On Nov. 9, 2023, at Spring Studios in New York, NY, 36 entrepreneurs were awarded monetary prizes during Demo Day 2023 to fulfill the non-profit initiative’s goal to create opportunity for minority-owned businesses and to close the wealth gap.
This is accomplished not solely by financial contributions but also by offering additional support via mentorship.
The Impact Of The Black Ambition Prize
“Capital seems like it’s the hardest thing to raise, but the truth of the matter is if you’re lucky and you get the capital, you’re more than likely to blow it if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Pharrell Williams, founder of Black Ambition, told AFROTECH. “So mentorship can actually help you with foreseeable issues and to help you raise capital as well. It’s like that’s really the ultimate goal is to have the right strategic scaffolding to help you move forward.”
Felecia Hatcher, Black Ambition CEO, attested to the success stories of previous Prize winners, those entrepreneurs who have received a boost through the organization’s collective efforts since it launched in 2020. Past winners have included Arion Long’s Femly and Camille Bell’s Pound Cake Cosmetics.
“I can keep going on and on about how amazing the companies have done,” Hatcher explained to AFROTECH. “Some of them have been acquired. Some of them are rolling out nationwide into Target locations, into Walmart locations. So the companies are doing phenomenally well, but it’s a testament to when you actually give the respectable amount of funding and the right amount of resources and real mentors that are really going to put you on and leverage their contacts like that. This is what happens as a result of that.”
Meet The 2023 Winners
The track record of Black Ambition’s initiative brings optimism for this year’s Black Ambition Demo Day winners.
According to a press release, 36 finalists were selected from over 2,000 applications and received cash earnings from $20,000 to $250,000. A few of the winners include Georgia’s Kristen Dunning’s Gently Soap ($75,000), UnDelay ($75,000), Saint Miles ($50,000), and BarBella Co. ($20,000), per The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The top eight entrepreneurs were selected to compete for the $1 million grand prize live on the main stage, as determined by a panel of judges that included Marilyn Webber Muffs, senior vice president, OMNI client strategy, Louis Vuitton; Erik Moore, founder and managing director, Base Ventures; and Jay Lundy, senior vice president, head of investments and new ventures, Combs Global.
Antoinette Banks, CEO and Founder of Expert IEP — an AI-based educational app — walked away with the ultimate prize and $1 million check presented by Williams and Hatcher. The application incorporates AI to support parents of children with disabilities in personalizing educational plans to suit their specific needs.
“Black Ambition is a feeling, it’s an overwhelming drive to show up consistently in excellence to create lasting, unapologetic impact,” Banks expressed in the news release. “For so long Black and Brown kids with learning differences have been underestimated and forgotten. Earning this $1M prize puts our kids back in the forefront, it gets people thinking deeply about solving the problems in special education. As Founder and CEO, I am deeply grateful to Black Ambition for believing in me, holding space for me, and breaking down barriers. It’s clear that Black Ambition is more than a prize award, it’s a shift in expectation for our culture.”
Other top awardees included Ecom Spaces ($250,000) and HBCU Grand Prize Winner Monocle ($200,000).
“I am from Guadeloupe. I moved to Atlanta in 2011,” she wrote. “Broken English, no money, no family, no support system, no credit score, because as an immigrant, you have to build all of these from scratch. But as an immigrant you also make huge sacrifices that others cannot understand.”
The sacrifices have proven worthwhile, as she emerged victorious in her first-ever company pitch.
“That was my first time pitching. I never pitched before,” she explained to AFROTECH. “Black Ambition, they gave us all the tools, they gave us the mentorship we had training. It was intense today. They really were the mother and the father that I needed to really push my business to other teachers.”
Advice From Williams
With new funding under their belt, the founders can also walk away with this gem from Williams:
“Be as curious as possible. Be as learning as possible. Be as studious and disciplined as possible, and align yourself with really good meaningful mentorship.”