Do Well by Doing Good

How one Kogod School of Business MBA alumna drives equity through entrepreneurship.

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Kogod alumna Melissa Bradley


 

When Melissa Bradley, MBA ’93, first met Facebook executive David Jakubowski, she wasn’t entirely sold. Bradley, a DC-based social entrepreneur who helps BIPOC entrepreneurs grow and scale businesses, wasn’t sure he fully grasped her mission.

One year later, Jakubowski proved Bradley wrong.

Jakubowski, who’d experienced the racial divide in Silicon Valley first-hand, resigned from Facebook to cofound Ureeka, Inc. with Bradley. Ureeka—Bradley’s fourth major venture of its kind—helps historically marginalized entrepreneurs grow businesses through marketing optimization, tools, and strategies.

“Ureeka is the nexus of everything I’ve been doing around incubation and acceleration,” says Bradley. “How do you create a viable business model that shows investing in marginalized entrepreneurs yields a profit? How do you leverage technology to scale it?”

A self-described serial entrepreneur, Bradley also leads 1863 Ventures, a nonprofit accelerator program that helps move entrepreneurs from founder to CEO; and Sidecar Social Finance, a company that fosters access to financial opportunities for marginalized entrepreneurs.

One shared vision unites all three ventures: Helping generate wealth within historically underserved communities.

“The missions work together,” Bradley says. “I want to help people do well by doing good.”

We sat down with Bradley to delve more into Ureeka, learn why DEI is at the heart of her work, and what it takes to inspire social change as an entrepreneur.

 Kogod School of Business: As a social entrepreneur, what drives you?

Bradley: Helping people do well by doing good. Pretty simplistic, but true. In terms of our country’s economic security, I want to ensure the largest population has access to the economic means to keep us going. When many people aren’t even making minimum wage—and have wealth disparities of 60 to 70 percent of their white peers—it’s like the fall of a civilization. Nobody's making enough money and the national debt becomes even more outrageous. I do this work because I care about the country. We must make decisions about the economy based on available inputs.

Fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is integral to your work. Why?

Black and brown people drive the economy. They’re also the fastest-growing segment in entrepreneurship. Covid-19 saw the highest peak in entrepreneurship in 40 years, fueled by BIPOC and women—particularly Black women. I’m motivated to drive diversity and equity within entrepreneurship because of the country's demographics and the demographics of entrepreneurship.

The work I do is not just because I'm Black; it’s because I care about people."

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Melissa Bradley

Kogod Alumna

What excites you most about Ureeka right now?

The ability to scale what I've been doing for years. I've been running an accelerator and subsidizing training because there are not many resources in the community. It’s great to see it come to life—Instead of helping 1,000 entrepreneurs a year, we're now helping nearly 1,000 a day. Seeing this work around wealth creation in overlooked communities at scale is incredibly fulfilling.

How are things going post-pandemic?

Ureeka is doing well. We already have 20,000 members and are cash flow positive. We're solving problems. For 1863 Ventures, we had a record year in terms of raising money and revenue generation—and have a 97 percent survival rate post-Covid. Then for Sidecar, we’re working with large institutions to create products and provide access to capital. We’re feeling good about the growth of the businesses we've been able to help.

 How would you describe your long-term vision?

Creating $100 billion of new wealth by and for new majority entrepreneurs by 2030. We’ve got a way to go but have made $300 million in five years and figured out a point of scale, so I feel good about our prospects. I’m particularly energized by leveraging technology and creating new products. I believe we can de-risk entrepreneurs, invest in them and help scale their businesses. Then no matter who they are or what they look like, they'll be ready for the more traditional capital markets.

 What do you believe business’ role and responsibility is in spurring social change?

The reality is business is nothing but a composition of people who've come together to pursue a mission and get paid for it. Whether they believe in the mission or not, they are part of a community. Based on the capitalist environment, this country, in particular, is driven by the success of communities. It is a triumvirate: the business, social, and public sectors all have a role to play. There's not enough money in the nonprofit or social sector to solve all of our financial problems. If we're all committed to coexisting, we have to recognize there’s a level of shared responsibility.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring social entrepreneur?

Be patient. When I first started, I thought change was a North directional pursuit. Then some macro-economic activity happened; I did a spin and went left and right. You have to be flexible and recognize this is a marathon, not a sprint. The US is yet to solve a social problem long-term. We did solve polio, but it’s back. So, the bar is low—but in a good way. What makes the US unique is we keep trying. Hopefully, this takes some of the pressure off. 

It's not about perfection. It's about that incremental change and improvement over time."

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Melissa Bradley

Kogod Aluma

At Kogod, we believe business is a force for meaningful change. What does using business as a force for meaningful change mean to you?

I think it means two things: One, businesses have the potential to create social change to the extent we’re able to leverage the public, private and social sectors. Then on an individual level, as students work for a company or start their own businesses, they can use business as a vessel for change. It’s both institutional and individual.

Learn more about Melissa Bradley and ventures Ureeka, 1863 Ventures, and Sidecar Social Finance.