Five Best Ways to Raise Money for Your Start-Up in 2023

Mary Kenner changed the way that women respond to menstruation. She invented the sanitary napkin belt, an amazing and practical invention for her time.

Yet, why is it that no one knows her name or anything about her? Likely because she had, what has been considered two strikes against her. She was Black and she was a woman. Imagine how difficult it was in the 1950’s for her to find someone to help finance her innovation and bring it to life. As a black woman, it is still just as challenging today to find funding for your business as it was 60 years ago. I learned this unfortunate fact the hard way, when looking to grow my own business.

In 2015, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated while trying to enjoy an evening at home binge-watching my favorite shows. I found it nearly impossible to find a comfortable position to relax and enjoy. The barrier to my comfort was bulky and cumbersome sanitary napkins that would not stay in place and provide me with the protection I needed. The more I struggled, the more I knew I was not alone in this frustration. But, what could I do to solve this problem?

As with any issue I face, I sought a solution. I wanted to find a way to address an unmet need, develop an innovative product that would provide comfort, protection and flexibility for users when and where they need it most. I had an idea – underwear with a gusset that could absorb on its own or hold a sanitary pad or a reusable, double-sided pad and keep it in place. I hit the ground running, engaging with designers to help bring my vision to reality, starting my business with my personal savings, and generating $1 million in sales. But I soon reached a plateau. I needed to grow, but my savings were tapped out. In order to grow my business and reach its potential, I knew I needed to secure funding.

In my search for financing, I quickly learned there continue to be vast inequities faced by black women business owners. Following countless failed attempts to engage VC’s, banks and investors, I finally broke the code and was able to raise $15 million and grow my business. I joined an incubator and learned from other start-ups. Armed with in-depth knowledge of my customer base, the market, my vision for scaling and KPI’s (key performance indicators), I had a package that answered the questions in advance. And, when there was interest backed by investment. Today, Ruby Love is poised to become a $50 million business plus.

I learned a lot on my journey. I learned what to do and what not to do and I committed to sharing my lessons with other Black women looking to start their own business. To help entrepreneurs looking to start their own business and get financial support, I recommend:

  • Be prepared. Sharing your amazing idea is only the start. Know your customer and everything about them (age, sex, demographic, physiographic, market size, etc., marketing strategy, how will you grow, how you will measure success, how you will use the funds, etc.). Joining an incubator really can help.
  • You will hear the word ‘no.’ You should also feel comfortable saying the word “no”. Not all investors are good for your business. You need to believe in your partners just as much as they need to believe in you.
  • Set boundaries and stick to them. You are no good to your business and your dream if you are not setting time aside for you. Take care of yourself. Find time to exercise, be with your family, enjoy some downtime – whatever recharges your mind and your body. Dispel myths like “founders never sleep,” “founders work in their basement.”
  • Surround yourself with a team that you trust. Make careful choices about who will be with you from the start. Do not rush to hire and make decisions quickly if someone is not the right fit. You can’t do everything so get the help you need.
  • Think big and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to get to your vision.

I look to share all my lessons learned with as many that will listen, so I co-founded a VC firm called CaJE, to support Black women by creating a new era of venture capital through “soil” funding. We should support our businesses so they grow and I truly believe that, through business ownership, Black women will pave the way to build generational wealth.

About the author

Crystal Etienne, CEO and Founder of Ruby Love, launched her unique health-leisure line in 2015, earning six-figures in sales in the first year of business and over $1 million in her second year. Despite her success, she struggled to find funding to expand her growing business.

Like many black, female entrepreneurs, Etienne was faced with challenges when looking to access capital. From banks to other financial institutions, investment in black women was scarce and efforts to change that pattern were limited.

Etienne pushed forward, stepping over those hurdles by bootstrapping her business to $10M before closing a $15M funding round in 2019. The investment enabled her to increase her team, expand her advertising and awareness efforts and focus on product development. Ruby Love has now achieved over $50M in sales!

The challenges Etienne faced when looking to fund her growing business taught her incredible business lessons that she is now sharing with up-and-coming Black female entrepreneurs. In fact, her recently launched VC fund, CAJE, is centered on helping entrepreneurs build scalable businesses, from start to beyond. Family and friend rounds played an important role in helping Etienne to achieve her business goals and they have played a critical role to many minority-owned businesses faced with lack of investment from traditional financial institutions.