BrainTrust Founders Studio is a tech-enabled community platform designed for the specific needs of Black beauty and wellness founders. Launched by Kendra Bracken-Ferguson and born out of BrainTrust, her social media and development agency, the mission of Founders Studio is to create inclusive economic opportunities for Black beauty and wellness founders, increase business performance, and build sustainable pathways for growth. Founders Studio has secured over $100 million in soft value from corporate partners including JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Afterpay, BeautyUnited, Clearco, and SHE Media to help solve critical business needs, provide marketing resources, and supply financial growth tools to support founders.

Kendra is also a three-time company founder, and has served as a mentor to entrepreneurs throughout her career. This led her to develop Founders Studio as a scalable way to help Black founders change the paradigm within the beauty and wellness industry. Kendra is also the co-founder of BeautyUnited, a nonprofit focused on diversifying the beauty and wellness industry. She is the host of Business of the Beat, a beauty and wellness podcast.

Beauty News: Tell us the inspiration behind the launch of Founders Studio?
Kendra Bracken-Ferguson: Founders Studio is an ecosystem of mentorship, education, community, and capital for Black beauty and wellness founders, which is such a passion of mine. Founders Studio is truly the evolution of my entire career all wrapped in this one moment of impact, especially with social impact and diversity. We are a membership-based platform, working with founders at all steps of their journey. Whether they’re in our start tier and need business planning and business banking, or in our growth tier and in a place of trying to expand their companies (anywhere from $10,000 to $5 million in revenue), we have executive coaches, corporate partners and agency partners that can help with that. These founders may be in retail or going into retail, or they may need new distribution. The big piece here is operational support. We’ve curated about 40 agency partners that provide everything from HR, finance, legal, PR, marketing, web design, whatever operationally founders need. For example, one of our agency partners, Berns Communications Group is offering space in their NY office and has committed to 155 hours of pro bono hours to founders. The third tier is Accelerate. This is for founders we will pair with an executive coach and also invest in. We’ll also bring in follow-on capital, for larger investments and acquisitions and provide them with executive coaching. Think of a founder like Kim Lewis from CurlMix. We’re working with her on the next phase of growth of the company.

BN: Do people have to become a member of BrainTrust in order to realize all these benefits?
Yes, it’s membership based. The start tier is free. When they move into the Grow Accelerate tiers, there are various degrees of what the costs will be. We will also work with corporate partners to provide scholarships. The platform operates through artificial intelligence and machine learning, and we have additional business automation tools. I’ve done one-on-ones with our inaugural launch founders. I’ve asked founders, ‘What do you need?’ Everyone says they need capital, but it’s not just the capital. Everyone says, I need to be in retail, but it’s not just the retail. You need business planning, you need staffing, you need resources, you need product, all of these pieces that truly build a sustainable company. When you come into the platform, you complete an application process, so we can understand everything from revenues to goals to operational needs. Are you on e-commerce? We have e-commerce partners who will help you. We have Clearco who will help with financing. We’re working with four divisions of JPMorgan Chase to make sure that we’re providing all the finance and business resources that our founders need.

The membership enables us to match our founders, using the technology, with the resources that will make an impact on their business. We ask founders, ‘Where do you want to go?’ We set goals because I want to make sure that we have tangible results. If we’re not moving businesses forward, if businesses aren’t around after a year of being in a retailer, then we haven’t done a good job to truly enhance the industry and create new economic opportunities for our founders.

I’ve started three companies, including Digital Brand Architects with Karen Robinovitz back in 2009. We were one of the first agencies to manage bloggers. The company was later sold to UTA. I founded BrainTrust in 2015. We work with brands, non-profits, and public figures and focus on social media strategy, influencer marketing, and brand development. Halle Berry was one of our first clients. As her business partner, we launched rē.spin (a health and wellness brand). I invested in Press and Curl Bar, a salon in downtown LA, and others. It’s the same conversation: How do we raise money? How do we run a business? How do we find a CEO? How do we get into retail? It became too much for me to lift on my own. I said I want to help so many people. I have answers, but I also have a network of people and the access, that is bigger than me, to be able to say, ‘Here’s how you need to think about developing products.’ We’re supporting founders, and fulfilling their needs to grow and sustain businesses. We are giving back to founders and sharing the education that we wish we all had. I didn’t have people to call. I didn’t have a network to tell me, ‘Don’t use that lawyer. That’s not a good legal deal.’

I’m so thankful for the 15 Percent Pledge. However, once the 15 Percent Pledge gets you in the door, can you achieve sustained growth? Just because there’s a place for you, does it mean you need to take that space right now? Do you know that the margins are 60 percent/40 percent? Are you aware that you have to fulfill a product order even if there’s a shipping issue? We want to give all that education.

BN: And especially connecting founders with investment opportunities because that’s one of the biggest challenges.
Exactly. There are so many different forms of capital. We are creating an entire financing continuum so that we can work with you, whether you’re trying to get pre-seed or whether it’s time for liquidity. I’m so excited about our partnership with JP Morgan Chase because we’re working with the Chase for Business team to do one-on-one coaching. We are working all the way to the private bank to prepare our founders for liquidity. There is a whole progression that happens in the continuum of support that founders need as they grow. We make sure that we hold onto founders until we get them to milestones that are going to impact the future of their businesses. We’re building the next generation of founders, and also supporting the entire universe of retailers, distributors, and manufacturers to help them be better partners, and create a better experience for customers.

BN: Sephora Accelerate has a program where they focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) founders. This sounds similar, but on steroids.
Yes. We have founders that are part of the Sephora Accelerate program, which is a great step. Founders Studio is a much more holistic approach because we are retail agnostic, we are manufacturing agnostic. We look through the lens of, Is that program right for you? Are there other programs? We want to work with Sephora and all retailers to bridge the gap as we create a holistic model.