For Arion Long, making it easier for women to have access to safe feminine hygiene products has gone hand in hand with raising the capital to do it.

Both have long been obstacles for women. But securing capital has been an added hurdle for Black businesses. Long has found a way to do both by mastering the art of raising money through winning pitch competitions and grants for her company, Femly.

“I’m not self-made. I’m help-made,” the 33-year-old Canton resident said with pride.

Since 2018, Long, the self-proclaimed chief estrogen officer of her company, has raised more than $1.2 million.

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Long’s success is a rarity in the business world. Black founders receive less than 2% of all venture capital dollars each year, according to national statistics. That number is less than 1% for Black women-led companies. '

“Black founders face big barriers. You are more inclined to fund patterns of people who look like you,” she explained. “It’s not they are not giving money to Black people because you are racist. But because you have not seen someone in a founder position.”

A near-death experience wasn’t enough to take away her drive.

In 2018, she lost a daughter during childbirth and was placed on life support. She contracted E. coli sepsis while in the hospital, which put her in a coma.

Two weeks later, she was off life support and successfully pitched her idea for natural, chemical-free feminine hygiene products at Hera Fast Pitch DC, a competition where for-profit startups vie for cash prizes. She won $10,000 that day.

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She credits the chain of events with jump-starting her fundraising success.

“That pitch competition validated everything for me,” Long said.

“It’s exactly like ‘Shark Tank,’” she said, referring the TV show in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of industry leaders. “It is the biggest adrenaline rush. But it is hard as hell. I have to give myself a pep talk and channel my inner Beyoncé.”

Speaking of Beyoncé, Long’s company received a $10,000 grant from the singer’s philanthropic offshoot, BeyGOOD.

Long started Femly and began developing natural products after being diagnosed with a cervical tumor in 2013. She believes her cancer was linked to chemicals in feminine hygiene products she was using.

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Although she started out with a subscription model, Long’s company also includes philanthropy. This year, she donated thousands of hygiene products to women in need across the globe. She recently sent 1,285 hygiene kits to Kenya in conjunction with Sagamore Pendry Baltimore hotel.

She just inked a deal with a Georgia school district to provide 93,000 students with hygienic products. She also has plans to expand her offerings to a number of colleges, including historically Black colleges and universities.

Long, a 2013 Morgan State University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in family consumer science and a minor in analytical marketing, attributes her entrepreneurial spirit to her HBCU education.

“Always find the quiet voice in the room that says yes,” she said.

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years.

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