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Pharrell Williams effort to launch more minority-owned businesses

Hampton Roads native and music icon Pharrell Williams, a friend and supporter of Norfolk State University, today launched Black Ambition, a non-profit initiative that will provide a bridge to success for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs who are launching tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products/services start-ups.

The main goal of the initiative is to level the playing field and foster the ingenuity, determination, and resilience of underrepresented entrepreneurs. Williams has partnered with companies and organizations that include Adidas, Chanel, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation, Tony’s Chocolonely and the Visa Foundation.

As part of the launch, Williams announced two prize competitions – The Black Ambition HBCU Prize and The Black Ambition Prize – which culminate in one major national event.  The Black Ambition HBCU Prize will offer prizes and mentorship for current and former students at HBCUs as they develop seed or early-stage ideas and launch companies in tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products and services. The grand prize winner will receive up to a $250,000 prize and at least nine additional teams will receive smaller prizes. Teams must include at least one current HBCU undergraduate or graduate student (full-time or part-time), one recent alum within two years of graduation, or one former student within two years of attending the institution who is a member of the founding team. This HBCU-affiliated individual must identify as Black/African/African American and/or Hispanic/Latino/a/Latinx. More information about the initiative will be available in the weeks to come.

“We need a voice…and in order for us to have a voice, we need to have some ownership,” Williams said earlier this week during a virtual conference call. “We thought the most fertile ground (for business ideas) would be HBCUs. We want to lift our HBCUs. They lift so many of us and they deserve to be in lights.”

Norfolk State University President Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston praised Williams and said the effort is a “game changer” for HBCU students and recent graduates. Adams-Gaston said entrepreneurship is one of the key drivers that can help to quell disparities in minority communities especially during the COVID-19 crisis, which has had a negative impact on Black and Brown-owned businesses. The president said she fully supports The Black Ambition project and looks forward to the ideas and concepts that will be developed by NSU students and others.

“This effort really provides the students who attend our institutions access and the ability to do what they are best at—being innovative in areas that can help our overall society,” Adams-Gaston said. “The potential mentoring opportunities the participating students will receive from members of the corporate community will be invaluable. I am excited for what is on the horizon.”

For more information about Black Ambition, here is a link to a recent story in The Hollywood Reporter.