When Kendra Bracken-Ferguson was in sixth grade, she decided she wanted to become the White House press secretary. It was a platform where she could shape stories and narratives that most appealed to her, not to mention an opportunity to significantly contribute to advocating change. After graduating from Purdue University where she studied public relations, Bracken-Ferguson founded Digital Brand Architects in 2009, which was one of the first agencies to consider “bloggers” as talent.
Fast-forward 10 years, and Bracken-Ferguson has since launched the BrainTrust consultancy in 2016. In 2021, she expanded it with the Founders Studio, an accelerator for Black-owned beauty and wellness founders. It is backed by $100 million in services and mentorship from companies including Shopify, JPMorgan Chase and Salesforce. So far, 29 Black business owners, including the founders of Brown Girl Jane and Underfined Beauty, have joined the studio.
How was the Founders Studio created?
“I’ve built three businesses, I’ve raised money, and I’ve sold [businesses]. I also host a beauty and wellness podcast called ‘Business of the Beat.’ I’m sitting there talking to founders every day, and I know how to help them. But how many people can I help with one text or one DM or email? With the Founders Studio, [I’m] saying, ‘We can create a platform that services all beauty and wellness founders.’ Black-identifying female entrepreneurs have the hardest time getting funding and have the lowest rates of funding. The Founders Studio became this amazing opportunity to look at everything founders need. And that truly is education, mentorship, community and capital. Our goal is to create more economic opportunities. Tens of billions of dollars of untapped revenue is going to come from the work that we’re doing.”
What are the primary goals?
“The biggest thing is verifiable, tangible results. There’s the overall studio goal, which is that we want to onboard and graduate over 1,000 founders, invest in about 100 of those, and help the remaining with follow-on capital and resources. We also want to have brick-and-mortar Founders Studio locations where founders can come in and have a workspace. And then on the founder level, we require our founders to set goals. Success comes about when a founder says ‘I want to go into retail,’ [for example]. Because we have retail partners and then can figure out who’s the best retailer for someone long term.”
What comes next?
“Everything for me ladders into the same goal and that’s really around parity. I am focused on ensuring the success of our founders, that our studio is well funded and that we have corporate partners who are committed to tangible results. My [overall] focus is really: How does the Braintrust become a catalyst to drive change in our industry through the lens of diversity? And how do we ensure that our founders have what they need for success and sustainability?”