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Central Florida Entrepreneurs prepare for African American Chamber’s pitch competition

ORLANDO, Fla. — The African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida is hosting its first empowerment pitch competition as part of its third annual business conference.

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The new initiative is meant to help propel local black entrepreneurs into resources to help their businesses thrive.

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The conference begins Friday at Full Sail University in Winter Park.

Organizers of the empowerment pitch competition hope it will provide local black business owners with the tools, skills, resources and funding to make it over the barriers they often face.

Shannea Nikki Akins is one of those business owners hoping to earn a boost through the competition.

Akins’ grandmother first opened “Nikki’s Place” in Orlando in 1952. The owners say it’s made it through everything from discrimination to the pandemic.

“Across the street, it used to be homes and businesses,” Akins said. “Now, it’s a freeway.”

This week’s competition aims to help other businesses stand the test of time as well as Nikki’s.

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Akins was born into her family’s restaurant business and says one of the main changes she’s seen has been gentrification, making the soul food spot more of a hidden gem.

“The opportunity to scale and grow is also a challenge that some of our business owners face,” Chamber President Tanisha Nunn Gary said.

Kevin Lloyd is another local entrepreneur entering the pitch competition. His “MYLE” app works as an entertainment platform to help people find things to do and promote their events or businesses.

IT’s a situation where there have been disparities; there have been institutional barriers,’ Lloyd said. “And we know that is a situation where it’s really important that we get the support that we need.”

Lloyd says the biggest challenge he faces is one Akins’ grandmother dealt with when she first opened her restaurant’s doors.

“She did get a lot of pushback from other banks until she found someone of color within the bank system,” Akins said.

With the competition and empowerment conference, Akins says up and coming business owners won’t have to deal with the first roadblocks her family knocked down so long ago.

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Three finalists in the competition will win grants between $3,000 and $10,000 to grow and scale their businesses.

The entrepreneurs will also be automatically entered into the Streetwise MBA program.

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