Congratulations to the 16 entrepreneurs selected for the inaugural cohort of Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship!
Michael has over 15 years’ experience in the US, Africa, and other emerging markets. He was named one of top 50 exemplary alumni of George Mason University, 40 under 40 by GMU’s Black Alumni Association, and recognized by Forbes & Credit Suisse, amongst others, as an innovative entrepreneur. His company, Surplus, empowers thriving communities by increasing access to affordable & healthier food, goods & innovative experiences, helping people live more fulfilling lives.
Leveraging her extensive experience in both business and technology, Melanie has combined these passions to create MINWO, a DE&I tech company that is centralizing Black business development by providing an ecosystem of products and services that build, grow, and scale Black businesses. Melanie Akwule has spent the majority of her career transforming data from underutilized assets to actionable insights for her customers. She spent over 5 years working for GE, most recently as a Technical Product Manager, in their Data Science Products division. She now, alongside running MINWO, works as a Business Strategy Consultant for startups
Quilen’s background in renewable energy and community organizing is well suited in his role as president of Southside Blooms. Southside Blooms is a 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Chicago with the mission of using sustainability to alleviate inner city poverty. Southside Blooms does this by converting vacant lots into solar powered flower farms that create jobs for local black youth. Quilen has worked abroad as a volunteer in the United States Peace Corps organizing rural farmers in Thailand and helped working class residents of suburban Milwaukee attain affordable housing domestically. He later worked in the biofuels industry where he procured feedstock such as used cooking oil and soybean oil for biodiesel production.
William (Bill) Coe is the CEO and Director of Green Acres Urban Farm and Research Project-KC, at the East High School campus. Green Acres was founded in 2009 and is located in a food desert. Bill focuses on aquaponics, agriculture, sustainable, renewable energies, and teaches others how to create organic soil. Bill promotes alternative technologies to facilitate programs and workshops based upon science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.). Currently, Bill is teaching children grades K-12 how to grow food, aquaponics, nutrition, and cooking. He also spearheads the Green Acres Urban Farm and Research Project’s community outreach programs, and organizes and distributes healthy, fresh, organic, leafy greens.
Laura Crandon is Founder and President of Touch4Life, Inc. An award-winning innovator, Laura is a sought-after executive with extensive success building new businesses, collaborative teams, and enduring alliances at CareFirst and UnitedHealthcare. Out of Laura’s own diagnosis, she founded Touch4Life, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and empower women to take an active role in breast health for life and inspire those on a breast cancer journey. Touch4Life helps to decrease the incidence of late-stage de-novo breast cancer diagnoses by partnering with health, corporate, and community organizations to provide breast health educational tools, story-sharing, and demonstrations. One of Touch4Life’s Signature Programs is the Jar of Inspiration, given to women in active treatment.
VanNessa Duckett leads Polite Piggy’s Day Camp Incorporated; a dynamic out-of-school time program based in 5 locations in Washington, DC. She has also been a classroom teacher for over 22 years. In that time, VanNessa has shown herself to be a committed and compassionate leader who connects to all stakeholders. She and the team are currently developing a multiyear operating & strategic plan to scale the business expansion over the next three to five years. Polite Piggy’s will remain small to keep true to its vision of being a neighborhood spot but will grow large enough to build a replicable model.
Kristal Hansley is the Founder & CEO of WeSolar, Inc and is the nation’s first Black Woman CEO in the community solar industry. Under her leadership, WeSolar is growing quickly, providing consumers across Maryland access to affordable solar energy, regardless of home type and helping hard-working families reduce monthly expenses. Through WeSolar, electricity consumers can purchase shared solar from a local project without having to install any equipment in their homes. In turn, residents save hundreds on their electricity bills. Kristal and her team are disrupters who advocate that communities of color and low-income communities be included in this shift and have a healthy environment in the future.
Tonya L. Hicks is the President and CEO of Power Solutions, Inc. and Founder of Women Do Everything, LLC. Ms. Hicks is a serial entrepreneur and the first woman journeyman wireman electrician in Local 917 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). In 2000, at the age of 28, Ms. Hicks founded Power Solutions, Inc.; an electrical contracting and facility maintenance company specializing in renewable energy. In 2015, Ms. Hicks launched Women Do Everything LLC; a career development and staffing agency supporting women in male dominated industries. Ms. Hicks enjoys golf, cooking, gardening, and volunteering in the community.
