Florida A&M University (FAMU) President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., joined Pharrell Williams to announce the launch of the Grammy Award winning artist’s Black Ambition, a non-profit initiative to provide a launching pad to success for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs developing startups in technology, design, health care and consumer product services.
The centerpiece of the initiative are two prize competitions, The Black Ambition HBCU Prize and the Black Ambition Prize, which culminate in one major national event.
“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,” said Williams, a producer, songwriter, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. “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.”
In partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Black Ambition HBCU Prize will offer prizes and mentorship for current and former HBCU students as they develop or seed early-stage ideas and launch companies in technology, design, health care and consumer products and services. The grand prize winner will receive up to $250,000 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 goal is to address the Black and Latinx wealth gap by creating entrepreneurship opportunities for HBCU students and former students. It will also provide mentorship, which Williams called the “strategic scaffolding,” that enables talented entrepreneurs to succeed.
President Robinson said FAMU students and alumni are perfectly positioned to benefit from this project.
“We are ready for this initiative. We have a long history of entrepreneurship at Florida A&M University. This is the right place,” said Robinson, who joined Williams, Norfolk State University President Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D., along with fellow panelists Willa Seldon, senior adviser for Black Ambition and partner at Bridgespan, and Darla Vaughn, head of Brand Marketing at I am OTHER during the virtual press conference Tuesday to announce the initiative.
Black Ambition offers potential benefits beyond minting successful entrepreneurs, Robinson said.
“Our students don’t just have a passion to make a difference for themselves. Once they do well, they pay it back to their families and communities, ” Robinson said. “And the more successful our students become, the more likely they will be willing to give back to their alma maters to support future HBCU students.”
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 who 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.
In July 2021, the two competitions will culminate in teams vying for these prizes by presenting to 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.
Black Ambition’s long-term vision is for inclusive entrepreneurship to be the new normal. The start-up non-profit 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. Virgil Abloh, the artist, designer, and philanthropist, is actively involved with the initiative and contributed the Black Ambition logo and identity concept design.
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 and SV Angel and Jonah Peretti.
For more information on Black Ambition, competition eligibility, and how to apply, visit www.blackambitionprize.com and follow them on Facebook (@blackambitionprize), Twitter (@blackambitionpz) and Instagram (@blackambitionprize). Black Ambition is a fiscal sponsorship project of PolicyLink.