Elon University Social Entrepreneurs Help Black-Owned Businesses Find New Customers
March 19, 2021
By Patrick Wright, Elon University
Go to college. Graduate. Find your dream job. That’s how things are supposed to work, right? But what if you reached what you thought was your goal and turned it down with no alternative in sight? Now, that takes boldness.
Doug Spencer Jr., a 2016 graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University and a former Elon Youth Trustee from Washington, D.C., had already enrolled in his dream law school when a summer job at a law firm changed his mind.
“It didn’t fit—it didn’t feel right to me,” Spencer said. “I called [the law school] and told them, ‘Thank you, but I’m not coming.’”
“I definitely wasn’t skipping through a field of daisies either,” added Danielle Deavens, a 2016 Elon graduate who majored in print and online journalism. She’d landed a job at Food Network Magazine after graduation and realized her dreams were somewhere else.
The search for a dream isn’t the only thing connecting Deavens and Spencer. They’ve dated since they met as first-year students at an Elon soccer game in 2012. Eight and half years later, they’re taking on a bold new business venture together—one meant to support and celebrate Black-owned businesses.
“You usually don’t work with the person that you spend the rest of your life with, and so being able to do both is at times hard, but it’s mostly the best job ever,” Deavens said.
Products from Black-owned businesses are prepared for shipping at Bold Xchange.
Together, the couple launchedBold Xchange, an online retail shop that markets products exclusively sourced from Black-owned businesses, in February 2020. Bold Xchange offers a convenient way to find Black-owned businesses across the country and promises fast shipping, no hidden fees, vetted products and thoughtfully crafted rewards.
Deavens and Spencer research and acquire products from brand partners, market them and handle fulfillment of every order themselves. It’s no simple task, but the opportunity to help good businesses break down barriers far outweighs the work required, the couple said.
“You’re reminded every day about how meaningful this is because you’re working with people who are also nourishing their baby,” Spencer said. “Their business is something they’ve put so much time into.”
Bold Xchange’s work with Black-owned businesses has already earned the company national attention. Since the online shop’s official launch in 2020, Bold Xchange has been featured byTODAY.comand partnered with Home Depot to curate a Black History Month box, containing Black-owned products, to be shipped to customers and influencers.
Deavens and Spencer also recently received a $50,000, equity-freeArch Grantto relocate Bold Xchange to St. Louis, Missouri, and use warehouse space there to grow their business further.
The most meaningful aspect of their first year of business, however, has been the opportunity to help Black-owned businesses thrive, even amid a global pandemic. “It’s so rewarding to talk to brand partners who say, ‘I had a banner year, and I couldn’t have done it without you guys,’” said Deavens. “That’s the dream—that you help somebody have a really great year.”
Bold Xchange was born out of a series of seemingly unrelated events. When Spencer passed on law school, he published a post about the difficult decision for a friend’s blog. His story garnered a great deal of attention and encouraged others to reach out to him for advice in making their own bold moves. That interest inspired Deavens and Spencer to start a blog of their own, “The Curatours,” which focused on young Black people doing notable work.
Around that time, Deavens was checking off presents from her Christmas list when a friend told her about a Black-owned formal-wear company that would be a great place to buy a pocket square for her father. Deavens enjoyed the shopping experience so much that she decided to buy all of her family’s presents that year from Black-owned businesses, but she was surprised by how difficult it was to find businesses to support.
Soon after, Deavens and Spencer launched Bold Xchange, combining their passion for sharing stories of Black excellence with their goal of supporting Black business owners.
“It was kind of born out of knowing these great Black-owned businesses existed, knowing it was a personal connection that led me to them, and wanting it to be a more accessible and simple experience,” Deavens said. “It all kind of started there.”
The summer of 2020 gave the couple’s work new meaning, as cries for social justice rang out across the nation. In the weeks following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—and the nationwide protests that followed—Bold Xchange saw a spike in visitors looking for ways to support Black-owned businesses. With the increased interest, the shop frequently ran out of inventory, and Deavens and Spencer even struggled to keep a supply of shipping boxes in stock.
But the success of their business wasn’t front of mind at that moment. Their focus was on making a statement. “We want to be a part of convincing people that this is something they should care about forever,” Spencer said. “So for both of us, it’s like, yes, we’re supporting these entrepreneurs, but how do we engage with people who are now paying attention and help them understand that this isn’t a fad, it isn’t fleeting?”
Deavens and Spencer are continuing on with that message in mind, as they form strong personal connections with the Black business owners who help make Bold Xchange a success. They’ve spent time learning about their stories, their concerns and their dreams, and the couple hopes to see brand partners reach their personal and business goals through Bold Xchange.
“I think there are these headlines around what supporting Black entrepreneurship means, and those are really important, but we’ve gotten to see the human element behind that and the actual impact that we can make in real people’s lives,” Deavens said.
Just like the brand partners they support, Deavens and Spencer have learned that stepping out on faith isn’t always easy. And it doesn’t always work the first time—just ask them about the 2018 beta version of Bold Xchange. Two years later, however, they’re running a successful business together and looking to expand their operation. And all it took was a little boldness—boldness that doesn’t stop here.
“If we’ve done this in one year, where will we be in five? Where will we be in 10?” Deavens said. “We have really lofty goals for Bold Xchange, so to be able to start to see even some of those come true is incredible.”
This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Elon University website.