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All-Star Pitch Competition down to finalists

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The NBA Foundation is down to the finalists in its third Pitch Competition as a part of its All-Star Week celebration and philanthropic contributions to Indianapolis. The pitch competition gives diverse tech entrepreneurs from Indiana the chance to win up to $150,000 in cash prizes.

“We know the pitch competition is a way the NBA Foundation and the Pacers Sports and Entertainment really can leverage the fact that the world’s eyes are going to be focused on Indianapolis because of the All-Star Game. What better platform to highlight the incredible entrepreneurial spirit and talent in the state of Indiana,” said Greg Taylor, executive director of the NBA Foundation.

Taylor said the goal of the NBA Foundation is to provide economic opportunity in various facets: workforce development, access to college, post-secondary training and education. The pitch competition is a perfect example of those goals put into action.

The spotlight of All-Star Weekend is not the first time the NBA Foundation has given back to Indianapolis. In 2022, the NBA Foundation donated to the Center of Leadership Development (CLD).

“I can say first, I think it has tentacles – the NBA Foundation. When they’ve invested in the mission of the Center for Leadership Development, it enables us to further our mission of helping Black youth become professional business and community leaders. But number two, the impact is not just on the young people, but on the young people’s families,” CLD President Dennis Bland said about the foundation.

Bland spoke about the similarities between CLD and the NBA Foundation’s values and goals. Since its creation over 45 years ago, CLD has been rooted in the Black community, not only studying problems, but also providing solutions.

“Well, that’s what I found with the NBA foundation: ‘Hey, we want to make an impact. We want to make a difference. We want to be a game changer. We want to see upward mobility.’ That’s the second common denominator: CLD has always been about upward mobility, ‘Hey, see a young person wherever they are, whatever their circumstance, your mission, your challenge is to view them through the lens of them being a future professional business [person] and community leader wherever they are.”

Through its work with CLD and the Pitch Competition, the NBA Foundation is providing tech entrepreneurs of all ages with a stage to shine.

Katara McCarty is one of the finalists for the competition and the creator and CEO of “Exhale,” a well-being and mediation app for Black, Indigenous and Women of Color.

During the height of COVID-19 in 2020, McCarty was concerned with police brutality and with how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting the Black community. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police affected her immensely.

She started thinking about how she could help her community by providing something they need during this time of death and fear. From there, she began Exhale.

“We deserve to have resources that help us manage stress, anxiety and trauma,” McCarty said.

Soon after getting into the competition, she noticed how serious the NBA Foundation is about giving opportunities to Black and brown creators.

“I really feel like they’re holding space for not just our brilliance, but also understanding the ways in which it’s hard to enter into business as a Black and brown founder, as a diverse founder raising funding and getting people to notice what you’re doing. Just feeling like they’re holding space has been amazing,” McCarty said.

Klein Ileleji, co-founder and CEO of JUA Technologies International, is another finalist who said he is impressed with the experience so far. The big spotlight of the competition and all the support the NBA Foundation provides have been welcome surprises.

“They’ve made us feel at home, they want everyone to be successful, and whether I come in first, second or third doesn’t matter, I’ll still be a winner at the end of the day,” Ileleji said.

JUA creates solar-powered food dehydrators for households and small farms. Ileleji created this product to address the problem of food waste.

Ileleji is from Nigeria, and his product and company name are connected to his African roots. The word “JUA” means “sun” in Kiswahili, a language spoken in East Africa. His dehydrators can dry many fruits and vegetables and make them edible and easy to store for long periods.

From the coaching to the actual pitch day, the competition experience has been memorable for Ileleji and McCarty.

They got to pitch for the semi-finals on the Gainbridge Fieldhouse court, where the Pacers play, with the jumbotron showing their pitches as they spoke.

The final competition is Feb. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center and is one of many events during All-Star weekend.

Contact Racial Justice Reporter Garrett Simms at 317-762-7847.

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