They’re building something we can all use!
At the end of 2020, music mogul Pharrell Williams announced the launch of his “Black Ambition” initiative. The program was designed to create a professional pipeline for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs building startup companies. The endeavor included two prize competitions, the Black Ambition HBCU Prize and the Black Ambition Prize, each offering participants mentorship and funding.
In 2021, competitions were underway, and Williams awarded his first set of prize recipients. One of the awardees included the all-minority leadership team behind Shea’d. Mya Harvard and co-founders Ibrahim Conteh, Nashawn Chery, Faisal Gedi, and Simrun Mannan are the brains behind Shea’d, pronounced “shade.” The company first began when the co-founders relocated to the Bay Area from Atlanta, GA. In an effort to build community in their new city, they created a directory for the Black community. To their surprise, it was a success! Within a year, Shea’d boasted 3,000+ iOS downloads, more than 2,000 active audience members on social media, 200+ newsletter subscribers, and a glowing 4.8 rating.
To keep the momentum going, they decided to find a niche need for the community they’d built, settling on the online business market.
“As we got more traction, we wanted to expand and realize[d] the best way to do that was to focus on online businesses and making shopping Black even easier with a browser extension,” Harvard told reporters.
The idea was money in the bank and the group won $100,000 from the Black Ambition prize competition. Since then, they’ve been able to grow the company, developing a free browser extension that aims to simplify the process of finding Black-owned products. Using artificial intelligence (AI), the Shea’d extension gives users the best recommendations for Black-owned products given their current shopping history.
Williams' contributions to young Black entrepreneurs are vital to creating more Black and brown representation in the startup space. This past summer, the music mogul brought the Black Ambition initiative to his Something In The Water festival in Washington, DC, partnering with UPS to co-host the “Pull Up & Pitch” competition. Together, they gave away more than $20,000 in grants to Black entrepreneurs willing to deliver an on-the-spot 60-second pitch to a panel of judges. In total, four winners were chosen for the prize winnings, including DMV-based craft cocktail company, BOTL'D, an African-inspired home decor company, HVS Home, a powdered sea moss company, Zion Roar, and Rendered, a sustainable fashion brand boasting an eco-friendly reusable utensil pack.
“With Black Ambition, the goal is to help strengthen the pipeline of talented entrepreneurs and close the opportunity and wealth gaps derived from limited access to capital and resources,” Williams previously explained.
The rapid expansion of companies like Shea’d is proof that Williams' investments have the potential to be lucrative. With the growing demand for more spotlight on Black-owned businesses, this kind of socially informed software is right on time. Currently, Shea’d is focused on giving recommendations for Black-owned fashion products, with Harvard rolling out the capabilities one customer interest at a time. By distilling the vision, the team has been able to ensure they’re giving their users the best possible experience before expanding. For Harvard and her team, it’s about creating a solid infrastructure for boosting Black economics.
“Shea’d was built with one goal in mind: to make it remarkably simple to connect with Black-owned brands and businesses. We achieve our mission by elevating Black creativity, emphasizing inclusion, and underpinning Black economic empowerment,” a statement on the website reads.
Users can download the free Shea’d extension now to save time while shopping for trending styles directly from Black-owned brands. At the moment, it is only available for laptops or desktops via a Google Chrome extension. Happy shopping folks!
2021 Black Ambition prize winners develop software making it easier to shop Black. Photo Courtesy of Spelman College/Yahoo! Finance