Zandra Azariah Cunningham, CEO of Zandra Beauty, at The Pitch <span class='image-credits'></span>

THE PITCH competition kicks off entrepreneurship week with a bangBlack Monarchy, Zandra Beauty business owners take home top prizes

Four days after winning $25,000 toward her West Side small business in 43North’s THE PITCH competition, Phylicia Dove still hadn’t quite soaked it all in.

Dove, owner of Black Monarchy on West Utica Street, was named the $15,000 first-place winner in the Main Street category of the event Thursday, Sept. 28, at the Buffalo Museum of Science. She took home an additional $10,000 when Black Monarchy was named the Five Star Bank People’s Choice Minority and Women Small Business Award winner, voted on via text message by attendees.

The second annual THE PITCH competition, sponsored by 43North in collaboration with the City of Buffalo and New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC)/Excelsior Growth Fund, was the kickoff for the fourth annual 43North Finals Week, a series of events in Buffalo highlighting entrepreneurship and collaboration locally.

Thursday at the museum, hundreds turned out to listen to three finalists in two categories make their five-minute presentations. The runners-up were each awarded $5,000.

In the Growth Companies category, Zandra Cunningham, 17, of Zandra Beauty, took home the $15,000 top prize in her category.

For both entrepreneurs, the prize money offers an opportunity to make an investment neither thought they would have the chance to make.

“I’ve only dreamed of something like this,” Dove said. “There have been times when I was ready to give it up after so many no’s. I feel really privileged to be included in such a platform.”

Dove earned first place by telling the story of her journey to South Africa in 2007, which led her to establish a store that focuses on art, jewelry, fashion, and design, inspired by her “origin of one” motto. Dove creates much of the jewelry in the store herself. She says the earnings from THE PITCH competition will allow her the opportunity to expand selection and invest in difficult-to-find artwork and fabrics.

The winnings will also allow Dove to build further relationships with the West Side’s refugee community, she added.

Cunningham said that she expects to use the prize money to help grow her company as it heads toward the holiday shopping season. Right now, Zandra Beauty consists of four employees, including her parents James and Tamara, but she hopes to hire two more associates before the New Year.

That will be especially important as Cunningham continues to expand Zandra Beauty into stores like Rite Aid, Target, and Whole Foods. That involves traveling from Dallas to Atlanta, Cincinnati to New Jersey, in discussions with businesses she hopes will carry her product.

“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it,” Cunningham said about her pitch, which she put together the night before, as she was a last-minute addition to the competition. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity. It was bananas.”

Cunningham adds that she hopes to grow her company so she can hire other young people who need part-time work, and a big part of her company’s growth right now is focused on building a brand that inspires girls and young women in the community.

From the opening violin solo by local composer and musician Henri L. Muhammad, the night promised to be an exciting one for six business owners, all of them women or minorities. New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was in attendance, as was Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

The panel of judges for the competition included Bryan Doxxford of the NYBDC Excelsior Growth Fund, Su Sanni of Wedidit, Ann Segarra of BHS Foodservice Solutions, Jamel Perkins of Sodexo, Dr. Raul Vazquz of G Health Services, and Alexandra Wehr of Key Bank.

Contestants made their five-minute pitches, then had five minutes to answer questions from the judges.

In the High Growth category, Luanne DiBernardo presented her cooling vest company, Coolture, a product marketed toward both those with chronic conditions where regulating body temperature is difficult, and athletes. The other runner-up was Dr. Melissa Franckowiak, a local anesthesiologist who pitched her tracheal intubation device for her company, Pneumaglide.

The other Main Street runners-up were Abiyu Aynalem with his company, Empire Transportation Services, which provides transportation support to the low income and handicapped, and Annette Pinder of Buffalo Healthy Living magazine.

Each runner up received $5,000. NYBDC/Excelsior Growth Fund served as the Signature Sponsor of THE PITCH, with additional support from KeyBank, ECIDA, Kaleida Health, Foit-Albert Associates, Iroquois Construction Services, and Launch NY.

“Many have watched this journey and have watched us grow,” Dove said. “I can’t wait to show them what we’re going to do next.”

Read more articles by Joel Lehman.

After spending 15 years in northern Vermont where he worked as managing editor for a daily publication, Western New York native Joel Lehman returned to Buffalo this summer to be part of the city’s renaissance. He lives with his girlfriend and his goldendoodle, Wilson, and he enjoys running, skiing and cooking for his family.
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