How these 3 women wowed judges to win the Black Girl Ventures Pitch Tour in Detroit

Black Girl Ventures Foundation is a 6-year-old organization providing financial capital to Black and brown women seeking to further their own businesses or non-profit organizations. Late last year, the organization brought its "Black Girl Ventures Pitch Tour" to Detroit (which is a combination of "Shark Tank" and "Kickstarter"). Three metro Detroit women were awarded.

Photo supplied / Deslyn Adams

Deslyn Adams

Founder and owner of Koality Kontent, a line of environmentally-friendly jigsaw puzzles, Adams was the third-place winner (receiving $2,000). She says the company evokes her passion for the environment and love for animals.

“It was a pandemic idea. I had just quit my job as a pharmacist, I just didn’t like where the career was heading for me [...] I wanted to do something that had to do with mental health but entertaining. And all my friends puzzle so I said, ‘I’ll just make puzzles’,” she says.

Adams took the time to survey the puzzle landscape, saw what was missing, and decided to shape her brand around it.

“It's named after Koala Bears, they are super cute but they’re in danger now [...] I like learning and I would get a lot of the puzzles and the pieces wouldn’t fit properly or there was no additional information. For me learning and the need for constant self-improvement is a constant thing,” she says.

Adams, who was diagnosed with breast cancer the year before creating her business, discusses how puzzles can reduce stress and how puzzling for 25 minutes a day can raise your IQ.

She initially started with two puzzles and has since added four more. The art on the puzzle pieces is very vivid and displays environmentally-friendly messages. One puzzle shows the effects of a forest fire and another shows fish and turtles swimming over toxic containers at the bottom of the sea. 

“The environment affects everyone globally, not just the animals but everyone. I think sometimes we get caught up in our everyday survival mode that we don’t think about the environment,” she says.

Adams plans to keep bringing more awareness to the environment and her puzzles, but ultimately wants to develop a digital puzzle app.

“We are trying to do more engagement and community activities. I want to go digital, now our puzzles are very eco-friendly. There is no plastic inside the box with our new collection. It comes with a full-size poster and an actual bag you can reuse. But going digital is the future”.

Alicia McKay. Photo courtesy of Paul Hairlson Photography/Black Girl Ventures.

Alicia McKay

The woman behind No Fear Cafe, a learning center that provides alternative ways to tutor, teach kids, and supplement their learning, was the second-place winner (receiving $6,000). McKay has been tutoring, and helping families, since 2006. 

"What I realize is that many of my students had special needs," McKay says. "They had attention deficit disorders or they learned differently on an autism spectrum and the struggles they were having in the classroom setting; they didn’t have with me. It was only because they had time and space to process the information."  

As a teacher, she felt restricted by classroom policies and procedures, but as her clientele grew, so did her awareness of the needs of the community.

“At first I ran it as a side hustle honestly. I would meet with clients at cafes, coffee shops, and things like that. February of 2020 I opened my first brick-and-mortar,” she says.

As the pandemic derailed schools and businesses nationwide, she took a pivot and went virtual. But tutoring via Zoom was challenging and opened her eyes to even a bigger concern; an increasing number of students were falling behind during the time period when students were 100% virtual. McKay states, “I was ready.” and her business blossomed.

She now has a staff of 10 and moving forward she wants to pursue more educational avenues using STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics) with a heavy focus on the technology part via robotics and coding.

“We’ve been killing the game in science, engineering, and math. But technology, we haven’t done a lot of because it's expensive. All of the work I've been doing now to raise funds is to fund that.”

Photo courtesy of Paul Hairlson Photography/Black Girl Ventures.

Shelia Curtis

First-place ($10,000) went to Curtis for her non-profit Safe Haven for Empowerment (SHE). SHE seeks to help teenage girls who are battling physical insecurities, need confidence in their education abilities, and are discovering their passions outside of traditional classroom settings. SHE also empowers young girls by giving them strategies to combat ‘impostor syndrome’, and breaking through the glass ceiling in corporate America.

“It is an organization that's meant to service underrepresented teens in the city of Detroit and designed to give them some of the tools traditionally we don’t receive until we’re already adults,” Custis says.

Curtis is also a corporate attorney and compliance professional. Her desire to work with youth comes from the ups and downs she experienced in her own life chasing goals and “checking boxes that would affirm me as a person”. Her organization seeks to tell girls what she wished someone had told her in her teens.  

“I feel like depending on who you have in your ear a lot of times we end up measuring success by things that are not authentic [...] I measured success by checking a lot of boxes; getting the degree, getting married having a baby, and this picture of stability and success that wasn’t authentic to who I was as a person.  At some point, I didn’t even know if I knew who I was. I lost myself in those roles and titles,” she says.

She started working with girls at her high school alma mater, Martin Luther King Jr., and has engaged over 300 girls in Detroit since 2019.

“I wanted the girls to get this information early enough so they could start off on the right path to begin with. You can lose yourself if you don’t really know who you are from the beginning,” she says.

Right now she has a team of volunteers and is seeking to develop partnerships with universities, trade schools, and other like-minded organizations to give girls more access to scholarships and resources.

“My goal is that with every piece of funding that we get we reach more girls, more schools, and more cities.”

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