Community//

Melissa L. Bradley: “Resilient, Courageous, Humble, Patience and Confidence.”

I would like to see changes to society that enable equity and access for all. We need to deconstruct and reimagine products that are inclusive and not exclusive in nature and develop markets and metrics that balance financial return and human betterment. I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa L. Bradley, co-founder of venture-backed Ureeka, […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

I would like to see changes to society that enable equity and access for all. We need to deconstruct and reimagine products that are inclusive and not exclusive in nature and develop markets and metrics that balance financial return and human betterment.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa L. Bradley, co-founder of venture-backed Ureeka, a community that connects black, brown and female entrepreneurs to the human, financial and technological capital they need to grow and scale their businesses. She is also founder and Managing Partner of 1863 Ventures, a business development program that accelerates New Majority entrepreneurs from high potential to high growth. In this role, she created a community of over 10,000 New Majority entrepreneurs in three years. Melissa also serves as an advisor to the New Voices Foundation and New Voices Fund, as well as the Halcyon Fund. Melissa is the former Co-Chair, National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and was recently named one of The Most Entrepreneurial Women Investors in 2018.

Melissa is a professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University where she teaches impact investing, social entrepreneurship, P2P economies and innovation. She recently received The Ideas Worth Teaching Award which celebrates exceptional courses that are preparing future business leaders to tackle society’s largest challenges and create a more inclusive, just, and sustainable version of capitalism. She is also a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Sidecar Social Finance, a social impact agency that provides impact investing advisory and capital services to individuals, institutions, and social enterprises.

Melissa currently serves as board chair for My Way to Credit (MWTC) and board member for AEO. She is a Founding Advisor to the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs as well as a Senator with the Board of Governors at Georgetown University.

Melissa’s educational background includes graduation from Georgetown University in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from the School of Business, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration in Marketing from American University in 1993.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Melissa! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I was born and raised in New Jersey, and I would say those years were very formative — particularly my high school years. I grew up in a single-parent household where my mom worked extremely hard so that I could go to private school. So much so, that she cleaned houses on the weekend. That was probably my first realization that the only difference between myself and the other children was the pure location and parent’s income. They weren’t any smarter than me — there’s a real construct of class.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am a huge fan of COINTELPRO PAPERS. This book made an impact on me as it supported my suspicion that the US government can control and expand/limit movements — for better or for worse. It drew me into policy and to serve in two administrations — with President Clinton and President Obama — to help leverage legislation to serve the greater public good, offer protections to those in need and allocate resources fairly and justly.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Sue me, I’m rootin’ for everybody that’s Black! — Wale

As a gay Black woman who wears men’s clothes, my life is in jeopardy every day as police follow me regularly and question my identity and legality. My kids fear something will happen to me when I leave the house — daily — even before the recent protests. So as many people are starting to find their voice through protesting, I know this is a new normal for me and many others. I’m rooting for Black people because I’m rooting for my family and friends. I want others out there to understand that they should not be afraid of Black people, but be afraid of the danger to this country when we are targeted and tormented, and any faction of its citizenry is denied that which is rightfully theirs. Remember that you cannot say you are fighting for our economic prosperity if you don’t acknowledge our painful history and take responsibility for our collective repair. The revolution will continue until we receive what is fair and rightfully ours as we built this country. I am also mindful of a friend’s words that the revolution must be funded so we as communities of color must band together with our financial, human, intellectual and all other resources to be ready to invest in ourselves and our communities as no one else will.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Black, brown and female small business owners and entrepreneurs — we call them the Next Wave Entrepreneurs — are starting and growing businesses all over the country in numbers set to create wholly new markets and cause a massive economic shift. These entrepreneurs are creating businesses outside of the major tech hubs and building products and services that reflect the desires and needs of a greater distribution of Americans. But, these entrepreneurs have largely lacked access to the secrets to growing and scaling most any type of business in the digital age. And what’s more, they’re often targeted by untrustworthy sources that promise access to those secrets — the technical acumen, the capital, the resources — they can’t provide. Ureeka provides a community that connects small to mid-sized business owners and entrepreneurs to peers, mentors and coaches, to trusted business and technology advice, to vetted resources and to capital that business owners need to grow and scale so they can achieve success.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

A hero is defined as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. When I read the definition, I think of my mom, many of my friends and fellow entrepreneurs.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

The characteristics that bind the heroes, in my mind, are Resilient, Courageous, Humble, Patience and Confidence.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

Courage.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

A couple of years ago, I found myself judging a $5M pitch competition in Buffalo, New York. This is where I met my future co-founder Dave, and, on the surface, we had NOTHING in common. He lived in the Bay, worked for a large tech company, and was a successful serial entrepreneur several times over. Though we presented very differently on the surface, we were both there for the same reason — to help entrepreneurs get access to capital and community. While Buffalo may have less access to capital and community than one might find in Silicon Valley, these Buffalo bound entrepreneurs were just as talented, just as smart, just as dedicated, and just as driven as ones that you would find in the Valley or New York. When you don’t come from vast wealth, are connected to the tech elite, or live in the few square miles radius that is considered the Tech Capital of the World, the challenges of entrepreneurship are greatly multiplied. This we could all agree upon.

