Pharrell Williams launches Black Ambition initiative for Black and Latino entrepreneurs

The Grammy-winning artist and producer also unveiled two prize competitions for budding entrepreneurs

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Pharrell Williams has announced the launch of Black Ambition, a nonprofit initiative that will provide a bridge to success for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs who are launching tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products/services start-ups. 

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The initiative’s long-term vision is for inclusive entrepreneurship to be the new normal. The start-up nonprofit initiative will be led by an all-star advisory team that includes Williams, with support from The Bridgespan Group, a global nonprofit organization that advises mission-driven organizations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and impact investors. Off-White designer Virgil Abloh is actively involved with the initiative, contributing to the Black Ambition logo and identity concept design. 

“Recent events and tragedies have illustrated the always existent stark divisions in the American experience, and while entrepreneurship has long been a tenet of the American dream, marginalized people have faced long-standing barriers to success,” Williams said in a statement announcing the initiative. “With Black Ambition, the goal is to help strengthen the pipeline of talented entrepreneurs and close the opportunity and wealth gaps derived from limited access to capital and resources.”

Black Ambition is supported by funding from Adidas, Chanel, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation, Tony’s Chocolonely, and the Visa Foundation. Individual donors include Ron Conway/SV Angel and Jonah Peretti. Mattel is releasing a product created in partnership with Black Ambition in the coming weeks, and Tony’s Chocolonely is making a special Black Ambition chocolate bar with a portion of proceeds from both products benefiting the nonprofit initiative.

Off-White : Runway - Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021
US designer Virgil Abloh acknowledges the audience at the end of the Off-White show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on February 27, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

Black Ambition says they are committed to leveling the playing field and fostering the ingenuity, determination, and resilience of underrepresented entrepreneurs. As part of the launch, Williams unveiled two competitions with some pretty hefty prizes: The Black Ambition HBCU Prize and The Black Ambition Prize will culminate in one major national event.

Here’s the rundown: 

The Black Ambition HBCU Prize will offer prizes and mentorship for current and former students at HBCUs as they develop seed or early-stage ideas and launch companies in tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products and services. The grand prize winner will receive up to a $250,000 prize and at least nine additional teams will receive smaller prizes. Teams must include at least one current HBCU undergraduate or graduate student (full-time or part-time), one recent alum within two years of graduation, or one former student within two years of attending the institution who is a member of the founding team. This HBCU-affiliated individual must identify as Black/African/African American and/or Hispanic/Latino/a/Latinx.

The Black Ambition Prize will find, support, and seed early-stage companies in tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products and services. Ventures must have at least one founder or co-founder that identifies as Black/African/African American and/or Hispanic/Latino/a/Latinx. The grand prize winner will receive up to a $1 million prize and at least nine additional teams will receive smaller prizes. For both prizes, a member of the founding team is defined as having a senior role, such as VP or C-level role. The prize will launch with a nationwide call for applications from eligible founder teams. Independent application reviewers will score eligible applications on the strength of their idea, with the strongest applications advancing to the major national event.

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In July 2021, the two competitions will culminate in teams competing for these prizes by presenting to luminary judges and investors. In addition to financial awards, the entrepreneurs will receive mentorship and feedback as well as access to peer networks and expert connections. All screened applicants will receive access to online resources, information about business resources, and high-level feedback. Semifinalists will also receive cohort-based mentorship. Finalists will receive personal mentorship, opportunities for media exposure, and introductions to venture capitalists, angel investors, and accelerator partners. 

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