Last November, 75 Black women entrepreneurs were invited to participate in a masterclass. The event, co-created by Cantu Beauty and advocacy group 25 Black Women in Beauty, was essentially a crash course in the fundamentals of running a beauty brand; from navigating press to managing social media to nurturing brand platforms. The objective of this program, “Cantu Elevate,” aimed to educate and expose its participants to all the moving parts required to grow and sustain a beauty brand, an often missing link for Black women in the funding space.
“Ulta can come to your door and say, we want you to be part of our platform. Or you get a spike in sales. What do you do with that? We see that a lot of times, the entrepreneurs just don’t know what they don’t know. Exposure is everything. If you haven’t been exposed or haven’t been educated in certain areas, sometimes it’s really hard to navigate the waters or you don’t have the network of people to fall back on,” said Dametria Mustin, Vice President of Global Marketing at Cantu Beauty.
“What we want to do is pay it forward. We want to open up the window of opportunity for more people based on the knowledge and expertise we’ve been able to get through the success we’ve had over the years. That is the key there. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you may walk in thinking one thing and you haven’t been prepared in the backend, and it can be detrimental. So we wanna just make sure they have the information upfront to be able to sustain their business and be successful long-term.”
After that initial class, Cantu and 25BWIB chose three standout brand owners to participate in the second phase of Cantu Elevate. Each woman received a campaign valued at $160K (!) and ongoing support from Cantu and its marketing partners The Sasha Group (a VaynerX company) and Reddish Agency. In fact, Arah Sims (Kyutee Nails), Tomi Alisha (Naturall Club), and Alicia Scott (Range Beauty) are still in the program, set to conclude in June.
“Unlike other programs where you get the seed money, [Cantu Elevate] is taking those funds and we’re implementing it for them. We’re doing the classes with the agencies, making sure we get down to the nitty-gritty behind the scenes. This is how you operate your Facebook and Instagram accounts,” explained Mustin.
“You have a very much hands-on, test-and-learn that they can walk away with and utilize in the future. It’s not a one-and-done program.”
Startup accelerator programs are just one piece of the funding pie. There are many different ways to go about getting monetary support for your brand, whether it’s beauty-focused or otherwise. However, what makes accelerator or incubator programs like Cantu Elevate so popular is that they’re more accessible than, say, venture funding or angel investing, which is notorious for being a very white and very male space. Though the competition is fierce, incubators, fellowships, and pitch competitions aren’t as discriminatory.
Still, there is some demystifying required. If you are preparing to apply to a program like Cantu Elevate, here are some things Mustin recommends you keep in mind.
Establish yourself before applying.
“We have one person that just launched last year and is just ramping up. Then we have another person who’s been around for years and has a nice foundation to be able to build from. So our requirement is that it’s past the concept and it’s in the commercialization stage. It’s gotta go beyond, ‘I just have an idea’ to you actually have a platform and you’re selling.
I always say go deep first and then go wide. Don’t start wide and then have to backtrack. It’s usually driven by passion. You spread yourself too thin. You have a huge assortment of items or you go across multiple categories versus focusing on a couple of hero skus, understanding the landscape, and optimizing accordingly.”
Take advantage of free stuff and budget accordingly.
“Check the return before you burn. Find out how much you’re going to get from what you’re spending. Are you spending on the right things? Is it the right timing? What can we do for free? I think people forget sometimes the free research you can do, the insights, and secondary data that’s available to you on this world wide web that gives you the percentages and the insights.
Start with a spreadsheet. What does success look like? What does success look like today? What does it look like five years from now? What are those key performance indicators (KPIs) that are going to help drive you to what you deem as success?
Sometimes you don’t need money to start checking the box. You can think of creative ways to get consumer insights. Go in a store. Talk to a manager. Stand in the aisle and listen to people’s conversation (about the products). Be creative, especially early on when you have limited funds to figure out how you fill in that spreadsheet.”
Listen and learn.
“I would encourage women to just get in the room in any kind of way and just listen first, whether it’s a free platform like Clubhouse. There’s a lot of virtual learning platforms that you can take advantage of. Sometimes you can overthink something and then you don’t move. The difference between you and a lot of other people can be you acting on it.”
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