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Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson of BLK & Bold win the Black Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

Des Moines coffee startup BLK & Bold co-founders, Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson, have won the OWBS Black Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

The two will receive $5,000 to use toward their business as part of winning the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Cezar and Johnson launched their independent coffee and tea brand in 2018, after stepping back from established careers in retail merchandising and higher education. Earlier this year, BLK & Bold became available at Target and Whole Foods across the country, making them the first black-owned, nationally distributed coffee brand.

Other winners of the awards were Dawn Dickson of PopCom and Krystal Banner from Kaleidadope.

Become a Certified B Corp

Earlier this month, the company announced announce that it had officially a fully certified B Corp business. B Corps are businesses that use profits and growth to positively impact employees, communities, and the environment to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Five percent of BLK & Bold’s profits are donated to charitable initiatives, ranging from workforce development to supporting at-risk youth.

“We believe that great business stems from investing in our communities. It’s reassuring to have the support of B Corp behind us as BLK & Bold looks to grow and expand our impact on such a vulnerable demographic,” wrote BLK & Bold in an announcement. “Our B Corp certification comes on the heels of our recent expansion. Our new 10,000 square foot facility allows us to bring more customers into our community, produce more products, donate more money, and impact the local job market. We are so excited to welcome more people into the coffee and tea industry through the products we love, with purpose in mind.”

Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson of BLK & Bold win the Black Entrepreneur of the Year Awards | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at mpatane@clayandmilk.com.
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