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Utah entrepreneur wins $50,000 at NBA All-Star Weekend pitch competition

Feb 17, 2023, 7:49 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — A female entrepreneur from Salt Lake City went home Thursday with $50,000 after winning the first-ever NBA Foundation Pitch Competition as part of NBA All-Star Weekend.

“Utah is the perfect place to host this competition. With a booming economy, a growing population and a thriving tech scene, we embody hustle and drive,” said Nayo Campbell, digital content producer for the Utah Jazz and emcee for the event. “This is an excellent opportunity for Black businesses to be elevated and exposed to investors and an audience beyond Utah.”

Eight Black entrepreneurs — four of whom are from Utah —had three minutes to pitch their business to a panel of judges followed by a five-minute Q&A from the panel. The judges were Jazz minority owner Ryan Sweeney, businessman and record executive Steve Stoute, American Express Chief Marketing Officer Elizabeth Rutledge and managing partner of Beta Boom Kimmy Paluch.

Jenna White, founder of Empire Body Waxing, said she was “stoked” to be the first-place winner of the competition.

“I am still kind of in shock,” White said after the event. “I am very much happy and very much grateful, but I’m like ‘pinch me.’ This is wild.”

Her waxing company strives to help people feel safe and comfortable during their personal care by providing a luxurious but affordable experience. White currently operates a salon located in Salt Lake City, but she is hoping to expand to Utah County with the money she won.

White put an emphasis during her pitch on how she gives back to the community by donating some of her profits to local charities such as the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Utah Association of Family Support Centers.

“I’m honored, truly. Because that imposter syndrome, you know? I’m like, do I deserve to be here? And so it’s great that the judges — especially in their caliber — felt that I deserved to win,” White said.

The NBA Foundation partnered with the National Black MBA Association and the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce to host the competition. The first-place winner received $50,000, second place got $35,000 and third place got $15,000.

Utah Jazz Minority owner Ryan Sweeney, UnitedMasters and Translation founder and CEO Steve Stoute, American Express Chief Marketing Officer Elizabeth Rutledge and Beta Boom managing partner Kimmy Paluch, left to right, sit during the NBA Foundation Pitch Competition at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday. (Photo: Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

Amber Hayes, of Memphis, placed second for her business SecondKeys, an artificial intelligence-enhanced property management system. Derek Canton, of Boston, placed third for his payment application named Paerpay.

The other business pitches included an enhanced hiring and communication system for the trucking industry, a recruitment and project management app, a device that helps people measure their workouts by analyzing their exercise data, a television and brand platform for Black creators, and a vegan bakery.

“Technology as a hub in this community is a real driving force,” said NBA Foundation executive director Greg Taylor. “We’re using the opportunity to shine a light on the NBA Foundation’s mission and to highlight the value and the importance of the young people who got a chance to present. That’s what today is all about, and we’re glad to be here.”

Corner Canyon High School freshman Bryjé Adu-Akumatey attended the competition and said it was a good experience for her. She is the president of her school’s Black Student Union and is an entrepreneur herself.

She and her mom started a fashion accessory boutique called Bryje.com in 2018. Adu-Akumatey said she would be interested to one day be able to participate in an event like this.

“It’s been fun to see how everyone has grown in their businesses,” Adu-Akumatey said about the presenters.

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Utah entrepreneur wins $50,000 at NBA All-Star Weekend pitch competition