Winners of the Vineyard's first-ever Black Ambition Prize to be announced this weekend
A small business incubator created by rapper and philanthropist Pharrell Williams will be announcing the winners of $20,000 in prize money this weekend (Aug 13, 2022).
Three businesses owned by Black or LatinX founders will be chosen as part of the first-ever Gathering on the Vineyard, closing the wealth gap contest. Business owners had to apply, and a panel of judges will pick the winners.
I talked with Jermeen Sherman, program director at Black Ambition, about what they hope to achieve with contests like this.
Eident Jermeen, what is this competition all about?
Sherman You know, our North Star at Black Ambition is really thinking about: How do we create both the space and conditions for Black and Latinx founders to excel uninterrupted? And for us, it's all around creating an ecosystem that is supportive, where our founders can really lean into their culture as more as an asset and less as a barrier, which is unfortunately often the case.
And so, we do that work nationally through an annual Black Ambition Prize that has two tracks, one of which is focused exclusively on founders who are currently studying or recently graduated from a historically Black college or university, and the other that is opened more nationally to Black and Latinx founders who are building innovations across the five very specific business verticals. Those are: the Web3 space; technology; media and entertainment; health care; and consumer products and services.
We also activate regionally in specific communities to kind of accompany large national events or cultural events. So, since our prize competition in 2021, where we supported 34 founders with access to about $3.2 million in capital, they've since gone on to raise more than $50 million. So, the Black Ambition platform is really one that amplifies the success and the talent that already exists but is putting them in the right places that enable them to unlock some additional doors.
Eident You mentioned these five areas, and among them you said Web3. And for listeners who may not have heard of that before, that's kind of like the future of the Internet. Why come to the Vineyard with this program?
Sherman There is an annual event on the island that really brings together thought leaders and minority business professionals who are all really committed to thinking through: How do we cultivate an ecosystem where minority founders can excel?
And so, that event is hosted annually by Mosaic Genius. You know, we are joining them this year to integrate a programing component, which is the Black Ambition Prize competition to kind of show founders what it means and how exactly we can sort of provide those opportunities to a network of folks. So, that's both corporate audiences, philanthropists, sort of, you name it. But folks who are really committed to sort of building a more equitable environment.
So, our hope is that everyone who applied for the Martha's Vineyard Prize, whether or not they advance and sort of win a cash award this year, is positioned to apply for a national prize competition going forward.
Eident This particular competition is happening on the Vineyard, but it's also open to Boston-based businesses. Why Boston instead of, say, Nantucket, the Cape or cities on the SouthCoast like New Bedford or Fall River.
Sherman So accelerator programs, venture capital fund, angel investors who have a heavy presence in Boston will be at this event. So, we're really thinking about: How do we cultivate sustainable relationships? And where we have those sort of programmatic partners from that area, we want it to make sure that we could use this as a moment to introduce them to founders who are in their backyards so that after the event on the island, there's an opportunity to continue that partnership and continue that support for our founders are in those regions. The money is a component, but it's really a pipeline and a real suite of curated resources that that founders need to really excel.
Eident How do you bring in people from the business and venture capital and even the philanthropic community to invest in something like the Black Ambition Prize?
Sherman We know that, and the data supports that, when minority founders have opportunities, they trailblaze. A lot of investments and minority-led ventures have some of the highest ROIs. And so, it's all around helping our corporate partners, philanthropic partners, individuals with high net worth understand that it's just about creating opportunity and sort of sharing the codes. And so, we've got founders right now on the shelves of Target and have, you know, partnerships with Marriott to have their products and those hotels. So, it's really all around just creating the space to learn about and to get them to the next step. And from there they will trailblaze.
Eident Jamie, before I let you go, I want to talk briefly about the wealth gap and why a focus on Black and Latinx companies is so important.
Sherman You know, unfortunately, 97% of venture capital goes to white founders, primarily male founders. And if you are a female founder of color, that number is even lower. It's less than half a percent. And that's been the case for for many years, right?
And so, the challenge there is that there just isn't an opportunity for minority business owners to access the kind of wealth that white founders have access to. One of the things that our applicants and our founders do, they sign on to the Black Ambition Pledge, and that is a commitment to building and investing and positively influencing their communities through a commitment to diverse hiring practices, to diverse vendor recruitment protocols, to making sure that they're creating also the space and conditions for their employees to innovate and to learn and to grow professionally, because it's those opportunities that we think elevate entire communities and not just individual founders.
Eident Jermeen Sherman, thank you so much for talking with us about the Black Ambition Prize and the regional contest on Martha's Vineyard happening this weekend called Gathering on the Vineyard: Closing the Wealth Gap. We will be keeping an eye out for the winners.
Sherman Thank you so much for the opportunity to share, Kathryn.
This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.