These 7 entrepreneurs presented at Black Girl Ventures’ pitch competition in Philly

The D.C.-based organization creates opportunities for women founders of color to access capital. Three of Friday's finalists are based in Philly.

Shelly Bell, founder of Black Girl Ventures.

(Photo by James Cullum)

Black Girl Ventures (BGV), a D.C.-based organization that creates opportunities for women entrepreneurs of color to access capital, made its way back to Philly last weekend for the third leg of its 2019 pitch competition tour.

Seven entrepreneurs delivered three-minute pitches to a nearly packed room of supporters at the University of Pennsylvania’s Pennovation Center in Grays Ferry on Friday evening.

Unlike other pitch competitions, BGV puts the power of selecting the competition’s winner in the hands of the audience. Although a panel of local judges grill the entrepreneurs during a three-minute Q&A segment, a winner is crowned based on donations from the crowd.

Audience members cast their votes with their dollars and the pitch that received the most in donations took home more than $5,000 in cash and prizes, which included a brand new Google Pixelbook, $3,000 in Google credits, 50% off Penji graphic and web design services and access to the HubSpot Start Up Program.

Founder and CEO Shelly Bell said she had simple, yet specific, goals in mind when creating the pitch competition: to provide much-needed financial backing to Black and Brown women who are entrepreneurs and to create a completely inclusive competition where everyone’s voice matters.

“Entrepreneurs of color are dealing with lack of access to capital — both social and financial — as well as a lack of ability to hire and a lack of influence and network,” Shelly said. “If less than 1% of Black women receive venture capital, why create another event where less than 1% of the room gets a voice? We wanted to give everyone an opportunity to choose who wins.”

(According to biennial demographic study ProjectDiane, only 34 Black women have raised over $1 million in venture capital between 2009 and 2017.)

Meet the BGV Philly pitch winners:


Atlanta-based founder Aisha Head snagged first place in the competition for her “search-and-discovery platform that connects patients and families to trusted home healthcare providers.”


The app, which is still in development, will use an algorithm to generate a list of qualified and professionally vetted medical and non-medical caregivers based on the user’s location; think Uber for home health caregivers.


New York-based cofounder Iyin Akinlabi-Oladimeji won second place for her app that exclusively connects members of the nine historically black, international Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities (otherwise known as the Divine Nine).

The Greek-lettered social-networking platform will also act an ecommerce platform where small Black-owned businesses will be able to sell their products through the app.

Corage Dolls LLC

Boston-based Flora Ekpe-Idang rounded off the list of finalists, coming in third place for her multicultural doll company.

“Corage Dolls are truly multicultural diverse dolls that represent girls today. We’re a doll company that helps to elevate, educate, and encourage girls of color to be unstoppable,” Ekpe-Idang said.


Other pitch participants:

5 Shorts Project

Philadelphia-based Shameka Sawyer assists aspiring filmmakers and playwrights “from development to distribution.”

Sawyer and her team offer film and play scriptwriting assistance, help with finding actors for production, providing a film crew and guidance with the post-production process (editing, sound design, etc.).

Dwell City Solutions

Philly-based cofounder Izzy Jackson is developing an eviction-prevention tool that will help landlords reduce their number of evictions by finding community resources and jobs for their tenants.

Mel’s Body Butter

Brooklyn-based Melissa Lamarre is selling her “hair crack” with her natural hair product line. The aloe and mango butter-based products can be used on both the hair and skin and has a shelf-life of up to a year.

Stellar Design Shop

Philly-based Keyonna Butler is repurposing used and old clothing and turning them into contemporary design pieces. Butler’s love of fashion and passion to reduce clothing waste inspired her to create one-of-a-kind pieces from “upcycled thrift items.”

See last year’s finalists here.

Companies: Black Girl Ventures
People: Shelly Bell
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