Asia Jackson didn’t always want to be an entrepreneur. The Tennessee State University sophomore had dreams of becoming an orthodontist, but after growing her natural hair out for the first time, she found that a lot of the products she was using were drying out her hair.
“So I was like ‘Hmm, I could solve a very big problem that a lot of naturals are facing,'” Jackson told The Plug. After some help from a high school teacher and a four-month entrepreneurship program, Jackson started her own line of products in 2019.
Now, she will be able to take her business to the next level after being one of five HBCU students to win $10,000 from Amazon through the Black Girl Magic Digital Summit’s HBCU Pitch Competition in August.
Amazon’s overall $50,000 sponsorship of the pitch competition is part of its Black Business Accelerator program announced in June. The $150 million program is aimed at supporting Black-owned small businesses and Amazon will spend the next four years doling out cash by way of grants for ads, imaging services and $500 account credits (collectively valued at $3,900), $10,000 grants through an application process via Hello Alice, and support services that better help customers connect with small businesses run by Black sellers.
“We thought it was important to intentionally invest in spaces that are cultivating entrepreneurship opportunities for Black entrepreneurs and that’s a part of the larger Amazon’s Black business accelerator intention,” Brandi Neloms, PR manager for Amazon Small Business, told The Plug.
This year was the third annual Black Girl Magic Digital Summit put on by Boss Women Media, an organization dedicated to helping women navigate both the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds. This year was also the first time the HBCU Pitch Competition was part of the summit, sparked by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.
“What we realized is that in order for change to truly happen in our country, we have to rally around the next generation, we can’t focus on the generation that we’re connected to right now,” Marty McDonald, CEO and founder of Boss Women Media, told The Plug.
“This next generation, they’re different. They’re on fire, they’re eager. They’re bold, and they’re fearless,” McDonald said. “It was so cool to see them take their business so seriously and to show up for themselves while they’re navigating a class load.”
For Tianna Sankey, CEO of BLKgirls Apparel, a junior at Florida A&M University and a pitch competition winner, she balances school and entrepreneurship by planning what she can while simultaneously taking each day as it comes. She started her business in 2018 and says the pitch competition was a blessing.
“I called my sister and my mom and I was like, ‘Guys, I just won $10,000,'” Sankey told The Plug.
She has used the money to upgrade the quality of her line of purses, clothes and accessories, rent a space to store inventory and increase marketing efforts.
Ainyae Holmes, CEO of accessories brand All the Rage and a junior at Howard University, was also a pitch competition winner. Holmes plans to use the money to upgrade her products by designing and creating her own line of sunglasses instead of just selling wholesale.
This is not the first time that Amazon has worked with HBCUs. In February 2020, the tech giant hosted a three-day conference to expose HBCU students to different career paths at Amazon. The company has also partnered with Howard University since 2019 on Howard Entertainment, a program in Los Angeles that gives Howard students the opportunity to take classes during the spring semester and participate in a fellowship in the entertainment industry during the summer semester.
For Asia Jackson, winning the pitch competition was not only about the money and being able to upgrade her business.
“It has had a huge impact, not just the money itself, but just the fact that there are people out there that are willing to support me and just really believe in my business,” Jackson said.