Producer and rapper Pharrell Williams coupled his entrepreneurial spirit and activism with the launch of Black Ambition in December 2020, when he launched an incubator for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs launching start-ups in tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products.
Black Ambition is a nonprofit initiative working towards closing the opportunity and wealth gap through entrepreneurship with a set of prizes to fund bold ideas and companies led by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.
The Black Ambition Prize competition is a set of two prizes, The General Prize track and the HBCU Prize track. The 2022 cohort of 249 semifinalists participated in a 3-month mentor program. The initiative provides founders with peer-to-peer learning, curated training, and networking opportunities.
The semifinalists were then narrowed down to 50 finalists. The businesses were partnered with a pitch coach for online and in-person pitch coaching, and access to graphic designers who helped update pitch decks and other marketing collateral for use beyond the Black Ambition Prize competition to matriculate into other accelerator programs and venture funds.
"We are so proud of all of these entrepreneurs that went through the Black Ambition Prize program, and it's amazing to see these ideas and businesses come to life," said Black Ambition founder Pharrell Williams. "Black Ambition paves the way for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs to turn their Mighty Dream into a reality."
This year, Black Ambition awarded $2.5MM to 31 founders, saw a 20% increase in applications, and those applicants have generated more than $405 million in revenue and raised $72 million in capital to date. Beauty start-up Pound Cake Cosmetics took home the top prize, a $1 million financial award, with four other beauty brands making the final cut.
Pound Cake founder Camille Bell shared, “For the first time in this entire journey, I have finally felt seen and heard. And that's thanks to everyone at Black Ambition. Seeing three black and brown faces staring back at me at the judges panel on Demo Day was such a surreal moment, and I don't take that for granted. I don't know any other programs that are out there like this one—that truly take the time and care to fully support in all facets, black and brown entrepreneurs."
Pound Cake Cosmetics: Founded in 2021 by Chief Executive Officer Camille Bell and Chief Branding Officer Johnny Velazquez, Pound Cake is a Black and Latinx-owned company revolutionizing how color cosmetics are made for darker skin. The duo began developing the concept as undergrads in Temple's entrepreneurship program, Blackstone LaunchPad, in 2016. The brand launched five liquid lipsticks developed with proprietary Tone Variant Technology for five different lip and skin tones that deliver a true red, liquid vegan lipstick for every skin color.
The $1 million Black Ambition Grant will propel its mission to authentically highlight beauty lovers who are BIPOC, fat-identifying, trans, and nonbinary.
Other beauty brands that were Black Ambition prizewinners receiving financial awards ranging from $15,000–$100,000 included:
Jacq's is a vegan and sustainable skincare line created for women of color by women launched by Haitian entrepreneur Barbara Jacques in 2017 with $1,000 and a mission to change the way the beauty industry sees skincare and women of color. The products are science backed, plant powered, and explicitly formulated for melanated skin. The brand is sold in specialty retailers and spas, landing its first major retail partnership in 2021 when Jacq's launched with Target online with an assortment of 13 products.
Kazmaleje (pronounced "cosmology") was founded in 2016 by the Stirrup sisters—LaToya, LaTasha, and LaTrice—who are passionate about developing products that take a fresh approach to solving everyday beauty needs. The first products are three innovative hair tools specifically catering to curls, coils, and kinks to help customers experience better wash days by reducing the stress and breakage many textured hair consumers experience. The brand is sold in specialty retailers and salons, Target, Urban Outfitters, Amazon, and HSN/QVC.
Play Pits was founded in 2017 by Chantel Powell and inspired by her son Kam who came from football practice smelling "like a man" at the age of six. Play Pits started as a mother's solution to providing a kid-friendly, all-natural hygiene option brand dedicated to setting a new standard for natural hygiene products. In March, the brand launched in 300 Target stores, but a fire in October that destroyed the company offices and merchandise has Powell starting over while filling a growing demand for her products.
Swella was founded by Brooke Hill and Zanbria Asante with the vision of a hair-braiding café that provides the comfort and caliber of salons like Drybar. Customers book their desired service online from a selection of cornrows and box braids of various sizes, all of which come with a wash and blow dry, plus options for braid takedowns and touch-ups. Swella is taking its offerings further with Unravl—technology that automates the braid takedown process, unraveling strands two times quicker doing it manually. The business received $25K from the Visible Hands Accelerator in 2021, which funded a pop-up braid café to test the concept. Swell recently launched a permanent flagship salon in Atlanta, intending to turn Swella into a franchise and, in the process, facilitate wealth and ownership in the Black beauty industry.
"Part of what Black Ambition is going to do is say 'Here are folks that are investable and will be creating the next big companies of the future,'" Willa Seldon, partner at Bridgespan, a philanthropic and nonprofit consulting firm partnering with Black Ambition, said when the fund launched. "Venture capitalists are becoming more diverse but there's still not capital going to those new venture players. Mainstream VCs are also interested in doing more about this, it's also a huge market opportunity."
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