Pharrell Williams is launching a nonprofit with a mission to support Black and Latinx entrepreneurs building startups in tech, design and healthcare.
According to Forbes, the Black Ambition project will celebrate its founding by hosting two competitions: The Black Ambition Prize and the HBCU Black Ambition Prize competitions. For both, victory will result in funding, with the prize for the former being $1 million. The latter will be focused on entrepreneurs from the HBCU community with the top prize being $250,000 according to Black Ambition's website. Norfolk State University and Florida A&M University have each agreed to participate in the project’s initial cohort. Each applicant of Black Ambition will gain access to Betaworks studios, a startup focused on early consumer-facing companies.
At a press conference to discuss the initiative, Williams said he was motivated to create the project due to a lack of meaningful financial investments in Black communities.
“We need a voice,” he said. ”We have the smallest slice of the American pie, in terms of ownership. The Asian dollar stays in this community for about 30 days; our Jewish brothers and sisters, their dollar stays in every community for 20 days. The African-American dollar stays in its community for six hours, because we don’t own much.”
Williams said the mentorship and training provided by partnering organizations are key to bridging the racial wealth gap.
“White [venture capitalists] founders and those in private equity represent north of 80% of people who receive funding, while African Americans represent less than 1%. Whether it’s a $15,000 prize or a $250,000 prize, if founders win something, they’re going to get the mentorship and strategic scaffolding,” Williams told Forbes. ”We are setting founders up for the odds to be in their favor, that’s the game-changer here.”
The initiative also aims to honor and support HBCUs as fertile grounds for growing future leaders and innovative ideas, which Williams said he hopes will make others join the effort.
“Our Black institutions have done so much for us and being in partnership with them is a statement in itself, but the goal is to bring Black ambition to fruition,” he said.
Forbes reported that prize winners from Black Ambition’s inaugural class will be revealed in July 2021. Eligible applicants include HBCU students, alumni and matriculated students who weren’t conferred a degree.
Willa Seldon, a partner at consulting firm Bridgespan, said venture capitalists are interested in the market opportunity of supporting leaders from diverse communities creating change for the future.
“Part of what Black Ambition is going to do is say ‘here are folks that are investable and will be creating the next big companies of the future,'" Seldon said. “Venture capitalists are becoming more diverse but there’s still not capital going to those new venture players. Mainstream VCs are also interested in doing more about this, It’s also a huge market opportunity.”
This summer, Williams partnered with JAY-Z to produce the “Entrepreneur” music video, which highlighted Black businesses from around the world, as Blavity previously reported. The collaboration spotlighted established businesses as well as startup endeavors while uplifting the creative individuals passionate about making a difference in their community.