Who are you uninterrupted? And what would the world look like if nothing ever stood in the way of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs building their companies and actualizing their dreams?

This is the question at the core of Black Ambition, a set of prizes established to fund bold ideas and companies led by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.

Founded by Pharrell Williams in 2020 and led by CEO Felecia Hatcher, Black Ambition empowers Black and Latinx innovators and communities to excel uninterrupted by connecting them with the capital they need to take their ideas to the next level. And applications for its second annual prize competition are now open as of today, Tuesday, March 22, 2022 at BlackAmbitionPrize.com

As Willams and Hatcher explained to ESSENCE, funding is key for all businesses, but often a near-impossible hurdle to jump for entrepreneurs from our communities.

WATCH: Pharrell Williams and Felecia Hatcher Discuss Year Two Of Black Ambition Entrepreneurship Prize
NORFOLK, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 28: CEO for Black Ambition Felecia Hatcher speaks onstage during Panel 2: “Who We Are Now” as Pharrell Williams holds forum at Norfolk State University to discuss full potential of the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk in his home state of Virginia at Norfolk State University on October 28, 2021 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Pharrell Williams )

“I don’t know if you can be an entrepreneur without capital, right?” Hatcher said while talking about the foundation’s mission. “And the unfortunate reality is for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs, it’s not only difficult, but oftentimes it’s intentionally made difficult. We wanted to take those barriers out of the way as much as we possibly can so that these brilliant people just have the freedom to be able to build their companies.”

Ventures in consumer products and services, media and entertainment, healthcare, technology and Web 3.0 are eligible to win up to $1M. This year’s partners include Adidas, Lennar Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Visa, CHANEL, Heineken, Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM in partnership with Aku, Nathaniel Zikha & Sara Holt, Jonah Peretti, Ron Conway/ SV Angel, and The Rockefeller Foundation.

Getting companies of this magnitude on board to fund the drive and dreams of members of the diaspora is a major step in the right direction, especially, as Williams notes, due to society’s tendency to stereotype our people while remaining eager to consume the culture we create.

“When it comes to the color of everything else – black glasses, black
shoes, black cars, black remote control, black iPhones – you love all that. But when it comes to the people, you’re scared because of what you’ve been taught in school,” he observed. “Well, that goes beyond school. And that goes out into the business sector and they take those stereotypes with them. And that creates a huge problem for us.”

Williams points to entrepreneurship as a cornerstone for pride and perception within our communities.

WATCH: Pharrell Williams and Felecia Hatcher Discuss Year Two Of Black Ambition Entrepreneurship Prize
PARIS, FRANCE – JANUARY 23: Pharrell Williams attends the Kenzo Fall/Winter 2022/2023 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 23, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images For Kenzo)

“If you look at some of the other successful demographics that are Americans in this country, when you look at their communities that some of their dollars stay in the community for two months. With other demographics it might stay in there for 30 days,” he pointed out. “Well, the African American dollar stays in its community for six days.”

That dollar is able to circulate in the community longer due to close proximity of businesses owned and operated by people who look like the spender.

“When you look at those other demographics, where there’s a doctor in a neighborhood, or in the family, there is a lawyer in the family or in the neighborhood, there is an educator in the family or in the neighborhood,” Williams continued. “You find that those kids grow up and believing they can do anything. They grow up with a natural born audacity or privilege. And then when we don’t have these things, it produces what it produces. And so our whole thing is, if we want representation, we want great access to healthcare, we want great access to education, then we need more Black and brown entrepreneurs.”

Part of ensuring more Black and brown entrepreneurs get their shot is tapping HBCU campuses for their goldmine of bright ideas and big talents. In support of  historically Black colleges and universities, The Black Ambition HBCU Prize will offer prizes and mentorship for current and former students at HBCUs as they develop early-stage ideas and launch companies. The grand prize winner will receive a $100,000 prize and at least seven additional teams will receive smaller prizes. 

WATCH: Pharrell Williams and Felecia Hatcher Discuss Year Two Of Black Ambition Entrepreneurship Prize
Female engineer testing program on virtual reality headset in computer lab

Winners from the inaugural prize run are making huge moves since being rewarded. Alodia, a husband and wife Doctor duo-owned skincare brand which promised to revolutionize scalp and hair care for textured hair, is now preparing to roll out to over 350 Target Locations. $1 Million winning company Livegistics has gone on to raise an additional four million in funding and are actively changing the landscape of Detroit, Michigan.

“These companies are doing a phenomenal job,” Hatcher said of last year’s winners. “I think where we are always a little disheartened is just, they were also being slept on before this. If they got the meeting, they were being discounted. They were being overlooked and in a large part until Black Ambition. So on one hand, it’s a testament to what we’ve been able to build – not just the funding.”

Beyond access to capital, The Black Ambition Prize cultivates the pipelines of diverse talent through mentorship and access to resources. Among those are specialized access to counseling and money management, separate of corporate mentorship.

“We’re really committed to supporting the entrepreneurs holistically, so they get mental health and self care and wellness support from us as well,” Hatcher continued. “There are a lot of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs who grew up with toxic relationships with money. So when they get into wealth environments and money conversations, it becomes really uncomfortable for them. We’ve just got to make sure that they’re whole, and that they understand what they have, what they’re building and they don’t give it all away.”

WATCH: Pharrell Williams and Felecia Hatcher Discuss Year Two Of Black Ambition Entrepreneurship Prize
Shot of a happy young shopkeeper using her cellphone while standing behind the counter in her shop

Black Ambition is committed to leveling the playing field and fostering the ingenuity, determination, and resilience of underrepresented entrepreneurs. It’s William’s hope that the entrepreneurs rewarded with this amazing opportunity are put in position to pay it forward when their time comes around as well.

“We need more entrepreneurs that look like us and look like our Latinx brothers and sisters and fellow humans. And that’s what this program is,” Williams said. “This is about fostering that talent and produce amazing human beings that will go out there and not just have single, isolated success stories, but ones that know that you’re not just doing it for you. You’re doing it for your ancestors and you’re doing it for the future descendants. And your job is to reach one hand back and reach another one forward and create this really comprehensive web of an ecosystem, like our other successful American demographics.”

Applications, a full list of previous winners, and more information on Black Ambition is available at BlackAmbitionPrize.com.