Founders compete on DEI Accelerator Pitch Day
Taeverlee Pollard woke up on a chilly and dim Wednesday morning and needed an energy boost as she was getting ready for the day. She found the perfect Beyonce track on her playlist to pump her up and shared it with her boss, Ellen Brazelton, owner of Buzzed Bull Creamery in St. Charles.
The two were preparing to participate in the third Diversity Equity and Inclusion Accelerator Pitch Day competition at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
Brazelton, along with Pollard, her operations manager of the liquid nitrogen creamery and coffee shop, was among 14 minority small business owners vying for a spot in the accelerator’s third cohort. Those chosen receive a non-dilutive $50,000 capital injection, access to paid UMSL student interns and the chance to participate in an eight-week, best-in-class business development program.
The stakes were high.
“It’s just a realization that this could be the difference in our dreams coming true versus the day-to-day things and focusing on how we can make our concept bigger and better,” she said. “We’re so excited — nervous.”
The DEI Accelerator and pitch competition were created by Dan Lauer, founding executive director of the umbrella program UMSL Accelerate, to help underrepresented entrepreneurs scale their businesses.
This year’s competition received 200 applications, which included Joshua Danrich, who made the cut for pitches, as a 13-year-old entrepreneur who created Mr. Fresh, a line of air fresheners and deodorizers created with essential oils.
Danrich and his mom, Shay, have been running the business for three years from their garage. If selected for the cohort, the money would help them increase production to expand their business and fulfill more order requests from retailers such as Schnucks, which already carries their product in more than 30 of its stores.
“It all started with the love of cars,” Danrich said, fervently repeating his pitch. “I love cars, and I wanted to have a luxury sports car dealership at 10 years old. I asked my mom, and she said, ‘No, Josh. You can’t own a luxury sports car dealership at 10 years old.’ So then I asked her, ‘Can I have luxury car air fresheners?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’”
The Pitch Day event attracted an array of small, local businesses that were at different stages of development, from Taste of Jack’s fresh salsa and Posie Pots and 3D Prints to the retail business optimizer oneKin.
Among the 20 judges were past DEI Accelerator participant Tony Davis of Pop Pop Hurray!, representatives from companies including Edward Jones, World Wide Technology and Anheuser Busch, local entrepreneurs, two UMSL students and faculty from the UMSL College of Business Administration.
One judge, former NFL player-turned-entrepreneur Brandon Williams, knew what kind of pitches would get his attention.
“I’m looking for energy,” he said. “I’m looking for a person who can clearly communicate what their company is, what they’ve done to this point, from sales to margins and then understand where they’re about to go.”
St. Louis Treasurer Adam Layne also participated as a judge and wanted competitors to know what resources the city offers for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“One of the things I do at our Office of Financial Empowerment is increase the access to these programs,” he said. “So if we have people that come through who are looking to start a small business, we will refer them to this accelerator and other programs. We also work with our bank partners to help get them lower or no-interest loans or startup capital.”
The prospect of $50,000 in capital and being accepted into the DEI Accelerator program poses a benefit to all of the founders’ businesses. For Brandace Johnson, owner of B Juiced, and her business partner Jada Huffman, the opportunity could take their concept from food truck to franchise.
The ability to expand their cold-pressed juice business and run it full-time would allow Johnson, a healthcare professional, and Huffman, a stay-at-home mom, the ability to provide a healthy resource in underserved neighborhoods.
“Big picture, our goal is to franchise B Juiced so we can be located in food desert areas,” Johnson said. “Being a part of this program will give us the resources to create an operations plan so we can create a franchise plan.”
Winners of the DEI Accelerator Pitch Day competition will be announced on December 7.
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