Black Georgia entrepreneurs win prizes in Pharell-backed competition

Local Black founders won between $20,000 and $250,000 in the Black Ambition competition
Maïré Bavarday-Rosa (center), co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based logistics hub ECOMSPACES, stands with Felecia Hatcher (left), CEO of Black Ambition, and Pharrell Williams (right) after winning $250,000 at the Black Ambition Demo Day on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.

Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

Maïré Bavarday-Rosa (center), co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based logistics hub ECOMSPACES, stands with Felecia Hatcher (left), CEO of Black Ambition, and Pharrell Williams (right) after winning $250,000 at the Black Ambition Demo Day on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.

Atlanta-based entrepreneur Maïré Bavarday-Rosa, co-founder and CEO of logistics hub ECOMSPACES, won a $250,000 investment for her business Thursday night at the Black Ambition Demo Day, the culmination of a months-long startup competition created by musician and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams. She was one of several Georgia-based companies to walk away with funding.

“It was really emotional for me,” Bavarday-Rosa said tearfully about winning the second-place prize. She recently lost her grandmother, whose funeral was on the same day as the competition, so she was hoping to make her proud.

The Black Ambition prize was started by Williams in 2020 based on the premise that Black ambition is limitless, but access is not. So he founded the nonprofit initiative to provide funding to Black and Hispanic-founded companies.

Each year one entrepreneur wins the grand prize of $1 million, but dozens of other founders win smaller amounts. Those prizes ranged from $20,000 to $250,000 this year. The prize money is not a gift, it is an equity investment. The funds are given to the startup in the form of a simple agreement for future equity, which gives money to a competing founder now in exchange for a piece of the company in the future.

But the way Black Ambition structures the deal, 50% of the investment essentially ends up being a grant, according to the initiative. Over the past three years, the initiative has dispersed $10 million, according to Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition.

Only 250 founders out of an undisclosed number of applications made it to the semifinalist stage, which was announced this summer. Over the next several months, semifinalists networked with other founders and had access to business mentors through the program.

Ultimately, just 50 were chosen as finalists and of that number, only eight pitched on-stage during Thursday’s Demo Day. Bavarday-Rosa was one of those eight.

Before going on, she was “shaking like a leaf,” she said. It was her first time pitching since starting ECOMSPACES in 2019 in the West End.

Her company is a full-service e-commerce hub for small businesses, helping them with fulfillment services as well as serving as a sort of business incubator. Over the past four years, the company has been self-funded, so growth has been limited, Bavarday-Rosa said. She is part of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit in Atlanta dedicated to developing, growing and scaling Black entrepreneurs, and has received some non-financial support from the center.

But with the $250,000 investment she plans to develop the ECOMSPACES’ online platform to be able to expand services to e-commerce sellers across the globe.

And Bavarday-Rosa was not the only Georgia entrepreneur who won a prize Thursday night. Miles Tucker, CEO and co-founder of Darknore, an Atlanta-based artificial intelligence tool that tests new software products for bugs, was also one of the eight chosen to pitch on stage. He ultimately won $50,000 for his business, which he plans to use to further product development.

Tucker said he was “grateful to be to be in the room, to accept the money from Pharrell, who’s like a legend in his own right in his space.”

The other Georgia companies to receive funding (though they did not pitch on Thursday) were:

  • Atlanta-based airport operations software platform UnDelay, which won $75,000
  • Atlanta-based online marketplace SAINT MILES, which won $50,000
  • Athens-based body care brand Gently Soap, which won $75,000
  • Atlanta-based nail polish brand BarBella Co., which won $20,000

For Bavarday-Rosa, the prize money is just one part of all the benefits she has gotten through Black Ambition. In less than 24 hours after winning second-place, major companies like Mastercard and Amazon reached out to her for potential partnerships, she said.

She hopes to use the platform of Black Ambition to grow her revenue to $5 million by the end of next year.

“It’s not over yet, that’s the beauty of it,” she said. “The pitch competition is not the end of it.”

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