By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
[email protected]

BearWay Capital is bringing back its HBCU New Venture Challenge (NVC), a business plan competition for students from 41 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country, including those in DC, Maryland and Virginia. One student or team will win $25,000 in seed money and receive mentorship from BearWay Capital partners and other industry professionals.

The deadline to enter the HBCU NVC is Oct. 12, and interested participants must submit a 250-word business executive summary and a 90-second pitch video.

“We want a passionate entrepreneur who has a groundbreaking and assessment-ready idea, who’s actually ready to break ground on their business,” said Emeka Igwilo, partner at BearWay Capital.

BearWay Capital Partners Emeka Igwilo, Akin Akinhanmi, Joe Akoun, Emeka ‘Obi’ Obiaka and Sanmi Kalesanwo met while attending Morgan State University (Morgan). They all studied under the Mitchell School of Engineering and have been friends ever since.

While attending Morgan, they noticed that so many of their fellow students devised new and exciting business ideas, but they could not access funding to turn their ideas into operational businesses. Most venture capital firms were investing in young entrepreneurs from predominantly White institutions, according to the partners.

They became angel investors and founded BearWay Capital in 2019 to partner with diverse entrepreneurs seeking to innovate and disrupt industries.

The partners pledged to invest in at least 50 businesses led by underrepresented entrepreneurs over five years that span focus areas, including socio-economic equity and education; communications and technology; energy and sustainability; health and wellness; manufacturing and culture.

Last year, BearWay Capital launched the HBCU NVC, and Spelman College student Inglish Hills won the grand prize for her pitch of Save Cycle, an incentive-based recycling service created to foster a more sustainable future.

This year’s competition will run for several months and involve a semi-final and final round where participants will present powerpoints with pitch decks and business plans to a panel of judges.

For the application round, Igwilo said the pitch video should convey the entrepreneur’s passion, articulately communicate the business idea and express the vision the entrepreneur has for their company. The executive summary should explain the details of the business, as well as demonstrate its uniqueness and why there is a need and opportunity for it.

During the competition, students who advance to subsequent rounds will be matched with industry mentors to help them perfect their pitches. BearWay Capital strongly recommends that students participate in teams of two.

The HBCU NVC will announce its winner in February during a virtual grand finale.

In the ensuing years, BearWay Capital plans to open the competition to every HBCU in the country.

“We want to be able to listen to and support these innovative ideas coming from students who have overcome these systemic barriers because for guidance, we look to the past, but for hope, we look to the future,” said Igwilo. “Our excitement is coming from watching and nurturing a lot of these young ideas and putting the spotlight on them.”

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