They’re planting seeds that will bloom!
Super producer Pharrell Williams just wrapped up a successful weekend after bringing his Something In The Water (SITW) festival to the nation’s capital for the first time ever. The weekend was chock full of activations that included community conversations, a local business marketplace, a pop-up church service, and lots and lots of music!
Several major corporate partners were also featured over the weekend including Cisco, Chase Bank, XQ America, and UPS. The global shipping powerhouse partnered with Pharrell’s “Black Ambition” to co-host “Pull Up & Pitch,” a competition that allowed local entrepreneurs to deliver a 60-second pitch in front of a panel of judges to receive funding for their businesses. The competition was in line with Black Ambition’s mission of funding “bold ideas and companies led by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.” UPS officials were on-site to provide winners of the pitch competition with $20,000 in grants to fund their entrepreneurial dreams.
Kevin Warren, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at UPS, spoke on an opening panel at SITW about the importance of social responsibility in the corporate world.
“In case people haven’t noticed, things have gotten even more complicated for corporations… Corporations still have to hit the numbers…but now you have other stakeholders with other interests in which people and investors are asking about [diversity, community, and sustainability] ... So a lot of companies [feel like they can’t do both], and what we’ve found at UPS is actually you can,” said Warren.
He spoke about the company's commitment to community and the massive rebranding overhaul they had to do in order to really connect with small and medium-sized business owners, one of their most profitable sectors. In Warren’s case, he found that the missing link was meeting the community at the intersection of business and culture and investing in a way that made a difference.
“We changed our whole dynamic and really [started] engaging with these customers… so it’s really a 1+1=3 dynamic versus a trade-off. It’s good for business, it’s also good for the community, and … what we found is doing good and moving goods go hand in hand,” Warren explained.
Part of that strategic intersectionality was being engaged in events like SITW that allow for a more dynamic grassroots interaction with business owners. UPS set the tone for the weekend with a series of floral decorated trucks that emphasized their mission of creating the right conditions for businesses to flourish. In addition to co-hosting the pitch competition, UPS also brought along four small local Black-owned businesses to the community marketplace so locals could support them, investing $60,000 in total to diverse-owned small businesses. The businesses were all different and included Mahogany Books, a local independent bookstore, OTHERS COFFEE, a family-owned roasting company, District of Clothing, an e-commerce apparel store, and Black Pepper Paperie, a DC-based mix-media art design studio and lifestyle brand.
At the pitch competition, UPS’ goal was to bring the concept of the pitch from a business environment to the local neighborhood, putting an emphasis on “normalizing business pitching, creating visibility for innovative ideas, supporting small business revitalization, and educating the public on how to ask for and manage finances.” The general public was able to walk up and pitch their business idea in less than 60 seconds in front of a crowd of onlookers. The two-round competition allowed Black and Latinx founders to test their business chops and become UPS and Black Ambition prize winners. The judges of the competition included representatives from TechStars, Black Girl Ventures, Billionaire Girls Club, and Black Ambition.
2021 Black Ambition prize winner Kadidja Dosso of Dosso Beauty, was also present all weekend lending her support to fellow entrepreneurs. Dosso sat on an NAACP-sponsored SITW panel to discuss the challenges of being a young entrepreneur, highlighting the burden of college debt on her entrepreneurial journey. She also spotlighted the importance of corporations and business leaders like Pharrell who make it a point to give back to the community. Before it was all said and done, Dosso, and the other members of the HBCU grad panel had their student debt forgiven, courtesy of SITW.
Y’all, I finally got to meet the 🐐@Pharrell today and he also just cleared my student loan debt. I’m literally still in shock 😭— Organic Beauty Dealer 🌱 (@kadidjadosso) June 17, 2022
“To be an entrepreneur means that you have to have personal good credit…even with Black Ambition, I had to use part of my funding from [my prize] in order to clear some of my student debt…To constantly be in that cycle of ‘hey I came up but then I had to come back down,’ and now to be relieved of that is amazing and incredible and it opens doors,” said Dosso.
