GFTC’s Entrepreneurship Profiles series explores the day-to-day life of entrepreneurship – whether it’s scaling a business or conceptualizing ideas – we chat with founders as they take us through their journey and the passions driving their ventures.
At GFTC, our mission is to create a safe and empowering space for women in technology to utilize their gifts and talents to solve complex problems, change lives and positively impact communities through the use of technology. For our most recent profile, we’re excited to feature Shanice Black, a GWU Class of 2020 MBA graduate and founder of the tech-forward digital beauty brand Bèlsou, about her experiences as an entrepreneur and founder.
GFTC: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us! We’re excited to talk about your entrepreneurial journey, experiences, and – of course – your current projects! To get started, tell us a little bit about yourself and your work. What led you to entrepreneurship?
Shanice Black (SB): When I was very young, my family moved from Jamaica to the United States, which reset our life as we knew it. As a first-generation immigrant, I watched my mother and grandmother fight to create a life for themselves in the states through various micro-entrepreneurial ventures. I just idolized them because they had so much grit and dedication to creating a life for themselves here.
That’s actually where the name for my Bèlsou, my latest venture came from. Bèl is the Creole term for beautiful, and then “sou” comes from sou-sou, with is a collective fund woman in Caribbean communities start to support their families and gain financial stability. I wanted a unique name and celebrated my background and the spirit of entrepreneurship and female-driven success.
I think I always knew I would be an entrepreneur because I wanted to be just like these women. My mom always encouraged me to seize every opportunity that she did not have, which is how I got into this field – I just didn’t know what problem I wanted to solve until a few years ago!
GFTC: Absolutely! To your last point – finding the “problem to solve” can often be a key challenge. What can you tell us about your venture, beauty platform Bèlsou?
SB: In my early 20s, my skin was just falling apart. I was working as consultant while in school for my MBA and was I just moving at an extremely aggressive pace. I was traveling all the time, and the stress from all of that really started to show in my skin – I never had acne before, and I started getting hormonal acne all the time. While I was trying to navigate everything going on with my skin, I realized that skincare is really intimidating – and personal – there is no one-size-fits-all.
Eventually, I received a high-cost bill for an advanced eczema prescription cream that was not covered by my insurance. I was so desperate for a solution and didn’t have the time to research more affordable alternatives, so I paid for it. I was not only struggling to find what was going to work for me, but I also did not necessarily know where to find trustworthy information – and it occurred to me that if I didn’t know, it was likely others didn’t either, and were stuck with high-cost products and solutions due to limited options stemming from either knowledge or cost. With Bèlsou, my goal is to create a platform where people can learn more about their skin in a personal, realistic, and simple way. They can trust in the information, with nothing hidden behind it.
With entrepreneurship, it feels like you have to pivot like a million times on some days – and the end product is still evolving. Eventually, I envision a web-based platform where people can have a simple way to find information about skincare products and services while also learning about new things they can incorporate into their routine.
GFTC: With that in mind, what have you found helpful as you’ve conceptualized Bèlsou?
SB: Entrepreneurship can be a very demanding field. I recently participated in something called the Entrepreneurial Development Network, Washington, DC, a pre-accelerator program that provides access to a community of mentors familiar with the industry and have walked similar paths, which is really exciting. Every time I received feedback, I constantly found new ways to look at the problem that I’m trying to solve, reimagine what the future looks like for people who are trying so hard to understand their skin, and how to build relevant and engaging content.
It’s really cool when you have multiple people to give you a fresh perspective of different things to consider, especially as a solo entrepreneur, it’s been so beneficial to have people help me widen my aperture. For me, that is where the real value is – working with a supportive community that can help me see the bigger picture.
GFTC: That can be so helpful when in the early stages of building and scaling a business! What are some of your longer-term goals for Bèlsou?
SB: In the next five years, I’d love to just continue to grow and scale the business and build a team around myself. Most of all, I’m really excited about rattling the skincare industry. I think that (the industry) has gotten by way too long by not being innovative enough, forcing people to put themselves in a box and consume products and services that aren’t really meeting them where they are. This is the case of a billion-dollar industry where companies make tons of money from our imperfections, but no one is spending the time to make that process simple or learn more about us as individuals. I’m really excited about the potential of developing an engaging platform that helps people to be more comfortable with their skin.
GFTC: You mentioned the demanding nature of entrepreneurship. We explore the unique challenges and opportunities for female entrepreneurs quite a bit here at GFTC. What do you think some of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs are facing right now?
SB: I think the biggest challenge for young entrepreneurs is finding the support and the community to take an idea to the next level and scale it. I feel so fortunate to have been raised by a fearless woman who told me every single day, “It’s a fight for your dreams. When you wake up, that is a decision you make, you’re either going do it, or you’re not.”
Entrepreneurship can be so intimidating. It’s not as celebrated as other more traditional career fields. You really have to go and look for your resources. On the flip side, now is such a time for innovation and fresh ideas. There’s so much opportunity like so many businesses and companies are reimagining how they do business – there’s so much value that we as entrepreneurs can create.
GFTC: What is one thing you wish you knew that you might want to share that you want to share with others on a similar journey?
SB: I still have to remind myself every day, though, that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Many of the companies that we think of as hugely successful took years of them working on their dreams on the side, with lots of ups and downs before they got to where they are. So, my advice is usually not to quit your day job right away to pursue this passion project. Give yourself some time and grace to grow into your ideas. This is probably the only field where time is actually better. Usually, the first idea that you have isn’t going to be the one you execute fully because you’re so early in your thinking. When I first started out, I wish I knew to take so much pressure off of myself and let myself enjoy the beginning part a lot more.
Entrepreneurship teaches me every day that the work must come from a place of purpose – you can’t do it for superficial things like recognition or money. For me, my journey as an entrepreneur is so personal because I’ve lived it. Whenever I hit a roadblock, what keeps me going is knowing there are people out there that’s looking for something like Bèlsou.