Rhode Island Black Business Association Awards $10K to Young Entrepreneurs

Three businesses received top recognition from a panel of local entrepreneurs and small business leaders.
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From left to right: Amalfi Rosario of Healthcare Connect LLC, Zara Salmon of Crave Infused LLC, Khamry Varfley of MBKBeauty, Linsay Alcindor of Digital Bizz Management LLC, Kerlyne Jean – Baptiste of KerlyGirl LLC, Rocky Douglas of Rocky’s Root Care Toye Onikoyi and Muyideem “Larry” Adigun of Muse LLC. Photograph by Anthony Abu.

On April 30, eight up-and-coming entrepreneurs stood before the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA)—a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing opportunities for minority-owned businesses and professionals in the state—to make their case in the association’s Young Adult Business Pitch Competition. Open to Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Rhode Island between the ages of eighteen and thirty, each of the participants received training on how to present a business pitch leading up to the big day. Yet what they didn’t know prior was that the stakes were much more generous than they originally anticipated. Upon her arrival to Sprout Co-Working in Providence for the event, the RIBBA’s CEO Lisa Ranglin announced that the winning funds would be increased to $5,000 and that any business that did not place would still receive $500 grants each, totaling $10,000 overall.

After being evaluated on their ideas, presentations and overall business plans, three businesses received top recognition from a panel of judges made up of local entrepreneurs and small business leaders. Toye Onikoyi and Larry Adigun of MUSE LLC, a company which creates and sells an ultramodern interactive mirror (read more about it on our blog here), came in first, closely followed by Khamry Varfley of MBKBeauty, a vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics company, in second and Kerlyne Jean Baptiste of KerlyGirl, a natural plant-based haircare brand, in third.

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Photograph by Anthony Abu.

“When we heard of this opportunity it was a no brainer to apply to be a part,” Onikoyi said after placing first in the competition. “I was already familiar with the work RIBBA does as I was introduced to them while in college. I knew our pitch was ready but didn’t expect anything and it was a surprise and uplifting to win first place and gracious of them to raise the prize winnings. Besides winning, we were able to meet other entrepreneurs and expand our ever-growing network. We look forward to using the money for marketing purposes as well as inventory expenses.”

Victor Regino, one of the judges and a 2019 pitch winner, knew exactly how the participants were feeling during the process and couldn’t have been happier with the results.

“I was on this exact stage pitching my liquor brand called Papi’s Coquito, ultimately winning startup funds to bring my business to the next level,” he said. “RIBBA’s staff ensured all basics were covered and most importantly made sure these young business owners were prepared to give their presentations and knew the answers to all our questions. As a Small Business Liaison for the City of East Providence, I work with business owners every day, and I understand how difficult running a business can be without the proper foundation. RIBBA spends so much time and energy preparing and empowering young Black and brown entrepreneurs and they understand the importance of building up the community around them. This is why I’m confident they will all do well. Congratulations to Kerly Girl, MBK Beauty and Muse Mirror!”

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Photograph by Anthony Abu.

As the RIBBA’s CEO, Ranglin knows all too well how limited access to capital resources can be for underserved populations. It’s a driving factor behind competitions such as this.

“We are offering RIBBA’s unique approach of combining access to capital with expert technical services to help them grow their businesses,” she said. “Business formation is an effective way to decrease unemployment. In spite of reports of record low unemployment among minorities, October 2018 BLS household data showed black eighteen-year-old youth at close to 20 percent unemployment with Latino youth at nearly 17 percent — about 30 percent higher than among white eighteen-year-old youth. Minority youth up to age thirty are twice as likely as white youth to be unemployed.”

The RIBBA provides businesses with a vast array of business services including access to funds, training and one-on-one business development. To learn more about the competition, the winners and the Rhode Island Black Business Association’s mission, visit ri-bba.org.