Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

BK Startups Vie for $10K in Pitch Sesh Hosted by Bed-Stuy Church and Afrocentric Lifestyle Brand

The winning entrepreneur will receive a $10,000 grant and mentorship from Dana Bly, the Brooklyn-born businesswoman behind the Afrocentric lifestyle brand Pardon My Fro. 

Brooklyn's next wave of entrepreneurs gathered at a Bed-Stuy church last week to pitch for a $10,000 fellowship from Brooklyn-born business owner Dana Bly, founder of the booming Afrocentric lifestyle brand Pardon My Fro

In the grand Fellowship Hall of Bethany Baptist Church, 10 local entrepreneurs each had five minutes to make their cases for the grant in a pitch session for judges Bly, President of Horizon Beauty Group Carmela Palladino, Rita Lombardo of Lombardo Agency and Billy Banks Jr., the on-air host of Dance It Out. 

Bly said the judges are set to decide on the winner in the coming weeks, but it won't be easy. 

"I thought that the pitches would be like, 'Okay, it's going to narrow it down,' but after, I was still just falling more in love with each and every story. So it's going to be hard," she said.

Pitching for the Pardon My Fro fellowship. Photo: Supplied / Pardon My Fro

Bly offered the $10,000 fellowship — which includes one-on-one mentorship — after a conversation with Palladino about giving back to Brooklyn through a partnership with Bethany Baptist Church, of which Palladino is a member.

Bly grew up around Flatbush, East New York and Bed-Stuy.

"We wanted to help that entrepreneur from where I came from," she said. "I was them at some point, where I felt like if I had this opportunity to win this fellowship, it definitely would have helped me tremendously."

Bly started her entrepreneurship journey in 2010 after starting her natural hair journey and realizing there was space for new businesses and community amid the natural hair movement. The graphic designer created prints celebrating kinky, coily Black hair that she put on clothing, accessories, household items and more.

Now, she sells through major retailers like Walmart and HSN, formerly known as the Home Shopping Network.

However, there were tough moments when she could have used a $10,000 cash injection or a mentor's support — like when the drop-shipping company she used closed its factory without telling her, leaving several customers without their orders during her Black Friday sale in 2019.

"I was overwhelmed with getting refunds out because I wasn't getting the product or even money back from my vendor, so that was money coming out of my own pocket. I felt like Pardon My Fro was going to die that day," she said. 

Bly sent out a newsletter to customers saying that she would refund them but that she didn't have the money right away. To her surprise, many of her customers said they were happy to wait for the product, and some even sent her money so that she could stay afloat. 

Pitching for the Pardon My Fro fellowship. Photo: Supplied/Pardon My Fro.

"That was insane. It helped me, with them sending me money, I was able to kind of slowly get back, but it took me probably about six to seven months to really recover. And so this money that we're giving to the fellowship contestants, I know that would have been life-changing for me." 

After advertising the fellowship through the church's congregation and her social media, Pardon My Fro had more than 100 applications, Bly said. Her team helped applicants with their pitch decks and plans before the selection team narrowed the finalists down to those competing in the in-person pitches. 

The finalists include a retail space for POC-owned brands, a multi-talented performer and creator, an educational program for babies, an inclusive dancewear brand, a motherhood podcast, a soup delivery company, an accessible photography business, a wig-securing brand, a mental wellness organization and an innovative new media platform

Pitching for the Pardon My Fro fellowship. Photo: Supplied/Pardon My Fro.

With so much talent on display, Bly said she would like to offer more fellowships in the future. 

"Brooklyn has always had that entrepreneur vibe," Bly said. "Brooklyn, to me, is always about people just hustling and trying to make it, so I felt really excited to see what was coming out of Brooklyn... I'm really blown away by all the ideas." 

The winner will be announced at the church and on Bly's social media channels and website in August.

Jessy Edwards

About the Author: Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is an award-winning news and feature reporter whose work can be seen in such publications as NBC New York, Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNBC and more.
Read more