Pharrell Williams’ Black Ambition, the non-profit initiative dedicated to supporting Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs, has awarded $1 million dollars to Antoinette Banks, CEO and Founder of Expert IEP, a parent-facing app that optimizes existing Individualized Education Plans with predictive AI for children diagnosed with a disability, as the Grand Prize Winner of its 2023 Prize competition at the third-annual “Demo Day” event held on Thursday, November 9th at Spring Studios in New York, NY. Other Top Prize Winners include ECOMSPACES, a one-stop-shop for e-commerce solutions ranging from product photography to order fulfillment, and HBCU Grand Prize Winner, Monocle, a social e-reader that creates a community-focused reading experience, who were awarded with $250,000 and $200,000, respectively, towards their ventures – in addition to 33 other prize recipients who also received monetary prizes.
Demo Day 2023 celebrated the monumental milestone of more than 100 entrepreneurs funded since Black Ambition’s inception in 2020. This year, over 2,000 applicants began their journey on either the General or HBCU Prize track. Participating founders represented companies within five distinct categories: Consumer Products and Services, Healthcare, Media and Entertainment, Technology, and Web 3.0. The nationwide competition was then narrowed down to 50 finalists, and then condensed even further to the top 36. This year, the 36 top finalists all received Prize awards ranging from $20,000 – $250,000. The final eight advancing finalists had the unique opportunity to pitch live on stage for the chance to win the grand prize of $1,000,000.
The esteemed panel of judges that determined the Prize winners included Marilyn Webber from Louis Vuitton, Erik Moore, Managing Director at Base Ventures, and Jay Lundy, SVP, Head of Investments & New Ventures at Combs Global. The event was hosted by two-time Emmy award-winning talk show host and Digital Lifestyle Expert, Mario Armstrong.
Following the pitching presentations, Founder Pharrell Williams was joined onstage by Black Ambition CEO Felecia Hatcher and Warby Parker Co-CEO David Gilboa for a compelling discussion on their respective entrepreneurial and leadership journeys. Additionally, prior year Black Ambition prize winners including Kadidja Dosso of Dosso Beauty (2021 HBCU Grand Prize Winner) & Karissma Yve of Gildform (a 2022 General Prize Winner) participated in a conversation moderated by Glenise Kinard-Moore, Founder and CEO of Skiimoo Tech (2022 2nd place General Prize Winner), discussing their entrepreneurial journey & business successes since winning investments.
After the panel conversations came the highlight of the evening, the announcement of the Prize Winners. The Grand Prize Winner, Antoinette Banks, CEO and Founder of Expert IEP, was presented with a $1,000,000 check onstage by both Pharrell and Felecia.
“Black Ambition is a feeling, it’s an overwhelming drive to show up consistently in excellence to create lasting, unapologetic impact. For so long Black and Brown kids with learning differences have been underestimated and forgotten. Earning this $1M prize puts our kids back in the forefront, it gets people thinking deeply about solving the problems in special education. AsFounder and CEO, I am deeply grateful to Black Ambition for believing in me, holding space for me, and breaking down barriers. It’s clear that Black Ambition is more than a prize award, it’s a shift in expectation for our culture.”- Grand Prize Winner Antoinette Banks, CEO and Founder of Expert IEP.
Following a brief press conference, guests were then invited to join in a celebratory cocktail hour, followed by an elevated networking reception where attendees were treated to gift bags curated by Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Billionaire Boys Club, JOOPITER and more.
Participating brand partners for the 2023 Black Ambition Prize Demo Day included presenting sponsor Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Valor Equity Partners, and Spring Studios.
“We are immensely proud to be supporting an initiative like Black Ambition and hosting the teams and entrepreneurs over the past two days at Spring Studios New York. As a creative business committed to advancement in culture and enterprise, we share common goals of championing ambition and innovation and building a more diverse community. We very much look forward to continuing the support and growing the partnership in the future,” Giuseppe Stigliano Global CEO Spring Studios.
Black Ambition is dedicated to closing the opportunity and wealth gap by empowering Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs. Through its extensive virtual training initiatives and events, the organization has provided invaluable support to over 5,000 founders since launching in 2020, helping them navigate the challenges of building successful businesses. To date, Black Ambition has awarded funding and resources to 101 Prize Winners and supported an additional 750 entrepreneurs with mentorship to strengthen their ventures. Approximately $10M dollars has been awarded to finalists.
Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition, expressed her excitement about Demo Day and the organization’s impactful journey. She said, “Demo Day is a powerful testament to the transformative potential of the Black Ambition Prize. The support of our brand partners, like Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Valor Equity Partners, and Spring Studios, as well as the dedication of our esteemed judges, underscores our commitment to nurturing Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs. Our impact, illustrated by the 36 top finalists, is a testament to the tangible change we’re creating for underserved communities. We’re proud to announce this year’s winners and to celebrate the remarkable journey of Black Ambition.”
The Black Ambition Prize has always been about impact and is more than a monetary reward. In addition to mentorship, Prize Winners will receive resources and connections to additional investors and funding. Awardees will also receive bi-weekly office hours with leaders in marketing, PR, and brand building with global brands such as Heineken, Snapchat, Netflix, and other participating companies.
Winning recipients attend town hall meetings with Pharrell and receive life coaching and therapeutic workshops, both in group and 1-on-1, encouraging a holistic career approach. Previous participating founders have shared that they are now more confident in pitching their business to other investors and are grateful for the opportunity to meet new investors through Black Ambition’s network and invite-only company events.
Black Ambition has been recognized by Forbes, Bloomberg, and many more for driving meaningful change. It also was the winner of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas award for Impact Investing. Black Ambition is excited to be funding the entrepreneurs who are shaping the future.
Photo Caption: Image of Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition, Leo Creer, Co-Founder and CTO of Expert IEP, Grand Prize Winner Antoinette Banks, CEO and Founder of Expert IEP, and Pharrell Williams, Founder of Black Ambition (from left to right)