March 7, 2019
BY Minyetta Nelson
An independent black company Essence Ventures LLC just acquired Essence, the premier black women’s lifestyle magazine, from Time Inc. This acquisition makes Essence a fully black-owned publication for the first time in nearly two decades.
The owner of Essence Ventures LLC is 48-year-old Liberian entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Richelieu Dennis. He is the co-founder of the personal-care products company Sundial Brands, which he started with his mother Mary and college roommate, Nyema Tubman in 1991.
Dennis was born and raised in Liberia where he lived with his parents. His father died when he was 8 and he moved with his mother to her native country Sierra Leone together with his sister. Both countries faced growing tensions at the time and Dennis gained a scholarship to the United States where he attended the Babson College in Massachusetts.
He graduated in 1991 when his home country and Sierra Leone were both facing civil war. His mother joined him after escaping the first civil war which lasted between 1989 and 1997.
Dennis could not return home, therefore, he teamed up with his college roommate Nyema Tubman to make soaps and other natural products. He had some recipes from his Sierra Leonean grandmother, Sofi Tucker, who made soaps with shea butter and salves.
They moved with his mother from Boston to Queens in New York after launching Sundial Brands. They sold raw black soaps and essential oils on the streets of Harlem and Bed-Stuy before they later rented a van to move the products to street vendors and shops.
They continued to grow progressively and are currently valued at $700 million in 2015, reports Fast Company. They created brands including SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, and Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture which are sold in large stores like Sephora, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods.
They sold minority stakes to private-equity firm Bain Capital in 2015 and currently, Richelieu Dennis’s mother is Sundial’s treasurer.
Dennis founded Essence Ventures in 2017 to focus on “merging content, community and commerce to meet the evolving cultural and lifestyle needs of women of colour.”