The largest barrier preventing Black and Latinx founders from building a successful business is funding: In 2020, just 3 percent of $148 billion in funding from venture capital went to Black-founded companies. And that doesn't sit well with musician and producer Pharrell Williams. 

Back in 2020, Williams launched the Black Ambition Prize as a step toward directly aiding the entrepreneurs long neglected by traditional funding models. The prize awards up to $1 million to multiple entrepreneurs who can demonstrate their progress and have raised less than $1 million in dilutive funding. 

Last year, Black Ambition funded 34 companies and trained and mentored 300 companies. "I know people have had much better ideas, and because they just didn't have the ecosystem to go knock on the door, or pick up a phone, or send an email and get the codes, they lost out on genius ideas," says Williams, who appeared on April 27 with Black Ambition Prize's CEO, Felecia Hatcher, at Fast Company's virtual Most Innovative Companies Summit.

Beyond seeding Black and Latinx entrepreneurs with much-needed funds, Williams and Hatcher also aim to grow the overall community in terms of size and power. They noted that these communities have long traditions of supporting one another when no one else would. Williams says Black Ambition can help build an ecosystem that will benefit generations to come. It's working toward that goal by tapping into historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The Black Ambition HBCU Prize awards up to $100,000 to multiple entrepreneurs who are current HBCU students or recent alumni. 

When considering investing in potential founders, Williams and Hatcher agree that imagination, ambition, and energy are essential. But one area that Hatcher feels is overlooked is joy. Too often she feels the focus on Black and Latinx entrepreneurs is the struggles and difficulties they face. Important topics for sure, but Hatcher wants to see the conversation shift to the innovation and joy that springs from these communities. Hatcher notes that "we haven't been able to talk about Black Ambition without smiling."