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Business & Innovation

Pharrell’s Black Ambition Prize Returns to Empower Minority Entrepreneurs

todayFebruary 26, 2024

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Musician and serial entrepreneur Pharrell Williams has opened applications for the 2024 cycle of the Black Ambition Prize, a national competition to fuel startups led by Black and Hispanic founders. Gearing up for its fourth year, the prize quickly catalyzes minority entrepreneurship across sectors like technology, consumer goods and media.

What the Prize Offers

The initiative’s cornerstone is its monetary awards, with past prizes ranging from $15,000 to $1 million for the grand prize winner. However, the experience extends far beyond funding. Finalists gain access to coaching to refine their business pitches along with introductions to potential investors. These high-touch services aim to prepare ventures led by underrepresented founders for scale and success.

Over its first three years, the prize has awarded $10 million to 101 Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs and counting. The 2023 winner, Antoinette Banks, took home $1 million for Expert IEP, her company developing tools to streamline individualized education plans for children with disabilities.

New HBCU Programming

For the 2024 cycle, the Black Ambition Prize has introduced dedicated tracks to support founders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). An 8-week virtual accelerator program will help students and recent alumni tailor their business concepts before competing for up to $100,000 in funding. Nationwide campus tour stops will also gather HBCU-affiliated entrepreneurs to network with industry veterans and pitch investors.

These initiatives double down on engaging talent from minority-serving institutions, recognizing HBCU students’ potential for trailblazing innovation.

Who Should Apply

The competition targets U.S.-based startups with at least one Black and/or Hispanic founding member who raised less than $1 million. Ventures should have early traction, whether in prototypes, a consumer base, or paying customers. Priority categories include consumer goods, healthcare, media and entertainment, technology, and artificial intelligence. However, eligible applicants can operate in any lawful industry.

Applicants have until May 3 to submit their entries for consideration. A selection committee will vet submissions and advance approximately 50 of the highest potential startups to the competition’s finalist round in September 2024.

Why It Matters

Programs like the Black Ambition Prize play an instrumental role in correcting the vast disparities faced by minority business owners in accessing developmental resources and growth capital. While the number of new companies launched by entrepreneurs of color continues rising year-over-year, they attract only a minute fraction of venture investment compared to their white counterparts.

Initiatives like this introduce Black and Hispanic founders to potential funders while preparing them to pitch their ventures effectively. At the same time, the infusion of capital and executive coaching empowers participating startups to reach scale and stoke job creation in underserved areas. In this way, the prize’s impact extends into communities facing systemic barriers across education, employment and wealth-building.

Program Timeline

The Black Ambition Prize competition follows an 8-month timeline to identify and award top minority-led startups. Interested applicants can also attend an Information Session on March 11th at 3 PM EST to ask questions before the deadline. Prize winners from the previous 2023 cycle will also host a Panel & Q&A event on March 18th at 3 PM EST.

February 26, 2024: Application Open
May 3rd, 2024: Application Close
June 2024: Semi-Finalists Announced
July 2024: Black Ambitionist Mentorship Program Kick off
September 2024: Top 50 Finalists Announced and Public Voting Competition
November 2024: Winners Announced at National Demo Day Celebration

The application will remain open for 10 weeks for applicants to refine their submissions. Selected semifinalists will also participate in a mentorship program to advance their business concepts and pitches before the final round.

Looking Ahead

As Pharrell Williams opens applications for the next cohort of Black Ambition Prize winners, expectations run high for what’s proving to be an ever-more transformative program. If previous years are any indication, the 2024 cycle will surely showcase incredible talents while pushing forward diversity in entrepreneurial leadership. This opportunity should undoubtedly be on your radar for any ambitious Black and Hispanic founders with early-stage ventures.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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