-American buying power: Black consumers over-index for all things done on a smartphone, and are 28% more likely than the total population to try new technology products, including digital wallets, augmented reality apps, audio streaming services. Why is this important? And how should African-Americans harness this sizable economic clout? ESSENCE listened in as Waters, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services, probed the business moguls. Read on to glean how you, too, might attain boss status. –Dream big. “In every Black household there is some entrepreneurial activity,” says Dennis, who co-founded his business in college using recipes passed down by his grandmother. He hawked them on the streets of New York City. “At some point, you have to move from doing it at home to gaining real expertise. …We have to get intentional and deliberate about how you build your business.”  -Do your homework. Rep. Waters said people often come to her seeking information about how to launch a business, some of them seeking advice without doing the legwork. They don’t have any skin in the game!” “I’m a fighter everyday,” adds Bryan Scottie Irving, who shared that he often recommends a workshop to individuals then calls to find out if they showed up. “That’s how I know they’re serious.” -Your work ethic (and attitude) matters. “I worked for my mother, who comes into the office every day—she’s 80-years-old and signs every check,” said Dennis. “Every day is a different lesson. Sometimes I need the same lesson two or three times to make them stick.” Build your brand, then help others. Dennis has launched the New Voices Fund with an initial investment of $50 million to empower women of color entrepreneurs. The goal is to scale the Fund to $100 million. “Black women need access, support, expertise and capital,” he said. “I’m building something so I take that wealth and help the community. We have to create our own businesses so we can hire ourselves.”


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