A local accelerator just got a big boost from none other than world-famous musician and artist Pharrell Williams.
Venture for T.H.E.M. (which stands for “Tech High-Performers & Entrepreneurial Minorities”), a DC-based accelerator and social enterprise startup, was recently selected as a finalist for Williams’ Black Ambition competition. The top 50 of 250 finalists receive design support, coaching and the opportunity to pitch for a $1 million prize. Venture for T.H.E.M. also has the chance to win $25,000 through the competition’s Popular Venture Award, whose public vote closes Oct. 18.
Venture for T.H.E.M. funds early-stage entrepreneurs from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). It connects founders to mentors, hosts weekly Founder Fridays workshops and puts on a monthly pitch competition called Rocket Pitches, where founders can win $1,000 or more. It was founded in January 2022 by Kiante Bush and Clarevonte Williams.
Bush told Technical.ly that he was shocked when he got the finalist selection email — though not for any lack of faith in what the organization does.
“To be selected in this top 50 really goes to show that we’re right where we belong, we’re locked in, we’re doing some amazing things and it’s only up from here,” Bush said. “So I was blown away.”
Black Ambition announced two tracks for the 250 semifinalists earlier this year: the General Prize and the HBCU Prize. Those 250 companies went through a three-month training and mentorship program, which was put together by Cinematica Labs. Venture for T.H.E.M. was selected for the HBCU track in the technology category. The top 50 were pulled from both tracks and select members of that group will get to pitch for the grand prize during a November Demo Day.
Black Ambition was founded in 2020 by Williams, a popular singer and producer. The organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Venture for T.H.E.M.’s selection.
So far, Bush said that being in the mentorship and pod sessions with other finalists has been really helpful. It removed some of the competitiveness of the program, he said, and inspired finalists to help each other.
“Even though we’re all scoring to be that first place winner, we’re still cheering on our peers next to you and just seeing that passion that they also bring to the table that really inspires you, really motivates you. Iron iron sharpens iron,” Bush said.
Outside of the competition, Bush said that in addition to hosting its own programming, Venture for T.H.E.M. is working on a fintech app. The AI-powered app, called Fund Forward, will help founders find grants, local pitch competitions and funding opportunities. Venture for T.H.E.M. hopes to launch the app in the first or second quarter of 2024.
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