Some people come into this world breathing business initiative and with entrepreneurship coursing through them like blood. One of those people is Richelieu Dennis. The gift of self-motivation and true entrepreneurship runs in his entire family, from his maternal and paternal grandmothers to his father, his mother, and right down to him. Surprisingly, Dennis’ father and grandmother spent many years of their professional life as business partners exactly as Richelieu Dennis and his mother did.
Beyond entrepreneurship, Richelieu Dennis is also an investor and a philanthropist, promoting other people’s welfare through money raised by himself and his mother within the Sundial brand walls and separate from his company. Dennis and his mother have spent equal amounts of time building Sundial Brands as they have promoted and furthered major international philanthropic endeavors like their Community Commerce initiative and Dennis’ New Voices Fund in conjunction with his incorporation with Unilever. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of Richelieu Dennis’s professional and charitable accomplishments.
Richelieu Dennis’ professional endeavors
Richelieu’s professional endeavors unknowingly began when he was still in college. It was all merry for Richelieu Dennis as he finally received a scholarship. At that time, Richelieu Dennis did not know that the scholarship was one of the stepping stones to his breakthrough. Richelieu Dennis started selling shea butter products to his classmates in Babson College. But where did all of the Shea butter go? Fortunately, Richelieu Dennis’ mother was a pro in making such products. She used to supply him with the shea butter products and later used the money he earned for personal upkeep.
So, how did the shea butter idea come?
Although he ended up operating a multi-billion manufacturer of top beauty and personal care products, Richelieu Dennis initial ambition was to return to Liberia after his studies and become a citrus farmer. He is proud that he became more of a harvester, still in line with farming. Though not a citrus fruits farmer!
According to Richelieu Dennis, he decided to focus on shea butter because it was one of the essential products that have been in their culture. People have been using shea butter to protect themselves from the sun for centuries in Liberia. So, Richelieu Dennis saw an underutilized potential gap where there was little or no commercialization of the use of these products. And that made him stand out.
From a college survival gig to a street vending business
After Richelieu Dennis mother came to the United States for her son’s graduation, the college survival gig evolved into a street vending business. With the help of his mother, Richelieu Dennis began preparing different shea butter products, including incense and soap. They also made shea butter by the ounce or pound and displayed them for sale in Harlem, 125th street, fifth avenue.
Breaking even, standing up, and breaking out
Many people would ask how Richelieu Dennis reached the point of breaking out from the street business. There might have been many guys on 125 street selling different items on card tables? But, Richelieu Dennis believes that very few of them had the kind of education he got from Babson. Dennis did know that he wanted to allow himself to take advantage of his college education and started delivering products to several customers. Richelieu Dennis and his mother would receive an order from other vendors and deliver using a Toyota Previa.
The delivery service grew to the point that they would supply to county fairs and flea markets. After months of providing in health food stores, Richelieu Dennis and his business partner started to think about going the way of retail.
Vending on the streets of Harlem to owning his own retail company
It took Richelieu Dennis approximately 16 years to take his entire business, retail. He worked with his mother (Mary Dennis) and his best friend (Nyema Tubman) in 1991 upon graduating from the renowned business school at Babson College and founded Sundial Brands.
Richelieu Dennis served as Sundial’s CEO and chairman until December 2019. Under Richelieu Dennis’ leadership, Sundial experienced tremendous growth with a product offering that included natural hair and beauty products. Dennis co-created an all-inclusive portfolio of offers with several primary US retailers and thus gained a global distribution of their products.
Today, Richelieu Dennis juggles four different job titles and each with its own unique set of demands. He founded and has run Sundial Brands since the beginning. Dennis took on the CEO of Essence Ventures LLC, an independent consumer technology firm he founded in 2017. Richelieu Dennis is also the CEO of New Voices Fund and founder of SheaMoisture.
On the 2nd of October 2019, the entrepreneur invested in seed round-solo funds at a value of approximately $1.6 million. Richelieu Dennis has also had three other partner investments with Venture Round- NaturAll, Series A- Bitwise Industries, and Series A- Sweeten.
Richelieu Dennis’ philanthropist endeavors
Sundial’s Community Commerce
Richelieu Dennis has only the interests of promoting people’s welfare which led to him setting up Sundial’s Community Commerce investments. Such a great move positively impacted millions of people throughout the company’s global supply chain.
In the United States of America alone, the company’s community commerce projects led to better infrastructure, healthcare access, better incomes, educational opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities, safer work environments.
For that reason, Sundial Brands have received many accreditations like Fair for Life and B Corp certifications for its efforts in corporate social responsibilities.
New Voices Fund
As part of a purpose-driven agreement between Sundial Brands and Unilever, Richelieu Dennis created a revolutionary $100 million New Voices Fund. The fund’s primary purpose was to empower and invest in black women entrepreneurs.
Additionally, Richelieu Dennis’ aim was for women of color who were also aspiring entrepreneurs to accomplish their dreams of skills building, leadership development, and networking opportunities.
Social Mission Board
Richelieu Dennis created this board after stepping down from his Sundial’s CEO and Chairman roles. He partnered with Unilever and Sundial to acquaint the idea and the outreach of Community Commerce with the world.
There is no doubt that Richelieu Dennis is a versatile individual who knows how to juggle a career divided between entrepreneurship and philanthropy. His contributions in both fields are exceptional and span many decades from the moment he went to work building his first business vending on 125th and Lenox in NYC. He is an inspiration to every young aspiring entrepreneur. Richelieu Dennis exemplifies the idea that anyone from anywhere can be anything they want to be and do as many good things for the world as they want to do if they work harder and smarter than they even think they can.