The latest round of winners of the Famous Amos Ingredients for Success Entrepreneurs Initiative have been selected, and their businesses represent an impressive cross section of the entrepreneurial talent that exists in the African American community. It’s a community that unfortunately continues to be underserved when it comes to opportunities.
Each year since 2021, Famous Amos has partnered with the National Black Chamber of Commerce to award three Black, early-stage business owners with $50,000 in unrestricted business capital. But the Ingredients For Success Entrepreneurs Initiative gives its winners and participants much more than that, coupling the grant with business and mentorship resources provided by the NBCC.
The 2023 winners– Steffanie Rivers, Emir Horton and Londyn Jackson –have not only developed impressive businesses, they’ve done so through amazing personal journeys that have put them in position to inspire and support others in their fields. And they are all dedicated to doing just that: creating opportunities for those who may follow in their footsteps.
Steffanie Rivers, founder of TCB Drones, LLC, first became interested in the world of drone piloting when she realized that this global industry offered nearly boundless room for growth and advancement. After becoming an FAA-certified drone pilot and the first Black woman to own a drone technology company in Texas, she felt it only right to make sure to keep the door open after her by teaching the next generation of pilots.
“We’re working with younger drone pilot wannabes, putting them in a position to advance their careers and maybe even baby-step them into commercial piloting through our training and curriculum,” Rivers said following her win. “So it won’t stop with TCB Drones,” Rivers encourages others to try to conquer each and every challenge, adding that, “You’ll never know what you can achieve until you try to achieve more than you thought you could.”
While Steffanie Rivers is leading her students to seek new heights, fellow winner Londyn Jackson offers her students and their families the vital first step in their educational careers. Jackson is the founder of The Language Arc, a pediatric wellness and learning center that takes a different approach to helping neurodivergent children reach their full potential. Rather than solely focusing on educational milestones, Jackson and her team have created a system that takes everything about their students into account– from the world around them to the way they see themselves.
What makes The Language Arc’s system successful is that outside of their own facility, Jackson and her team work hand-in-hand with their students’ schools, families, and the other adults involved in care of the children to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working harmoniously.
The third winner of this year’s Famous Amos Ingredients for Success Entrepreneurs Initiative was inspired to launch his business by a much different set of circumstances. After relocating to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry, Emir Horton soon found himself homeless and underemployed. “The moment when I actually gathered stability in my lifestyle and my housing, I immediately reflected on those trying moments and times and realized I needed to be a better manager of my time; which meant I could no longer solely depend on this one stream of income from Hollywood,” he recounts.
Beyond wanting to control his own destiny, Horton was also clear that he wanted to create something with his own hands. When he created Eartha By Emir, an award winning timepiece brand which offers its customers “a reminder of the rich resource of time and [the] human attributes required to accomplish a mission greater than its wearer.” In launching his company, Horton also became the youngest CEO of a luxury watch company.
“What led me to entrepreneurship was the idea of taking back my economic freedom,” he explains. “[On this journey,] I have overcome homelessness, become a better manager of my time, and worked to create my own brand. The mission of Eartha by Emir is to lead an intentional legacy and maximize your time while doing it.”
Rooted in entrepreneurship itself, Famous Amos has set out on a mission of “advancing racial equity and supporting Black economic success,” as a way “to honor the legacy of Wally Amos, a passionate entrepreneur whose impact has led to so many joyful cookie moments,” said the company’s VP of Marketing Rachna Patel.
After narrowing this year’s applications down to ten finalists, the final decision was placed in the hands of three highly qualified judges: Steve Canal, CEO of Flourysh; Grant Warner, Director of the Center for Black Entrepreneurship; and 2021 IFS Alumni Tracy Vontelle Green and Nancey Harris, founders of Vontelle.
While 2020 saw a number of companies announce plans to support the growth of Black-owned businesses by leveling the playing field, the reality is that 2022 closed out with many still reeling from the economic upheaval that followed the pandemic. A Meta survey found that 51% of Black-owned small businesses experienced record low sales last year as a direct result of the vulnerable circumstances spawned by COVID-19. A similar report by Black Enterprise found that venture capital funding for Black businesses fell 45% after hitting record highs in 2020.
In its first two cycles, the Famous Amos’ Ingredients for Success Entrepreneurs Initiative disbursed $300,000 to six grant recipients which included a legal services business, a startup fresh grocery, and a luxury eyewear company.