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Black-Owned Startups Need Money and Mentors: CEO of Pharrell’s Nonprofit

By Shera Avi-Yonah

Investors seeking to fund Black-owned startups need to provide mentorship and cash in tandem, said Felecia Hatcher, the chief executive officer of Pharrell Williams’s nonprofit, Black Ambition.

Pharrell Williams, a singer and performer, gestures as he speaks during the Sony Electronics Inc. event at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

“Oftentimes when we talk about supporting Black and brown founders, we can talk about the mentorship, but the mentorship and the capital have to come together,” Hatcher said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “These businesses are underfunded and they need the support at the highest financial level so that they have the luxury to begin to innovate.”

Black Ambition announced funding for 34 companies founded by people of color Wednesday, including a $1 million grand prize it gave to construction analytics company Livegistics. Williams — a singer, record producer and entrepreneur — founded the nonprofit in December, getting backing from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Chanel and Adidas AG. Louis Vuitton men’s designer Virgil Abloh contributed a logo and concept.

Hatcher said the fund fielded thousands of applications before culling the list to more than 200 companies. The founders of those startups received pitch coaching and access to venture capitalists. 

“That just shows how many founders that there are that are not getting the resources and the support and the dollars that they need,” she said. “We had created a space where their identity was not questioned as a part of, ‘Are they a viable opportunity?’”

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