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How this community is empowering 1,500 Black parent entrepreneurs to build a lasting legacy for their children
Featured in this Story of Awesome: Parentpreneur Foundation
Launched June 2020
The ParentPreneur Foundation is a free community that empowers Black parent entrepreneurs with grants, resources, webinars, and more.
The Spark: Juggling a newfound business and newborn twins simultaneously inspired James to find a way to support his fellow Black “ParentPreneurs.”
James’ Mighty Moment: “We’re not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We’re never going to be that. But we can give away $1,000 to these ParentPreneurs, simply to say, ‘I see you. I feel you. Here’s something to help your business be successful so you can leave a legacy for your beautiful Black children.’”
James Oliver Jr. freely admits that he believes in acting first and thinking later. “I’m crazy. Once I get an idea, I’m charging headfirst down the path.”
Unsurprisingly, when he started building WeMontage in 2012—a service that turns digital images into peel-and-stick wallpaper—he went in with the same mentality. But soon, life started to pile up around him. By the end of the year, he was out of cash and in need of credibility to raise $250,000 to get his business off the ground.
He also had a pair of twins on the way.
So when James got into a startup accelerator, he felt like he had gotten back his feet. “The accelerator was starting in January,” he says. “The twins were due at the end of March. So we thought, ‘That’s great. The program is over in April.’ But God had some other plans.”
Instead, James’ twins were born three months early. Suddenly, he was juggling way more than he expected: a new business, two children, and a daily four-hour commute between the NICU and the accelerator program.
“That was my introduction to parenting. Starting a business. Trying to get revenue. Trying to be a good husband. Trying to be present for the kids. It was a unique set of pressures that I had never really experienced before. And it was incredibly stressful.”
But then, a ray of hope: Right before demo day, as James was preparing to pitch to a room full of people, his phone rang. “ I get a call from one of the angel investor groups. And they say, ‘We’re going to fill your whole round. We’re going to give you $250,000.’ I was shook.”
With that funding under his belt, James started blogging about his experience, detailing his early days as a parent and entrepreneur. And eventually, he used those insights to write a book, “The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get: You CAN Be a Successful Parentpreneur.”
Bringing his experiences to light brought James new inspiration—and a new idea to chase. “After I self-published, I thought ‘One of these days I’m going to sell my business for $15 million. And I’ll take $1 million of the proceeds and use it to seed a foundation to empower ParentPreneurs around the world.”
Within every crisis, a rare opportunity
Then COVID hit. While most people were adjusting to the new normal, James was thinking about how could reach the goals he had set for himself. “See, I don’t do the doom scrolling,” James says. “Because I understand within every crisis exists opportunity.”
In March, he started reaching out to friends and acquaintances and shared his intention to eventually start a foundation. “One friend said, ‘Why don’t you do it now?’ I was like, ‘OK yeah. Let’s do it now.’ But I had no flipping idea how I was going to do it.”
Without worrying about the details, James started spreading the word. He wrote articles, updated his blog, and reached out to anyone who listened: He was going to start a foundation, and he was going to give away $10,000 to parent entrepreneurs.
“I had no clue how I was going to do it, but I put it out there.”
As he was working out the kinks of his latest venture, a series of events made him reconsider who his burgeoning foundation was for. “George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. All these things started happening,” James says. “I had my own Karen experience with a neighbor. The damage was done.”
Spurred by the racial injustices he was seeing and experiencing, James started researching income and wealth inequality. The statistics he found were disheartening.
“The median wealth of a white family is ten times that of a Black family. So after all of this stuff happened, I said, ‘Man, screw this. This foundation is going to be just for Black people.”
Fortuitously, he heard from tech venture capitalist Brad Feld around the same time. “I had been emailing him about starting a foundation. And after the George Floyd thing happened, I got an email from him, just a subject line, nothing in the email. It said, ‘Game for a 30-minute Zoom?’”
Brad had been looking to invest his time and money in projects that addressed racial injustice and inequality. So when James mentioned that his new foundation would be aimed at Black parent entrepreneurs only, Brad handed over a $50,000 seed grant. “I sent him what this would look like in six months, in a year. And I knew that a critical piece of the business model was going to be a community.”
Building a legacy
Today, that community—the ParentPreneur Foundation— is home to over 1,500 Black parent entrepreneurs and counting. As a not-for-profit, the community itself is free and provides Black Parentpreneurs with the money, tools, resources, and social capital they need to find success, both personally and professionally.
To do that, James partners with a variety of successful entrepreneurs in his network to offer his members everything from gift cards to therapy. “We are the place for Black people to be seen, felt, and heard as a ParentPreneur. We’re offering grants. We’re paying for therapy. We’re helping people get their LinkedIn profiles updated.”
He also offers webinars, where fellow entrepreneurs, marketing experts, and the like can share their knowledge. “As we started getting more momentum, we’ve been having these webinars,” James says.
“Seth Godin came in to talk about marketing. Pamela Booker, the CEO of Koils by Nature, came in and did a webinar, ‘How to crush your holiday e-commerce sales.’ Dr. Nekeshia Hammond came in and talked about balancing entrepreneurship and family.”
The ParentPreneur Foundation’s biggest offering is its grants. When James first kicked his community off, he awarded 10 recipients with a combined $10,000. And just last month, he gave another $10,000 in grants to another 10 people, out of 100 applicants. In the future, he hopes to offer more—but for now, he says, the Foundation has to crawl before it walks.
“We’re not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We’re never going to be that. But we can give away $1,000 to these ParentPreneurs, simply to say, ‘I see you. I feel you. Here’s something to help your business be successful so you can leave a legacy for your beautiful Black children.”
Charging headfirst into the future
For now, the ParentPreneur Foundation is on the up and up (and so are the twins!). “I’m in and out of the community all day in between breaks with the kids. They’re social distance learning, so I’ve got to help them. I’m ‘rona schooling along with them.”
And as his community grows and continues to provide support for his fellow Black parent entrepreneurs, James hasn’t given up on charging headfirst into the future. His eventual goal? To be the home of over 20,000 members and to award $10,000 each to 100 people a year.
“I’m still doing the work to get this community out there. I execute, I deliver, and I do what I say I’m going to do. And it’s working: Every day, I’m seeing people come into the ParentPreneur Foundation, and refer more and more people. I’m honestly so thankful for it.”