Fifteen entrepreneurs duked it out last week for the chance to win cash prizes in the inaugural BIG Pitch competition. Out of these competitors, three were selected by a panel of judges to win the prizes while one was chosen as the viewers’ choice.
A virtual competition, the BIG Pitch invited entrepreneurs of color to pitch their companies for the chance to win both money and exposure on Thursday, June 4. To be eligible, the participants had to be entrepreneurs/CEOs of color and have a revenue-generating Arkansas business that had been in operation for one year or more.
“The BIG Pitch is an opportunity for us to celebrate entrepreneurs of color doing good business in Arkansas,” Bjorn Simmons, founder of The BIG Pitch, said in a statement. “The BIG Pitch encourages diverse entrepreneurs and stimulates conversations about intentional investments into their ventures’ growth and success. With support from entrepreneurial support organizations across the state, this will become a routine activity.”
In total, $30,000 was on the line for the entrepreneurs plus an extra $1,000 for the viewers’ choice award winner. This prize pool was separated out into categories determined by the companies’ annual revenue. There was a $5,000 cash prize for companies making $1-$25,000 per year; a $10,000 prize for companies making between $25,001-$50,000; and a $15,000 prize for companies making $50,001+ per year.
As part of the competition, each participant made a two-minute virtual pitch, followed by a question-and-answer session with the panel of judges. This panel included Mimi San Pedro from the Venture Center, Antwan Phillips from Wright Lindsey Jennings, Dr. Chris Jones from the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, Doris Davis from Sam’s Club, and Kalebyra Mitchell from Frost.
At the end of the competition, the judges made their final tallies and crowned the winners. These winners were LaTasha Moore of Tasha Teaches Spanish, Chris James of The Roots Art Connection and Kristian Edwards of BLK + GRN. The viewers’ choice winner was Lonzell Blackmon of Blackmon Care Services.
LaTasha Moore received the $5,000 cash prize for businesses making $1-$25,000 per year. Her business, LaTasha Teaches Spanish, offers private one-on-one Spanish language lessons, private group sessions and corporate services, such as interpretations, document translations and training classes.
Chris James received the $10,000 cash prize for businesses making $25,001-$50,000 per year. James’ venture is The Roots Art Connection, an Arkansas nonprofit arts organization based in North Little Rock. According to its website, it focuses on under-served communities and aims to provide “services for the homeless, at-risk youth, starving artists, LBGT friends, small businesses and many other marginalized groups.”
Kristian Edwards received the $15,000 cash prize for businesses making $50,0001+ per year. Edwards’ company, BLK + GRN is an “all-natural marketplace by all black artisans,” according to the company website. BLK + GRN offers a wide range of products from bath and body products to skincare to beauty products to hair products and more.
As the viewers’ choice award winner, Lonzell Blackmon received a $1,000 prize. Blackmon’s company, Blackmon Care Services, is a healthcare provider in the Central Arkansas region that focuses on services for seniors, disabled adults and their families.
In addition to the prizes the winners received, each participant also received one-on-one training with a variety of mentors from Venture Noire, the Venture Center, Earnest Sweat and ‘Shark Tank’ casting director Brandon Andrews.
“We are incredibly proud of the courageous entrepreneurs who joined The BIG Pitch and celebrate the power of collaboration with the organizations who helped make this important event a success,” Wayne Miller, Executive Director of the Venture Center, said. “Entrepreneurs of color have long faced significant barriers to building their businesses. While we work at this every day, it’s great to see many organizations from across the state collaborate during this particularly vulnerable time.”
The full list of entrepreneurs that participated in The BIG Pitch includes Jennifer Beasley, CEO of The Learning Tree; Lonzell Blackmon, CEO of Blackmon Care Services; Vashonda Eason, CEO of Eason Counseling & Associates; Kristian Edwards, CEO of BLK + GRN; Candice Graham, founder of Hair Couture; Chris James, CEO of The Roots Art Connection; Kyjione King, CEO of Kiki Dance Studio & Wellness Center LLC; Angela McGhee, CEO of Definitive Formulations LLC; Jerry Mitchell, CEO of Jet King International; Latasha Moore, CEO of Tasha Teaches Spanish; Edwin Ortiz, CEO of Luncher; Lydia Page and Chemia Woods, founders of Love Yours Box; Derrick Reives, CEO of Career Quo; April Roy, CEO of FemPAQ; and Charu Thomas, CEO of Oculogx.
Multiple Arkansas organizations partnered to organize The BIG Pitch. These organizations include The Venture Center, Venture Noire, the Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce and the Walton Family Foundation.