Pharrell Williams launches nonprofit to help Black and Latino start-ups

Pharrell Williams is not only a Grammy award-winning artist and producer, but he is also quite the entrepreneur. Pharrell announced an initiative to help Black and Latino start-up founders achieve their dreams.

You might recall that back in August, he and Jay-Z released the song “Entrepreneur,” which opens with him whispering the lyric, “I am black ambition.” Three months later, he continues to echo that powerful message with the launch of his new nonprofit, which harkens back to that lyric: Black Ambition.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

To achieve this, the nonprofit has created two prize competitions to help startup founders with seed capital and to provide pitch feedback and mentorship: The Black Ambition Prize and a second award, The Black Ambition HBCU Prize, which is targeted towards current and former students of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with grand prize winners receiving up to $250,000 in funding.

Applicants for both prizes must be Black or Latino with a focus on tech, design, healthcare and consumer products and services.

The grand prize winner for The Black Ambition Prize will receive up to a $1 million in funding with at least nine additional teams receiving smaller prizes.

The nonprofit says its long-term vision is “for inclusive entrepreneurship to be the new normal.”

Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, president of Norfolk State University in Virginia, called it a “game changer” for HBCU institutions.

“It really gives our students the ability to do what they are best at, which is to come up with innovative ideas, but typically they don’t have the support or the entrepreneurship it needs to happen,” she said.

Williams believes the program can not only change that, but also create a strong partnership.

“We want to lift our HBCUs because they lift so many of us,” said Williams. “So, if we are going to do this, we need to do this together.”


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