Pharrell Williams’ Black Ambition Prize Aims to Empower Entrepreneurs

Pharrell Williams’ Black Ambition is calling for another new wave of business leaders to get behind. 

The group, designed to empower Black and Latine innovators and communities, is now accepting applications for the fourth annual Black Ambition Prize Competition.  

Awards range from $20,000 to a grand prize of $1 million, with as many as 250 semifinalists getting the chance to participate in a three-month mentorship program.

The prizes are intended to “bridge the racial wealth gap by empowering underrepresented founders.” The categories this year are technology (including Web 3.0), health care, consumer products and services, media and entertainment and, for the first time, artificial intelligence. 

“I’m honored, that three years later we are still able to find and fund these incredible entrepreneurs — who may not have had the opportunity to change the world as they have with their innovative companies and ideas without the support of Black Ambition,” said Williams, the group’s founder and also men’s creative director at Louis Vuitton, in a statement. “To see what we have created and continue to build on each year gives me immense hope for the future in closing  the opportunity and wealth gaps and establishing equity for people of color.”

So far, Black Ambition has awarded nearly $10 million to more than 100 founders, who in turn have raised more than $95 million to fund their businesses and generated more than $23 million in revenues. 

The competition this year is sponsored by Adidas, Comcast NBCUniversal, Heineken, Lennar Foundation, Louis Vuitton and others.

Camille Bell, cofounder of Pound Cake Cosmetics, which won the competition’s grand prize in 2022, said: “For the first time in this entire journey, I have finally felt seen and heard…and that’s thanks to everyone at Black Ambition. I don’t know any other programs that are like this one — that truly take the time and care to fully support in all facets, Black and brown entrepreneurs.”

Felecia Hatcher, chief executive officer of Black Ambition, told WWD that this is an important moment for Black and Latine entrepreneurs to get support. 

Hatcher pointed to a study by the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, which found that Fortune 1000 pledged roughly $340 billion to driving racial equity between May 2020 and October 2022. 

That marks some big promises, but many of them remained unfulfilled. 

“A lot of it’s being called back,” Hatcher said. “A lot of it’s being pushed in other directions. And so our entrepreneurs are facing even harder times accessing capital. And we always want to be that source — they know that they can always turn to Black Ambition for either the capital they need, the network, the connection, or the mentorship that’s going to continue to grow and scale their companies in an environment which that funding is becoming really scarce.”

While the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis focused the nation on systemic racism, that attention has waned. 

“But from a lived experience, it’s still a major priority,” Hatcher said. “And so that’s why our organization still exists and will continue to exist because this problem is just so big and it requires not just what Pharrell founded, Black Ambition, but it really requires more organizations to do exactly what we’re doing at the same level or even higher in order to really kind of chip away at that problem.

“We’re early stage, we’re first money in, we kind of serve as that friends and family round,” Hatcher said. “And as you grow a company, the series A, the series B, the series C capital that they need is almost non-existent. And so for everything that we do at the early-stage level, we also need to make sure that there’s funding pathways for them at these stages where they can actually become massive employers in their communities, massive stakeholders in the industries, in the marketplaces that they’re in. If collectively we’re not thinking big enough, we don’t end up ultimately seeing the impact that we need to see fast enough in our communities as a result of the investment in entrepreneurship.”

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