By: HBCUA Staff
Six HBCU student and alumni startup founders competed live in the HBCU Futures Conference’s 3rd annual Pitch:HBCU Competition recently. These six founders were selected as competition finalists from an impressive pool of applicants from across the country, representing more than 50 HBCUs. The competition highlighted various business environments ranging from e-books, beverages, career services, health systems, gaming, and energy solutions. Though only one winner could be picked to win the $10,000 prize sponsored by JPMorgan Chase, Plexo Capital, The National Science Foundation, and the HBCU Advocate, each founder represented their companies and their HBCUs well. All of the companies who presented at Pitch:HBCU were also invited to join the HBCU Advocate’s HBCU business incubator.
The six companies
Monocle provides users with a social reading experience in real-time, sharing perspectives that promise to have the reader hooked. Readers can connect through the app, which is available on both iOS and Android, to share annotations and insights with friends, classmates, or others within the e-book. Monocle’s co-founders are Austin Washington, as well as Uthman Alibalogun and Leslie Winston III, who are both North Carolina A&T alumni.
Transition, co-founded by Kayla Wright-Jackson, a Hampton alum, and Corey Shaw, a Morehouse alum, is a career service platform that aims to address the widespread shortage of essential workers in the healthcare system. With the goal of bridging a significant gap, Transition applies allied health training schools to employers to enhance student results.
bEHR Healthy systems, founded by Kwame Terra, who attends Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana, brings medical, lifestyle, and social solutions for healthy living to the African American community.
EMU Gaming Inc. brings the world of gaming communication from one platform to many. Using their app, friends, families, and teammates would be able to come together to connect virtually regardless of what gaming platform the use. The founding team of Howard University students includes Eric Hustler, Jarell Brown, Eric Patel, and Chase Tomlin.
Gemini Energy Solutions, founded by Dr. Anthony D. Kinslow II, also a NCAT alum, leverages cleantech principles to provide affordable, investment-grade energy audits for small commercial buildings and develop shovel-ready Clean Energy Hubs to support a clean energy transformation. Through their collaborative efforts, Gemini Energy Solutions aims to provide swift and equitable changes in the communities that need it the most.
Though all of the contestants offered great insight and compelling pitches, Alston Clark, the founder of Zion Roar, was crowned the winner of the 2022 Pitch Competition. Coming in strong with his elevator pitch, he began with his company’s rhyming mantra, “Health is wealth. Fitness is vital. Never let your body stay idol. Drink Zion Roar all the time! Stay Alkaline.” Zion Roar is a black-owned instant sea moss beverage available in both liquid and powder form. Founded in 2020, Clark is a 4th generation herbalist and data engineer who combines technology and deep herbal knowledge. His product aims to promote a “healthy and mighty” lifestyle, especially in disadvantaged communities.
Jumping with joy when he heard that he won, Clark was ecstatic to receive the funding he needed to expand his business and provide the world with the “one and only” instant sea moss beverage powder. He plans to use the funds to work on co-packing and expanding operations to a bigger size. It has always been important to Clark to be a present and active figure in his community. By distributing a convenient health supplement option within that community and investing as much revenue as possible back into his business, Clark’s goal is to create holistic sustainable health initiatives that expand accessibility.
“We are pleased to be able to support HBCU alumni and student-led startups again this year through Pitch:HBCU,” said Angela Jones, founder of Pitch:HBCU, the HBCU Futures Conference, and the HBCU Advocate. “With the support of JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways program, Plexo Capital, and the National Science Foundation, we were able to engage students and alumni from nearly every HBCU during the HBCU Futures Conference. Because of the attendees’ exposure to our entrepreneurship tract, which included a panel discussion of successful, HBCU alum, women founders as well as fireside chats with many highly successful entrepreneurs like Fisk University alum Dr. Mathew Knowles and Howard University alum Lonye Ford, attendees were able to take valuable knowledge back to their spheres of influence and hopefully inspire more entrepreneurship activity in the HBCU ecosystem.”
Jones was one of three Pitch:HBCU judges this year, alongside Julius Valentine Maina, an investor with Techstars and an alum of Bowie State University, and Henry Ahn, the program director for The National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs.