Pharrell Williams Talks Black Ambition Initiative: ‘We Find You and Then We Fund You’

Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition, describes the initiative co-founded by Pharrell Williams as not just a moment, but a movement.

The latest Black Ambition project is the HBCU Prize Competition, a partnership with Adidas, Chanel and the Rockefeller Foundation, which aims to provide a bridge to success for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs who are launching tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products/services start-up. Williams announced that applications for its second annual prize competition are now open (as of March 17) at Ventures in consumer products and services, media and entertainment, healthcare, technology and Web3 are eligible to win up to $1 million.

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Speaking via Zoom, Hatcher says 34 companies were funded last year and those companies went on to raise over $40 million. The Black Ambition Prize offers more than access to capital, as it commits to cultivating the pipelines of diverse talent through mentorship and access to resources.

Says Hatcher: “They are employers now. They are contributors to their startup ecosystem. They are contributors to their communities. They’re saving lives and they’re saving the planet. … It’s about how do we support more founders and dive deeper into what that support looks like?”

“People who think that winning Black Ambition is about the prize money have it all wrong,” says Justin Turk, 2021’s Black Ambition Prize winner and the founder and CEO of Livegistics. “The network, the education, the resources are so much more important than the dollars. Being part of this organization has changed the trajectory of all of our lives at Livegistics. Everyone who is part of this process will leave better off than they came. When 2022’s competition is over, don’t let money be the only thing you walk away with.”

Both Hatcher and Williams hope that inclusive entrepreneurship will be the new norm, especially seeing as HBCUs are at the forefront of marketing agencies’ attention. More importantly, Black Ambition is opening doors to those that dream within the Black and Latinx community.

Says Williams: “How many really talented, people of color do you have in your organization? Have you ever really looked at the demographics of who your consumer base is? … It’s a different time for us.”

Black Ambition is looking for those founders who are thinking big and building the world-changing companies of tomorrow. These founders will be building ventures with strong business viability and fundability, dynamic teams and a spirit of innovation and expression aligned with Williams. In addition to funding companies, Black Ambition has also trained 300 entrepreneurs. Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti was a mentor, as was Don Thompson, former CEO of McDonald’s.

“That was the caliber of mentors the HBCU students were interfacing with,” says Hatcher. “Imagine being a freshman in college and you just talked to the CEO of BuzzFeed or McDonald’s. You will walk into class on Monday with a different swagger. You will spend the weekend building your company because of that access.”

Adds Williams: “When you learn how it really works, you stop buying vehicles and you create vehicles to drive you. That’s what Black Ambition is, it’s a vehicle for impact. At Black Ambition, we find you and then we fund you.”

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