Because Of Them We Can was on-site to speak with local entrepreneurs looking to shoot their shot for a chance at some much-needed business funding. One such person was Bukola Are, the founder of HVS Home, a company that creates African-inspired home decor. Are said she learned about “Pull Up & Pitch” by following Black Girl Ventures and while it was her very first time pitching and she was super nervous, she feels it’s important for entrepreneurs to be able to succinctly convey the meaning of their brands and how it will impact the market in a way that’s attractive to investors.
Are spoke about what she would do if she won some funding, saying, “My business is capital intensive and it’s all about having the inventory in hand. Right now, we’re preparing for the holiday season so if we win I’m going straight into two things and two things only - getting more inventory and that digital marketing which is very important for an e-commerce-based business.”
Another duo on-site at the competition was Greg Etienne and Stephan Allotey-Addo, owners of BOTL'D, a small batch, Black gay-owned craft cocktail company based in the DMV. The couple spoke about their dating origin and how they connected around the idea of their business venture, learning about the UPS and SITW pitch competition, and just deciding to get out and do it.
"In March of 2020 I actually 'super-liked 'him on Tinder so during the pandemic we had to do virtual dates to get to know each other,” Etienne told Because Of Them We Can.
“We were having dinner 9 months into our relationship talking about goals and aspirations and he shared with me that he wanted to start a 'Booze Truck,' a booze version of food trucks. And I thought it was a great idea and we went to the drawing board, and we whittled it down to BOTL'D where we do the craft cocktails and deliver it personally and locally to our customers,” Allotey-Addo added.
The couple pitched together, as did Are, and all three of them made it to the final round of competition alongside five other local businesses including Zion Roar, Venture for T.H.E.M., and8 Fitness, Taking The Leap, and the Barter Black app. During the final round, Pharrell surprised the crowd by making an appearance, allowing the contestants to pitch to him in less than 20 sec, Etienne and Allotey-Addo going first followed by Are. The energy was palpable and the crowd looked on in excitement as everyone cheered. In the end, judges chose their top three winners and a surprise fourth place winner at the request of Pharrell.
Etienne and Allotey-Addo’s BOTL'D won first place for a prize of $10,000, Are’s HVS Home won second place for a prize of $7,000, powdered sea moss company Zion Roar came in third for a prize of $3,000, and community owner and activist Saba Tshibaka of Rendered was the fourth-place winner, showing off her super cool eco-friendly reusable utensil pack that won Pharrell over. All of the pitch finalists also received $500, in addition to any prize winnings for making it through both rounds, founders like Kiante Bush of Venture for T.H.E.M., a VC capital firm for Black and Latinx techpreneurs said they were just grateful for the experience. There were also several local business owners who didn’t get to pitch but found favor with the crowd, like the owners of Cargado, the makers of wireless portable chargers.
First place winners Etienne and Allotey-Addo were overwhelmed with joy, crediting UPS with really putting their money where their mouth is and servicing the community in a way that was unmatched.
“I think community is so important, so that’s one of the pillars of our business, in general, is community. We have been able to partner and collaborate with other Black businesses, other LGBTQ+ businesses, and we appreciate the fact that UPS is a global brand that is actually making an effort to elevate the local communities,” Etienne told BOTWC.
Allotey-Addo echoed those sentiments, not only thanking UPS but all of the partners on-site including us, as we were ecstatic to witness the magic of the competition up close.
“We love when big businesses impact small upcoming businesses to get them to a level where they can also be big businesses in the future. So thank you UPS, thank you Something In The Water, Black Girl Ventures, all of y’all. Thank you so much. Because Of Them We Can, because of you WE CAN, ok. Thank you!,” he exclaimed.
Thank you SITW and UPS. Now that’s how you create Unstoppable Flourish!
(l to r) Pharrell Williams, Black Girl Ventures CEO Shelly Bell, Black Ambition CEO Felecia Hatcher, & Black Ambition Director of Programs Jermeen Sherman. Photo Courtesy of Veracity Savant/BecauseOfThemWeCan