Venture: Queen Latifah Partners With Essence Creators & Makers

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As a young child growing up on the outskirts of Newark, New Jersey, Dana Elaine Owens always had aspirations to become a great entertainer. She would grow up to become Queen Latifah and throughout her illustrious 30-year career, she has won multiple awards in the entertainment industry including an Emmy award, a Golden Globe award, and a couple of Screen Actors Guild awards.

Besides her accomplishments in music, cinema, and primetime television, she is also an accomplished businesswoman who has promoted fashion and lifestyle brands for women, with one prominent example being the Covergirl Queen Collection, a cosmetics collection line that is compatible for women of color. She is also the co-founder of an entertainment company called Flavor Unit Entertainment, which signed a multi-year agreement with Netflix in 2013 and a similar partnership in 2014 with Centric, the first television network that is aimed towards African-American women.

On July 13, it was announced that Flavor Unit Entertainment became the first partner of a new venture fund called Essence Creators & Makers Fund. This venture fund received a $20 million endowment from Essence Ventures, the parent company of Essence Communications, and the venture fund’s goal is to assist hopeful entrepreneurs of color to produce and obtain capital for their business projects.

Queen Latifah founded Flavor Unit Entertainment alongside co-founder Shakim Compere and it was unique for its passion for creating movies and shows that are aimed towards promoting African-American culture to a wider audience. Some of the most popular productions that came from Flavor Unit Entertainment include Beauty Shop, The Perfect Holiday, and just recently, the 3rd season of MTV slasher series Scream, which now has Latifah and Compere as the executive producers of the series.

The Essence Creators & Makers Fund strives to invest in women of color by helping them with their projects in film, television, digital and documentary-style content that showcases the lives and experiences of women of color to a mainstream audience. This venture fund can inspire many women of color to pursue a career in the startup and can certainly increase the percentage of women of color in venture capital fund, which at the moment is currently at .2 percent.

African-American women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, there was a 265 percent increase in the number of businesses owned by African-American women from 1997 to 2014. However, more than 50 percent of African-American women who establish their own startups received less than $100,000 and most of their funding comes from non-traditional resources such as loans from family members and personal savings.

The founder of Essence Ventures, Richelieu Dennis, explained that creators of color are held back by a structure that would see them work on a for-hire basis instead of being equity partners since obtaining finance is very difficult. Essence Ventures was at one point owned by Time Inc. and as it purchased Essence Communications, it had stated that Essence Magazine, a magazine devoted to African-American female readers, would now once again become an independent company that is “100 percent black-owned”.

Richelieu Dennis has become well-known in the cosmetics as the founder of a company called Sundial Brands, which produce cosmetics and hair care supplies that are compatible with the skin and hair of women of color. Some of Sundial Brands’ brands include Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage are usually found in the “ethnic” section of the beauty supply shelves and in 2015, the company had generated an estimated $200 million in revenue. Shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday in 2017, Unilever acquired Sundial Brands and its $240 million portfolio of personal care brands.

The establishment of the Essence Creators & Makers Fund isn’t the first time that Richelieu Dennis has supported African-American entrepreneurship as he had recently founded a fund last year called New Voices,  in which Unilever had also contributed to the fund’s establishment as well. This venture fund announced that it would invest $100 million in businesses owned by African-American women and the goal of the venture fund was to assist these entrepreneurs with monetary resources to build up their businesses.

One of Essence Ventures’ subsidiaries, Essence Communications, is known as a media brand that has produced high-quality media content such as the aforementioned Essence Magazine and the annual Essence Music Festival for women of color. The Essence Music Festival was also the event where the partnership between Flavor Unit Entertainment and the Essence Creators & Makers Fund was announced. Regarding her opinions on the importance of encouraging the growth of female African-American entrepreneurs, Essence Communications president Michelle Ebanks said,

"We must continue to develop platforms such as this that ensure we are in a position to control our images, provide content and programming that showcase the full spectrum of who we are, and offer the best creators and makers of color a full runway to show their cultural creativity and our vibrancy — not simply an industry’s monolithic view."

When talking about the partnership between Flavor Unit Entertainment and Essence Creators & Makers, Queen Latifah and fellow Flavor Unit Entertainment co-founder Shakim Compere have always looked at Essence as a great example of an organization that genuinely cares about showcasing authentic stories of African-American culture to a mainstream audience. She had also mentioned that Essence was influential in her career when it comes to portraying stories about people of color through her company and it is a trailblazer in creating content about people of color, whether in film, television, or music.

The partnership between The Essence Creators & Makers Fund and Flavor Unit Entertainment looks promising for the advancement of women of color in the field of venture capitalism. This partnership can also encourage more women of color to be aspiring entrepreneurs and become outstanding creators and makers in their own right and that they will still receive support and feedback on how to maintain and enhance their businesses.