Dave and I spent time talking on how supporting underserved and overlooked entrepreneurs — marginalized by geography, race, gender, etc. — was critical to the health of this community and the country. We realized that Buffalo was merely a proxy for the thousands, if not millions, of entrepreneurs around the country who suffer from simply not having the access to critical resources — from coaching and mentoring to capital to, most importantly, a vibrant community of like-minded entrepreneurs. As we talked for over a year, we kept trying to find ways to change the trajectory of these talented entrepreneurs and provide the resources they need. We knew that our individual and collective paths of angel investing, and board work were not having a significant enough impact on those that needed it most. That’s when we had our Eureka (no, our Ureeka) moment and we set out to build a platform where every entrepreneur — irrespective of race and gender — could have access to the best materials, resources, coaches, mentors, capital, and more than before has been reserved to certain types of entrepreneurs.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My mom is my biggest hero; as a single mom, she made me the person I am today. She is a fighter, civil rights advocate and fearless woman. I also admire our early freedom fighters — like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Ella Baker, as well as our current leaders like Brittany Packett Cunningham and Alicia Garza. I also see heroes every day since it takes courage to be a Black person in America today.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

Beyond the pandemic, this moment in history is extremely different. First, the consecutive nature of racial incidences — from Central Park to Louisville and Minneapolis. Three shots that pierced our realities. Second, we are all even more vulnerable as the world faces a pandemic. Communities of color have been hardest hit physically, economically and emotionally. Third, we have a president who has recently invited counter rioters and the military to battle against Black free speech. Finally, fear continues to mount as former majority communities are afraid as people of color are the New Majority. We see that the current power base is acting out of fear, and it is unacceptable.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I have had to make time to reflect and make sure I am doing all I can do at the present moment. I need to make sure my family is taken care of. I need to make sure my kids are safe. I need to offer hope in the darkest hours for their future. I need to protect myself.

And I am now contemplating what to do next. I know this is a new normal for me and many others. I can no longer remain isolated and work only to provide coaching and cash to entrepreneurs without a policy and legal framework. I can no longer fundraise without preparing a new narrative on why my Black community still has value as outsiders and anarchists loot our neighborhoods. The revolution will continue until we receive what is fair and rightfully ours as we built this country. I am also mindful of a friend’s words that the revolution must be funded so we as communities of color must band together with our financial, human, intellectual and all other resources to be ready to invest in ourselves and our communities as no one else will.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

As SMBs continue to suffer from the disruptions caused by COVID-19, Ureeka has remained focused on getting our community access to capital quickly and helping members navigate the devastating landscape. While a lot of entrepreneurs are struggling, I have been extremely inspired by their resilience and ability to pivot resources and funding to keep their businesses afloat. I have also been inspired by the corporations who are stepping up to support SMBs. We recently worked with both Facebook and Salesforce to administer grant programs and provide funding directly to SMBs across the country.

SMBs are constantly targeted by untrustworthy sources who promise to help them grow their businesses but only take advantage or never deliver. It’s disappointing to see people continue to prey on entrepreneurs at a time when SMBs need trusted resources now more than ever.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Recently, I just had a stroke and while I sought a path of healing and wellness, I found the world had erupted and my people and my planet were being crushed under the pressure and weight of racism, hatred, and pain. My view altered and rather than not address my health, I needed to take a step back and look at how I ended up here. I realized that my illness was the culmination and combination of years of fighting for my rights and the rights of my communities. Years of not being able to afford quality health care and being treated as a second-class citizen when being stared at by a white man in a white lab coat. I realize that for years my head and heart has been devoid of my body and I am now suffering the consequences of being Black in America.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I would like to see changes to society that enable equity and access for all. We need to deconstruct and reimagine products that are inclusive and not exclusive in nature and develop markets and metrics that balance financial return and human betterment.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

For years, I kept my motivations and impact to a niche community, however now I am realizing that if I was able to share wider, the weight barring on my shoulders would have been less and I would have had a bigger community to support me. So, I encourage the young people to be vocal and go beyond your community when trying to make a positive impact, so it allows you to get your voice and message out to the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a financial literacy movement that was grounded in allowing equity and access for all. It would be threefold: (1) educate individuals on personal financial literacy; (2) deconstruct and reimagine products that are inclusive and not exclusive in nature, and (3) develop markets and metrics that balance financial return and human betterment.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

For a long time, all the folks I desired to meet were dead people. Recently I have become fascinated by New Zealand’s President Jacinda Adrern. Her leadership under pressure, ability to show empathy and capacity to run a country are extremely impressive.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me on my Medium profile which can be found here. As well as TwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Shannon McLay and her team at the Financial Gym
Community//

4 Women Talk About the 2 Percent Club

by Doria Lavagnino
Community//

“When women and multicultural entrepreneurs succeed economically and participate professionally to their fullest abilities, we all benefit” with Edith Dorsen and Tyler Gallagher

by Tyler Gallagher
Community//

5 Ways to Close the VC Gender Gap with Melissa Cheong and Tyler Gallagher

by Tyler Gallagher

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.