Dr. Christophe Jackson, PhD, DMA, PA-C, is a New Orleans native having received his doctorates in Biology, Mechanical Engineering and Piano Performance in 2012 and a master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies in 2018 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Jackson went on to receive postdoctoral training in Neuroscience and Music at Tulane University. Dr. Jackson works as a neurosurgical physician associate at a busy Level 1 trauma center in brain and spine at Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center. Dr. Jackson utilizes his extensive expertise to bridge the gaps between access to healthcare, development of new technologies, and advancing research. He is the CEO of GideonMedTech, a Medical Technology, Design, Engineering & Innovation company based out of New Orleans.
Shasha has led big data initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, advanced drug development through modeling and simulation at Roche, Genentech, and Amgen, and co-founded Level 42 AI, Inc. Level 42 AI, Inc’s mission is to follow nature’s instruction to unveil and interpret functional health information hidden in plain sight and in “noise” for actionable insights. Level 42 AI software-defined hardware captures broad frequency, low amplitude human health information traditionally discarded as “noise” at accuracy and densities required for Level 42’s novel structured machine learning edge inference tools for real time actionable insights and lifestyle modification coaching.
Dr. Nehemiah Mabry is an Engineer, Educator and Entrepreneur based in Raleigh, North Carolina. His technical experience includes 8+ years of research at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, 7+ years as Bridge Design Engineer, and work as a University Adjunct Professor of Engineering. As a graduate student at NC State University, he founded STEMedia Incorporated in 2012. STEMedia is a digital media company that provides educational and inspirational creative content to empower young professionals in STEM. Since its inception, Dr. Mabry has won national awards, spoken to thousands through public speaking and lectures, and partnered with several organizations, businesses and academic institutions.
Akissi Stokes never thought growing up on her grandfather’s farm would now become her life’s mission. Except she traded in cows for insects. She believes the sustainable farming of insects, leveraged with technology, unlocks the potential to help us regenerate natural resources, alleviate waste from landfills, and reimagine more resilient food systems. WUNDERgrubs was founded to empower people to live healthier lives by changing the way the world understands protein. WUNDERgrubs provides easy and convenient food products, plus helpful recipes, tools and resources to make an edible insect-based lifestyle easy and enjoyable.
Michael Tadesse is the founder of HappyPlate. HappyPlate delivers fresh, ready-made, medically tailored meals for people with long-term health to meet their dietary demands. He founded HappyPlate after experiencing a long-term health battle and finding it challenging to eat according to his diagnosis. Michael realized people who live with serious illnesses benefit from eating personalized foods designed for their diagnosis to improve their health outcomes. Michael believes healthy food is medicine, and it is our human right to make it more accessible to keep people alive and well.
Jay Veal is the CEO of INC Education, the #1 AA owned private tutoring and education company in the US as well as the top online tutoring company for BIPOC in the nation. The company is a $1M brand in the private tutoring space. He is also founder of The Jay Veal Brand which is a Dallas-based premier consulting brand that deploys education, business, and credit consulting as well as Airbnb real estate. He also founded Black Tutors of Social Media, a Dallas and Atlanta based edtech NPO. With the minority family in mind, BTSM was created to be a safe haven where families could find resources that looked like them for their educational and social needs.
Dana Weeks is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MedTrans Go. MedTrans Go is a B2B healthcare appointment optimization platform solving the $150B problem of medical appointment cancellations in the US. Their tech-enabled portal provides healthcare facilities access to a customizable suite of services to address the root causes of their cancellations in one easy-to-use, integrated digital platform. Dana previously led several entrepreneurial ventures and held leadership positions at Pfizer, AT&T, and the Black Angel Tech Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization she co-founded to support and increase the number of underrepresented minorities in technology.
Jared helps clients better connect and communicate with their internal and external stakeholders through innovation, customer journey mapping, enhancing their customer experiences, and utilizing growth strategies. Jared is the Chief Innovation Officer and Managing Director of Global Sales at ABCD & Company, a marketing & events consulting firm. He is an award-winning leader, seasoned innovative growth executive, and data-driven business strategist. He received his Executive MBA from Hult International Business School in London while traveling and studying in London, Dubai, Shanghai, Boston, and San Francisco. A growth mindset is the key to success!