Black entrepreneurs awarded $25K grants to grow their businesses

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Despite a gradual slowdown in investment opportunities for Black businesses, Daymond John is determined to rewrite the narrative through Black Entrepreneurs Day.

John, CEO of FUBU and co-star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” started Black Entrepreneurs Day in 2020 to celebrate innovation and enterprise in the Black community. Black Entrepreneurs Day, which held their annual event Wednesday, says it has awarded more than $750,000 in business grants since 2020.

“The need for resources and community support for our Black businesses remains paramount. I salute our partners who year after year, support our mission to educate and inspire Black entrepreneurs around the globe,” John told ABC News.

In 2020, following George Floyd’s death, Black founders raised a record $4.3 billion in venture capital and corporate investments. However, amid increased market uncertainty, financing for Black businesses dropped by 45%, outpacing the 36% decline in overall VC funding in 2022, CNBC reported.

Nine entrepreneurs were selected to win $25,000 each during Black Entrepreneurs Day’s star-studded event at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. New York City Mayor Eric Adams presented John with an official Black Entrepreneurs Day proclamation.

The winners, representing industries ranging from food to financial services and lawn care, won more than $200,000 through the NAACP Powershift Entrepreneur Grant. Applicants were required to share their visions for their businesses, describe the challenges they’ve faced so far, and explain how they plan to use the grant funding in full.

Ashley Sutton, the Salesforce-sponsored recipient of a $25,000 grant, said she has big plans to revolutionize the greeting cards industry.

“I wanted to dive in headfirst with something that had a personal meaning to me. I wanted to disrupt this $7 billion industry that hasn’t been innovated since pop-ups and music,” Sutton told ABC News.

Sutton created Hustle & Hope in 2019 to do just that. Sutton said her love for greeting cards bloomed through her family’s tradition of giving her special notes for every occasion.

Using her 13 years of marketing expertise, she came up with the idea to merge the digital and physical experience by embedding downloadable guides into her inspirational cards through QR codes. The resources cover a wide range of topics including celebrations, self-care strategies, and dealing with rejection– something Sutton said she is very familiar with as a full-time entrepreneur.

This investment will allow her to expand the Hustle & Hope team and hire an intern, Sutton said.

‘”If I kept track of every ‘no’ I’ve ever gotten, I could probably fund my business,” Sutton said. “But it’s just this unwavering belief in myself. And holding on to this quote from my mom, ‘No means next.’ That keeps me going.”

Lawrence Phillips, another recipient of Black Entrepreneurs Day, said burnout led him to take a risk and quit his lucrative consulting job to travel the world at the height of his career. While navigating 30 countries across seven continents, he said he often found himself nervous about visiting certain areas as a Black man.

“I really could never find a platform that would tell me, from city to city, what it would be like traveling while Black,” Phillips said to ABC News.

By 2018, he launched Green Book Global, a travel platform where users can book trips, read and write reviews, and join a premium membership with discounts and cash-back rewards. Phillips said he drew inspiration from “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a critical Jim Crow-era guide designed to help Black travelers find safe places accommodations, restaurants, and other services in the United States.

Green Book Global was handpicked by Hilton to receive a $25,000 prize. With this grant, Phillips is all set to overhaul the Green Book Global mobile app and website to make the user experience more seamless.

“Our goal is to increase the confidence and reduce the anxiety of black travelers,” Phillips said. “People don’t always have that many vacation days. They have maybe one or two big trips a year. They don’t have time to have a bad experience. They’re probably going to spend a lot of money, so they want to be sure whatever they encounter is a positive experience.”

He’s excited to build out the company’s community features so users can directly message each other and grow stronger bonds over their excitement for travel.

“It’s empowering, and it adds life to the reviews when you get to know the people behind the posts,” said Phillips. “It’s our hope to drive the company forward and [we] can’t do anything without our community.”

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