Sundial Brands CEO Richelieu Dennis wants to use the legacy of one of America’s most important entrepreneurs to empower the next generation of women business leaders.
Dennis wants to turn Villa Lewaro, the New York home of inventor and entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, into a training ground for women business owners of color.
The Hudson Independent reports the home in Irvington, N.Y. was purchased last summer, but Dennis didn’t emerge as the buyer until earlier this month.
Dennis may actually be jumping into this venture at the right time. Irvington recently passed a new zoning law that allows historically registered buildings to be used for “non-residential purposes,” the Hudson Independent reported. This means the residence could be used for everything from tours, to schools, and yes, business training centers.
It’s a logical next step for Dennis. His company carries some of Walker’s products and last year he launched the New Voices Fund–a $100 million backed project to support Black women business owners. Whether Dennis has decided to use the house for the New Voices Fund has yet to be announced.
This week, Dennis appeared at the Irvington Board of Trustee’s annual meeting. He laid out his vision for the home and introduced himself to local residents.
“I think it’s going to be a very important project, not just for the legacy of Madam Walker, but for the legacy of women, period,” said Dennis.
Dennis said that he and his family have been working on this specific project for 7 years and that they want the home to be a “testimony to women’s empowerment” and a place where women can be proud of their paths to entrepreneurship.
“The same journey that Madam Walker embarked upon, women are still fighting that same battle today” Dennis said.
Dennis said that the plan for the home is still being developed, but that he and his team understand the importance and potential impact that a program like the one they’re proposing could have.
Dennis outlined the program as one that starts with an online curriculum that would graduate small classes of 10-12 women entrepreneurs. Those graduates would then meet at Villa Lewaro for further training.
“We haven’t nailed it all down yet. We’re very clear though that we have an opportunity to do something that could really impact women economically in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Dennis said.
Village officials told AfroTech that no formal application has been submitted by Dennis to reuse the home for non-residential purposes. Any proposals of new uses for the space must be approved by the Irvington Board of Trustees.
Dennis purchased the home from Ambassador Harold Doley and his wife, Helena.