Brian L Williams, Co-founder of BREAUX Capital
“How can we engage our demographic, in our way, using our cultural competencies and nuances, and the way we move? How can we employ information that might be hard to read, or just disconnected from our personal identity? How do we create a culture where you can reimagine your position and your participation within the system?”
Meet Brian L Williams (Pronouns: He/His/Him), a Brooklyn native who is passionate about creating a more empathetic world for all through social entrepreneurship. He is a lover of all things music and culture and uses biking to survive through Trump’s horrific presidency. Brian has a B.A. in economics from Morehouse College and is a co-founder of BREAUX Capital (While also acting a property manager and mathematics tutor). You can connect with him on Twitter.
How Did He Get Into This Work?
“You should build your own business.”
Brian’s mother grew up in the projects and was the first in her family to attend college, with careers in finance and fashion, while his father’s side of the family co-owned the first African-American owned hotel resort in the Poconos. While dinners with his parents weren’t exactly MBA seminars, entrepreneurship was clearly in the family DNA. When Brian expressed a desire to play football — perhaps due to worry about the probability of CTE — his parents withheld their permission instead suggesting, “You want to play sports? Cool. You can own a football team.”
Brian attended Morehouse, a Historically Black College (HBCU) where he would meet his future co-founders of BREAUX Capital. The three (including Derrius Quarles and Ras Asan Olugbenga were each studying sociology while studying abroad in Ghana and had the thought that “instead of just writing books and essays to detail issues, they wanted to build sustainable systems crafted as solutions to social problems.”
While in school, Brian experienced the death of both his parents. “While I had to manage their finances, and go to banks to ask questions outside of my personal finances, I found that the way I was received, and their implicit biases… that they weren’t used to people like me. The customer experience was poor, based in part, I think, because of my identity.”
Based on shared experiences like this, Brian and his classmates decided that “enough was enough,” and that upon graduation that their focus would be, “finding a way to reimagine our potential relationships with banking institutions or even disinvestment from banking institutions altogether.” While Brian described himself as risk-averse up until that point, he recognized, “I’ll never be this young again” and jumped.
At the outset, they asked, “How can we engage our demographic, in our way, using our cultural competencies and nuances, and the way we move? How can we employ information that might be hard to read, or just disconnected from our personal identity? How do we create a culture where you can reimagine your position and your participation within the system?”
Inspired by sticky community forums for African-American women, (such as Black Girl In Om) they created BREAUX Capital with their peers in mind — Black Male Millennials. (Note: BREAUX is open to all.)
What Project Is He Working On?
BREAUX Capital is the first fintech company advancing the financial health of Black Millennials with social banking – a combination of software and community, enabling savings automation, financial literacy education, and a burgeoning community. For 2018 BREAUX has “moonshot goals” — 10x growth. It’s now in ten states and hopes to expand nationwide by year’s end. In 2019, they aspire to go global.
Brian’s has his investor pitch down cold: “If you’re looking for the next group of entrepreneurs, VC’s of color. Those with future vision. If you want to triple your bottom line, find a company that will give you diversity, inclusiveness, and scope, you should mess with us. Our entrepreneurs are being empowered to start their own companies as well.”
Given that Black Millennials have reason to distrust the financial industry (see: subprime loans circa 2007) Brian has some guidance to those who wish to earn that trust:
“Have an understanding of the bottom line, who you’re dealing with. Understand our trauma, understand our history. In dealing with African-Americans you’re dealing with defiant people. We’re the sole community that didn’t voluntarily come to America. That defiance makes us the most hated, the most targeted.”
BREAUX is demanding a seat at the table, to make a radical change to a community that currently has negative wealth. Building trust among Black Millennials, then, won’t be easy. “If you’re unethical, you’re gonna lose us. And if do you lose us — given our cultural pulse — you’re gonna lose the world.”
BREAUX has three membership tiers, enabling one to automatically save money, and depending on your commitment, allowing access to financial literacy programs, events, and the community itself. Later this year it will be rolling out a mobile app.
How Did He Come to Civic Hall?
With a candor that is poignant in its restraint, Brian’s journey to Civic Hall hasn’t been a straight line. Brian worked out of our Fifth Avenue location a year and a half ago, where he and his team did not feel welcome: “We’re educated, but we weren’t always suited and booted, and we were the first to be asked to leave when Civic Hall was closing. Every time.” Brian recalls being singled out at the top of a Code for America event, “What are you doing here?”
This winter Brian learned that the applications process was open for our Entrepreneurs-In-Residence program and applied on a whim. He did not whitewash his past experience. In his essay, he threw down a challenge: “If you are really about being inclusive, and want to turn things around, you can hear my experiences and just do better.” He was accepted.
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
“Do not be surprised if I bring some of my sister’s students from where she teaches in East New York who are black and brown. We might try to connect them to people at Civic Hall who started their careers in data and are using their skills civically. Those who might be curious about how to start their entrepreneurial journey, no matter what their educational status.”
To that end, Brian asks that we as a community be “open to people who aren’t in certain spaces, who don’t know about non-profits. Just regular people not creating companies. Hear them out. A lot of time they have the answers, they have the keys. The reason why a lot of policies aren’t sustainable to the vast majority is that politicians swear off certain voices. There’s a lot of wealth and intelligence in a lot of marginalized communities.”
Brian is interested in everyone’s story and narrative and is inspired by their commitment to civic engagement and civic innovations to the City and the world.
BREAUX Capital intends to schedule a series of conversations on collective economics and tribe building, beginning in April. Watch this space!