Pitch Cypher aims to help entrepreneurs of color in Cleveland

Starting a businesses as a person of color wasn’t always easy for Camille Genise Heard, who founded an online beauty marketplace called FELOH. Now, with support from Jumpstart, Heard is creating space for other entrepreneurs of color in Cleveland.

Tech founder Camille Genise Heard said she had never even heard of JumpStart until two years ago. Now she’s that group’s Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). “I help tech founders flesh out ideas, go through the customer discovery process, and refer them to resources,” said the founder of FELOH (For Everyone’s Love of Hair), an online marketplace for independent beauty products. “I also help build the pipeline for entrepreneurs of color to let them know the resources that exist.”

Heard said she wants to help other founders of color overcome the barriers she faced when she first getting started. One of the ways she’s doing that as EIR at JumpStart, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio, is through the creation of Pitch Cypher. The first-of-its-kind pitch event was held this past Thursday, April 7 to celebrate and help entrepreneurs of color in the city.

Learn more about JumpStart and applying for resources

Beginning at 7 pm at CoHatch in Ohio City, five entrepreneurs competed for cash prizes in the event. It aims to address two primary barriers facing BIPOC entrepreneurs: money and community. While some entrepreneurs can leverage friends and family or personal resources to gain the funds to start a company, that isn’t always possible for founders of color, who may lack the finances or personal connections in order to do so.

India Johnson, founder and CEO of UAVistas. Photo by Lee Chilcote.

“As a tech founder of color, the network is just not there,” said Heard. “The founders I’m working with don’t have $50,000-100,000 to put into their businesses themselves, and that’s the disparity I’m hoping to bridge.”

At the same time, she said, Cleveland offers a wealth of resources to help startups. The real challenge is connecting them to future entrepreneurs of color and vice versa. “The intention of Pitch Cypher is to be a spark that helps build that community,” she said.

The word “cypher” in the hip hop community means an “informal open mic gathering.” About 50 people gathered at CoHatch Thursday night, with founders taking the mic and sharing their stories. 

A DJ spun tunes to get the crowd warmed up. Then each presenter got five minutes to share their story with the crowd. A panel of judges, combined with votes from the audience, helped to decide the winners. 



The winners of the first-ever Pitch Cypher are:

Competitors in the first-ever Pitch Cypher. Photo by Lee Chilcote.

  • Musa Hakim, Co-Founder + CEO (2nd runner up)

    • Lazy Moose NFTs is a geo-centric NFT service provider looking to create NFT projects for boxing prospects looking to fund expenses related to travel and training through their community/following.

  • Courtney Ivy, Co-Founder and Edward Griffith, Co-Founder (1st runner up)

  • India Johnson, Founder + CEO (First place winner)

    • UAVistas is a drone company that focuses on data collection for conservation and sustainability revolutionizing how we explore and protect our natural areas

Additional contests included Jacoby Dubose, founder and CEO of the Metatopia Network, a blockchain ecosystem focused on the creation, distribution, storage, and IP of media files, and Kyle Greene, founder and CEO of BurnLive, an app that provides your fitness on demand. The judges for the competition were Felicia Townsend with the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and Dana Allender with Jumpstart.

Learn more about Pitch Cypher here.

JumpStart is a sponsor of The Land.



Lee Chilcote is executive director of The Land.

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