Jean Brownhill is known as the founder and CEO of Sweeten. The Brooklyn, New York-based business leader has developed the contractor matchmaking service on her terms. Brownhill has not allowed issues surrounding her race or gender to hold her back from achieving her dreams as an entrepreneur. The success she has achieved in the home remodeling industry has come against the backdrop of a traditionally male-dominated industrial sector.
Early Life and Career
Jean Brownhill is best known as the CEO of Sweeten. However, she made an Impact on the lives of thousands of African-American architecture students during her time at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. During her time at The Cooper Union from 1995 to 2000, Brownhill founded the African American Student Union. The group was created to support Brownhill’s fellow African-American students following their dream of a career in architecture. After graduating with a degree in Architecture, Brownhill worked for several globally-renowned companies before completing her education. Returning to education in 2011, Jean Brownhill was named a Loeb Fellow in Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Discussing her education and career, Jean Brownhill has said:
“The one thing I did right, was not to quit.”
The early career of Jean Brownhill reflects black excellence at its finest. Before heading to the Harvard University Graduate Schoo of Design, Brownhill set out on her career in project management and design. The early roles of Brownhill took her to several architecture firms in New York. A decisive moment in the life of Brownhill was her decision to join Coach as the Global Head of Architecture. The role gave her the ability to withstand the comments made about her in a male-dominated industry.
Brownhill stayed at Coach for four years between 2004 and 2008, with her role expanding and evolving over the years. The work completed at Coach and large New York architecture firms gave her the confidence and skills to establish her own company. Understanding the business side of the contractor sector has allowed Brownhill to raise venture capital funds for Sweeten. In an interview with Business of Home, Brownhill decried the cult of raising vast sums of capital.
”I wouldn’t want anyone to think that raising venture capital is the goal. It’s something you need to do to build a big company, but the goal is to build a big company that scales, and helps millions of people.”
Despite her history in project management and design, Jean Brownhill’s journey as an entrepreneur started from a horrific personal experience. Brownhill was renovating her own home and struggling to find experienced contractors to work with when hit on the idea of a contractor matchmaking site.
Brownhill explains her 2007 renovation turned into a nightmare when she hired the wrong contractor and was left regretting her decision. The renovation problems faced by Brownhill showed her that even an experienced architecture and project management professional was in the dark when hiring a contractor. After deciding to leave her role as Coach, the idea for Sweeten continued to be kicked around by the entrepreneur. As an African-American woman in a male-dominated industry, Brownhill was told she could not succeed with her idea for a contractor matchmaking marketplace. Her matchmaking site has put into place $1 billion worth of construction work. The site helps people by bringing together contractors experienced in projects specified by the client.
Leadership Roles and Awards
Throughout her career as the founder and CEO of Sweeten, Jean Brownhill has been rewarded with several awards. She is a long-term philanthropist who has focused her work on the structure of communities in real estate and education. The Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design has been forging improved opportunities for the African-American community.
Alongside the establishment of the African-American Student Union, Brownhill has taken inspiration from biographies to complete her philanthropic ventures. She sits on the board of the HELP USA not-for-profit group. The charitable organization works to provide shelter for the homeless and those in need of assistance in deprived communities.
Among the awards and academic honors bestowed upon Jean Brownhill is her Henry Crown Fellowship from the Aspen Institute. She was also rewarded for her work as an entrepreneur with the 2019 President’s Citation Award from The Cooper Union. Business recognition has flowed toward Jean Brownhill, with Goldman Sachs naming her to its 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs of 2020.
Jean Brownhill has spent much of the last decade working to improve the lives of women and people of color in the U.S. Her career has taken her from architecture to technology, and the summit of the contractor industry. Philanthropy and social awareness combine to make Jean Brownhill of our Black Excellence Series. A dedication to helping raise the profiles of African-Americans, women, and those in need shows the business is one string to the bow of Jean Brownhill.
Jean Brownhill is part of our Black Founders50 Series. Download the complete 2023 BBVA Founders50 list here.