Inside Pharrell Williams’ $1 billion plan for Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs


Black Ambition, a nonprofit founded by Pharrell Williams, funds and offers mentorship to Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs.
Talk is cheap: Black Ambition founder Pharrell Williams and CEO Felecia Hatcher want to see more Black ideas funded with the belief investing in culture will reap big returns. “Where we are is where the profit is,” Williams says. “There’s no denying that. We influence it.” Image: Getty

“A return on investment for our ancestors’ sacrifice.”

Felecia Hatcher stunned the room at a private dinner in New York earlier this month with the perfect mission statement for Black Ambition, the nonprofit cofounded by Pharrell Williams, the mega music producer-turned fashion icon. In fact, Hatcher’s words were so powerful that even Williams, who spent decades working with lyricists like billionaire Jay Z, was dazzled.

“She has the bars,” Williams tells Forbes. Adds Hatcher, the CEO of Black Ambition, of honoring the sacrifice: “No matter who you are, what your background is, all of us owe the people before us that level of attention, care, dedication, grit and tenacity to what we’re doing.”

Black Ambition held its third annual Demo Day in New York on November 9, awarding over 30 companies a total of more than $3 million. Founded in 2020, the organization addresses the lack of capital for startups among Black and Hispanic communities and estimates that since its inception it has awarded $10 million combined to more than 100 companies. Black Ambition’s partners include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Chanel, Billionaire Boys Club, and the Rockefeller Foundation are also Black Ambition partners.

Black Ambition targets entrepreneurs in sectors that include high-growth areas such as tech, healthcare, and consumer packaged goods.

“We’re changing lives,” Hatcher says. “But the lives that those entrepreneurs are going to change as a result of the investment — that’s what matters the most.”

Hatcher joined Black Ambition after years as a marketer and entrepreneur — she co-created Black Tech Week in Miami. Speaking with Forbes at the Demo Day, Hatcher vividly recalled the once-in-a-lifetime meeting with fashion icon Virgil Abloh, the celebrated artistic director at luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. At the meeting, which Williams also attended, the trio shared a common interest in financially backing Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs while emphasizing mentorship. Abloh died of cancer in November 2021 but his legacy lives on — he designed Black Ambition’s logo.

Street Style - Paris Fashion Week - Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2021/2022 : Day One

Virgil Abloh photographed in 2021 in Paris.

Getty Images

Black Ambition says it has mentored over 750 entrepreneurs, including some from HBCUs, and firms it has funded have raised nearly $100 million in venture capital. By 2030, Williams says the figure should reach $1 billion.

“We need real change,” Williams tells Forbes. “We can’t keep waiting. Our parents and their parents — for them, equality was No. 1. And for us, equality is absolutely on the list, but equity is more powerful than equality.”

George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 and the social protests that followed motivated America’s top 50 largest public companies to collectively pledge $49 billion to address racial inequity, according to the Brookings Institution. After $1.6 billion in 2020, Black-owned startups received $5.1 billion in VC funding in 2021. But in 2022 that figure plummeted back to $2.3 billion, according to Crunchbase data. Interpreting the immediate jump before falling back down, Williams says, “A lot of it felt like marketing.”

View the video to hear more about Black Ambition’s roadmap to $1 billion.

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