Editor’s note: Kansas City G.I.F.T. is a non-financial partner of Startland News.
Ten Black-owned Kansas City businesses are expected to pitch March 24 for their share of $60,000 at what organizers hope will become an annual event that helps to close the funding gap for entrepreneurs of color.
The We Are Black pitch competition is planned for an all-day debut at the Delta Athenaeum, organized by Kansas City G.I.F.T.
G.I.F.T. — which stands for Generating Income For Tomorrow — is a nonprofit organization founded in 2020 that works to close the racial wealth gap in Kansas City by awarding grants to Black-owned businesses in historically redlined and underserved neighborhoods.
We Are Black marks G.I.F.T.’s first entry into the world of pitch competitions, although the plan has been in the works for two years, said Karis Harrington, chief of business development for the organization.
The “Shark Tank”-like competition will also allow G.I.F.T. to expand its boundaries to include Black-owned businesses anywhere in Kansas City, Missouri, Harrington said. The organization now is restricted to awarding grants to businesses located from 9th Street to Bannister Road, and Troost Avenue to Hardesty Avenue.
“We do it in a very strategic way, because we took the same redlined areas in Kansas City, and we’re infusing capital in those areas,” Harrington said. “[The pitch competition] gave us an opportunity to be able to extend our boundaries a little bit to any business in the city of Kansas City, Missouri.”
The 10 business owners selected for the event will pitch their businesses to a panel of five judges, who will then select first, second, and third place winners; taking home $30,000, $20,000, and $10,000, respectively, Harrington said.
- Dayonne Richardson — Mirror Mirror Books
- Marvin Lyman — Equitable Development Partners
- Titus Golden — Ozell Brand
- Dion Dodson — Deluxe Transportation Group
- Dr. Brenton Hicks — More Life Chiropractic
- Ramond Stewart — K.O.P Skincare & Beauty
- LaVita Green — Caresticks Mobile Phlebotomy
- DeVione Branscumb — Style Vs Fashion Styling Co.
- Germaneke Drone — Blakk Brew
- Patricia Mitchell — Ish Eyewear
All 10 participants will receive a full year of technical assistance from G.I.F.T., which includes accounting, bookkeeping, marketing, legal, and business coaching services, Harrington added.
“That’s typically what we do for all of our grant winners anyway, so even though these are pitch contestant winners, they will come aboard as a part of the G.I.F.T. family of funded businesses, if you will, and they’ll get all those additional benefits as well,” she said.
The 10 businesses, which Harrington said range in industry, size and rate of growth, were selected via a live social media poll in January that involved 340 applicants.
Since then, G.I.F.T. has hosted a series of four preparatory sessions, she added, noting that some of the participants will be pitching for the first time on March 24.
“I didn’t want them to feel ill-prepared, and a lot of these business owners have never pitched before, so having to come in and pitch cold would have been pretty aggravating, I would think,” Harrington said. “I just wanted to help them, to the extent that we could, be totally prepared.”
Building a strong Black economic ecosystem
As valuable as the mentorship and services from G.I.F.T. can be, the relationships contestants build with one another can be even more fruitful, Harrington said.
“Mentorship is huge, and I don’t think that any of us could realistically think that the small business community can thrive and survive without mentorship,” Harrington said.
“Every time that we’ve met with these businesses, it’s my goal to get them to understand, ‘This is not your competition in this room,’” she continued. “These are all great opportunities to connect, network, build, share resources, share concerns, and all the tips and tricks of the entrepreneurial trade. We owe that to each other.”
Regardless of who wins the funding, Harrington said, she believes the opportunity to form connections with other local business owners makes We Are Black an invaluable experience for all participants.
“At the very least, these businesses are getting an opportunity to come together, to network to be those fuelling agents for each other,” she said. “I think that is as important as whoever wins the money, because I think that’s how we continue to build a strong Black economic ecosystem.”
Harrington also encouraged community members to support the competition, whether through attendance on March 24, a financial donation, or both.
G.I.F.T. grant awards — including the $60,000 to be awarded at the We Are Black pitch competition — are made possible because of individual donations, she noted.
In February, G.I.F.T. awarded $25,000 to Play Event Co., founded by Isaiah Colbert, and $10,000 to Weirdo Nailz, founded by Iesha Justice.
“G.I.F.T. was born on the premise that, ‘If 15,000 People donate $10 a month, how does that change black business?’” Harrington said “So, we are very focused now and always will be on individual donorship. . . and this is just another way to realize where those funds go. It’s the tangible representation of, ‘This is where my $10 monthly donation goes.’”