Community Spotlight: Kendra Bracken-Ferguson of BrainTrust Founders Studio

BLCK VC
6 min readMay 17, 2024

Kendra Bracken-Ferguson is a pioneering force in the world of entrepreneurship and venture capital. With a career marked by innovation and empowerment, Kendra has dedicated herself to uplifting underrepresented voices in the business world.

After earning her undergraduate degree from Purdue University and her Masters Degree from Keller School of Management, Kendra embarked on a journey that would see her at the forefront of digital marketing and brand development. She honed her skills at leading agencies like FleishmanHillard and Ralph Lauren, where she played instrumental roles in shaping digital strategies and fostering innovation.

In 2009, Kendra’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to co-found Digital Brand Architects (DBA), a groundbreaking agency that pioneered the management of bloggers as talent. Under Kendra’s leadership, DBA grew into a powerhouse, representing some of the most influential voices in the digital space. DBA exited to United Talent Artists Agency (UTA) in 2019.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Kendra’s passion for empowering entrepreneurs led her to launch BrainTrust Founders Studio in 2021. As the largest membership-based platform for Black founders in beauty and wellness, BrainTrust Founders Studio embodies Kendra’s commitment to community, mentorship, education, and capital. In 2022, Kendra invited Lisa Stone to join her as co-founder and Chief Investment Officer. The two would go on to launch BrainTrust Fund I, a $15MM venture fund that invests in their BrainTrust Founders Studio founders.

Kendra’s impact extends beyond her professional endeavors. She is a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in the business world, using her platform to amplify marginalized voices and drive positive change. Through her podcast, Business of the Beat, now in Season 4 with over 170 episodes focused on showcasing key insights from diverse leaders building, scaling, and exiting their businesses to her new book, The Beauty of Success: Start, Grow and Accelerate Your Brand (recently named the #1 New Release in Business Entrepreneurship on Amazon) and her BrainTrust ecosystem -BrainTrust Founders Studio and BrainTrust Fund, Kendra continues to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future in entrepreneurship.

For our May 2024 Community Spotlight, BLCK VC COO Naima Warsame sat down with Kendra Bracken-Ferguson to delve into her inspiring journey through entrepreneurship and venture capital, uncovering her insights on empowering underrepresented voices in the business landscape.

Naima Warsame: Can you share more about BrainTrust Founders Studio? Is it your first foray into venture capital?

Kendra Bracken-Ferguson: Not yet. So BrainTrust Founders Studio, which I started in October of 2021, is the largest membership-based platform designed for Black founders and beauty and wellness companies. I started the studio to create an ecosystem of resources to help with all the things that I didn’t have when I was a founder and navigating investors while building my business. BrainTrust Founders Studio was built on my personal pillars of community, mentorship, education, and capital. In terms of capital, initially, I was solely focused on diversified sources of capital as I was told that I couldn’t launch a venture fund because I didn’t have the “right” background. I was looking at partnerships with Shopify, Lendistry, Clearco, etc who have been great partners and have helped our founders secure funding. Given my experience with securing investment, I also encourage founders to look at all options and determine if venture capital is the right next step for the business and to consider pursuing grants and pitch competitions.

I always knew I wanted to deploy capital, but as you’ve heard, my background is in marketing, PR, and business. I wasn’t exposed to banking or financial institutions. People in our community would often advise me to stick to what I knew, saying that venture wasn’t for me. However, fate intervened at a birthday party in Cabo where I met Lisa [Stone], who would later become my co-founder, chief investment officer, and General Partner in BrainTrust Founders Studio andBrainTrust Fund. Lisa and I have known each other for over 20 years. She co-founded Blogher, sold it to Penske Media, and has helped raise and deploy over $ 250 million. She saw what I was doing and offered to her help.

We launched BrainTrust Fund, a $15 million traditional venture fund. We invest between $250,000 and $2.5 million, across businesses that meet the criteria and are sourced from BrainTrust FoundersStudio. The studio serves as our pipeline, allowing us to track data, build relationships, and de-risk our investments as we get to know the founders and their businesses.

Naima: Congratulations on the launch! Also, I’d like to commend you on the release of the BrainTrust Founders Studio Economic Advancement Report. Can you share some insights into its significance?

Kendra: I believe, and so does our team, in verifiable, tangible results. As a Black, female founder, I have felt like I’ve had to work harder, longer, and faster in some cases. At times it’s likes Groundhog Day constantly having to reshare, reshow, and reprove my work. I learned this early in my career. Often times I would walk into the conference room and I’d be the only Black person, I’d be the only woman in some cases, or there’d be a few of us. And I would immediately be asked if I could get coffee or where are the meeting notes? And I’m like, no, no, I’m the presenter. I’ve seen this behavior firsthand in corporate, I’ve seen it in entrepreneurship spaces, I’ve seen it, raising capital. And so I said if we can generate the results and we can show the data versus just telling the data that Black founders are creating products that all consumers buy, leading trends, driving influence and consumption while also is not just a feel-good thing to do, his is the right business thing to do. And whenever we can talk about business and we can look at the data and we can let the data dictate the blue ocean opportunity and investing in these types of founders, this type of category, this type of industry, then it helps ease the journey of which we have to go through when we’re trying to raise money for different audiences and segments that traditionally have received less.

So, as we set out to package our impact, we emphasized the importance of economic impact. We believe that supporting the economy leads to greater opportunities. We focus on creating more jobs, increasing market presence, and boosting venture capital. This not only benefits the economy overall but also local communities. Our Economic Advancement Report tracks data on revenue, job creation, products, retail sales, founder influence, and venture capital funding. We’re intentional about advancing all founders by showcasing their substantial results and impact.

Naima: Despite challenges in the ecosystem, your community seems to be thriving. What advice do you have for aspiring black entrepreneurs?

Kendra: We are in this moment where there are legal battles against DEI and diverse organizations, attacks on affirmative action, it’s clear that the opposition is fierce. Despite this, opportunities for founders to secure venture investment and build successful businesses still exist. However, to thrive in this competitive environment, founders must ensure their foundational elements are in order. From legal documentation to understanding financial metrics like valuations, profitability, and EBITA, it’s essential to have a solid grasp of the business’s trajectory. Preparation is key — having a clear financial plan and model, along with a strong sense of ownership and understanding of the business, is vital for seizing opportunities as they arise. Additionally, acknowledging that perfection is unattainable and surrounding oneself with a supportive network is crucial. Whether through an executive coach or a trusted brain trust, having resources to turn to in moments of uncertainty is invaluable. Taking care of one’s mental well-being is equally important. By fostering mental fortitude and resilience, founders can navigate challenges and ultimately succeed. Through our efforts, such as the BrainTrust Founders Studio community platform, monthly programming, event activations and resources, and our subsequent BrainTrust Fund, we aim to provide support and lay the groundwork for success.

Naima: What are your hopes for the future of Black entrepreneurship and how does BrainTrust Founders Studio contribute to that?

Kendra: Our goal is to ensure that we’re consistently serving our community of founders’ resources, support, information, advising, coaching, and opening our own networks so that they have everything they need. I firmly believe that community, mentorship, education, and capital are the building blocks of entrepreneurship. That’s how we will all succeed, each with our individual platforms and companies coming together so that, wherever a founder goes, they feel empowered and protected, with access to the necessary resources. This unity is what will enable us to keep moving forward as a community, regardless of external factors such as changes in laws or public opinion.

Find a link to the 2024 Economic Advancement Report by BrainTrust Founders Studio here

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BLCK VC

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