Late last month, amidst the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate fallout for Black and Brown-owned small businesses, 10 women of color from around the country participated in the New Voices + Target Accelerator $100,000 Virtual Pitch Competition, streaming on EssenceStudios.com.
The tenth, and second virtual, iteration of the New Voices Foundation $100,000 Pitch highlighted the strength and diversity of businesses founded by women of color thriving despite the current social and economic climate. Previous competitions across the country, held in New Orleans, LA; Washington, DC; New York, NY; Austin, TX; Atlanta, GA; and Las Vegas, NV at CES provided more than $900,000 in non-dilutive capital and almost $500,000 of supportive coaching and mentoring services to the winners.
Setting the PACE
Propelled by its Purpose.Access.Capital.Expertise (PACE) model, New Voices is committed to creating a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem for women of color. The Foundation invests in a wide array of programs—including entrepreneurial summits, accelerators, pitch competitions, coaching, master classes and more—to advance the impact of women of color owned business. New Voices, in collaboration with Target Accelerators, the premier accelerator for consumer packaged goods (CPG) startups, provided companies with an opportunity for real-time access to capital and expertise to grow and scale their business for a national audience.
“We are committed to using Target’s size, scale and resources to create positive change toward establishing racial equity. We are excited to support underrepresented founders through access to the knowledge we can share to help them grow their businesses and by partnering with organizations like New Voices to connect founders with the tools and resources to realize their goals,” —Carolyn Sakstrup, Senior Vice President, Insights, Strategy and Innovation
Ten amazingly talented Black and Brown women, including a rocket scientist, a nurse, a journalist, a globetrotter, a marketing exec and some innovative moms—logged into a virtual room and the stage was set for a competition that could change the trajectory of their businesses.
The Power of “Yes”
Having their purpose-driven businesses highlighted through this competition was not the only win for these dynamic women. Based on the fundamental belief that women of color are told “No” too often, New Voices invests in all finalists and their businesses.
Krystal Duhaney of Milky Mama took home the top prize of $25,000. However, each of the other businesses won between $5,000 and $15,000 to support their efforts. In addition to the funds, every business will receive hands-on coaching and access to resources to grow and scale their businesses.
$15,000 capital investment winners
AYO Foods: Perteet Spencer, a first generation Liberian-American, sought the comfort of the foods she grew up with in grocery stores only to find that there was no representation of her West African food culture. AYO is a first to market line celebrating West African cuisine in a convenient, frozen format and including family favorites—Cassava Leaf Soup, Egusi Soup and Jollof Rice.
Young King Hair Care: Cora Miller, former marketing executive and boy-mom gave birth to a baby boy with a full head of hair, but couldn’t find tailored products that catered to his hair or grooming needs. Young King is poised to bring representation to retail, transforming the grooming landscape for young Black and Brown boys.
$10,000 capital investment winners
Brown Toy Box: Terri-Nichelle Bradley, mom of four who believed that Black children deserved to see themselves reflected in their toy boxes and not just via dolls. Brown Toy Box is a children’s educational product company that produces STEAM kits, toys, games and content that centers and celebrates Black children while normalizing Black excellence.
Mixtroz: Ashlee Ammons, an event producer made aware of the power of networking early in her career when a serendipitous meeting landed her an internship with Lebron James. Mixtroz is a software using real-time surveying to bring group attendees together for dynamic connection while collecting useful data live or virtually.
RIZZARR: Ashley Williams, a former professional journalist with a desire to connect businesses to quality content creators. RIZZARR is a content marketplace that acts as an intermediary, enabling businesses to use its content-as-a-service platform to find and work with its network of content creators to produce purpose-driven articles, social posts, videos, podcasts and photos.
$5,000 capital investment winners
LINGO: Aisha Bowe, a former NASA rocket scientist with a passion for exposing children, who otherwise might not be, to STEM learning. LINGO is a hands-on, self-paced coding kit that empowers students to build at home that is gaining momentum. It is growing in popularity because it is filling a gap for parents, students and educators during this global pandemic as people the world over attempt to adapt to a “new normal” with limited in-person contact.
Pretty Please Teethers: Kelli Ullrey, a mom devoted to providing her children with safe, teething relief and comfort solutions. Pretty Please Teethers provides parents and teething little ones with environmentally-friendly, plastic-free, silicone-based handmade teethers and pacifiers.
Purpose Tea: Chi Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant to the United States, who benefitted from the kindness of strangers and a successful branding professional—is passionate about building a sustainable brand that creates opportunities for other women. Purpose Tea features the purple tea leaf for health-conscious and socially responsible consumers who want to nourish their body, mind and soul. Purpose Tea lifts the most exploited people in the business—female tea workers—from poverty.
Soothi: Krittika Khandelwal is an Indian-American young woman that stumbled across a lucrative and socially conscious business while reconnecting with her Indian roots. Soothi is a direct-to-consumer gift and stationery brand that brings to market classic, literature-inspired products designed in collaboration with India-based artists, writers and poets using sustainable materials.
Innovative Investment Approach
A unique aspect of the New Voices’ model is its focus on purpose—ensuring companies become equipped to highlight the purpose and value proposition of their businesses. The pitch competition on September 25th was no different; the team worked with the 10 finalists prior to pitch day to help them practice and perfect their pitches in the days leading up to the competition.
The judges that assessed the viability —PACE—of these ventures were particularly vested in the competition, its outcome and potential impact on the future of Black and Brown business in America. The judging panel was comprised of Founder & CEO of Pendulum Holdings, LLC Robbie Robinson, Director of Enterprise Segmentation & Multicultural Merchandise at Target Melanie Gatewood as well as Partner at SEED Ensa Hunger, CMA.
We All Win
Pitch competitions are inherently competitive, but the New Voices’ difference is the community of support that is created pre- and post-pitch. All of the competitors eloquently detailed their company stories and value propositions in three-minute time slots with each competitor doing so with her own unique voice, spin and conviction.
There was also a sense of stewardship over the societal issues they are trying to solve that was pervasive among the participating entrepreneurs.
Brown Toy Box’s Terri-Nichelle Bradley definitively stated in her pitch, “whether in the toy aisle or toy box, Black children deserve to see themselves positively represented in spaces.”
That is the type of purpose-driven vision that was ever present among the New Voices + Target Accelerators Virtual Pitch competitors.
“We have long known about the unique challenges and systemic inequities that women of color entrepreneurs and their businesses face and are committed to continuing to support their survival and growth during this pandemic and beyond,” said Richelyna Hall, Chief Impact Officer at New Voices Foundation.