West Des Moines Chamber Celebrates Dreamers, Innovators, and Trailblazers at Fourth Annual Athene Black & Brown Business Summit

WEST DES MOINES, IA (May 1, 2024) – The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce (WDM Chamber) reflects on the fourth annual Athene Black & Brown Business Summit (The Summit) Presented by Wells Fargo. The two-day event served as a platform for discussing the challenges and opportunities facing minority entrepreneurs. Through panel discussions, keynote speakers, the Pitch Competition, and networking sessions, the event empowered attendees to navigate barriers, access resources, and foster collaboration.

The event introduced several key additions aimed at enhancing the attendee experience, including the debut of a new event app for streamlined navigation and updates, alongside the inaugural Welcome Party and Minority Business Expo. Moreover, it featured a lineup of over 100 speakers and presenters across diverse industries, accompanied by 25 breakout and information sessions.

“This Summit is crucial for addressing the challenges faced by minority entrepreneurs head-on,” said Katherine Harrington, President & CEO of the WDM Chamber. “Through meaningful discussions and valuable networking opportunities, this event empowers attendees with the tools and connections needed to drive real change in our business landscape.”

For the 2024 event, over 100 applications for the Pitch Competition Presented by Bank of America were received from across the U.S., including several from Iowa. Seven finalists were chosen in early April to give a five-minute business pitch to judges at the event and one additional pitch competitor was randomly selected at the event to participate in the Pitch Competition. With the support of generous sponsors and donors, $50,000 was raised for the 2024 Pitch Competition winners and finalists. Since 2021, more than $150,000 has been awarded to minority business owners. This year’s Pitch Competition winners and the amount awarded to each include:

  • First Place: Femly – $20,000

  • Second Place: Lightly – $15,000

  • Third Place: Fresh Mediterranean Express – $10,000

Additional finalists each received $1,000, including:

  • AbgT Shop

  • Dtocs LLC

  • Flickshop

  • Four Corners Coalition

  • Redefine and Reveal

“Femly is on the forefront of a mission to increase organic feminine hygiene access through smart dispensing,” said Arion Long, Founder & CEO of Femly. “We are overjoyed to be a finalist and the top-prize winner of $20,000 in the Pitch Competition. This award will allow us to expand and partner with colleges, hospitals, hotels, and more throughout Des Moines. We’re so thankful to have the support of the community and West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.”

Additionally, Blanca Plascencia, Co-Owner of El Fogon Mexican Restaurants, was celebrated for receiving the 2024 Mel Essex Award. The award recognizes honorees for high standards of business ethics and a heart for inspiring and encouraging others to fulfill their dreams of securing economic success. Since 2021, the Summit has recognized winners who fulfill the intent of the award. Past recipients include Pernell Cezar Jr. – BLK & Bold Specialty Beverages (2021), Lu Spaine – Zumi Collection (2022), and Perlla Deluca – Southwest Contractors (2023).

“I am grateful and honored to receive this award, but it also comes with a weighty responsibility,” said Plascencia. “In accepting the award, I am reminded of the many individuals still residing in the shadows, facing challenges no different from my own. This award serves as a reminder of the ongoing work needed to achieve meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Photos from the event can be found at https://www.playbook.com/s/anthonyarroyo/RtHFHBNHrbkoHLRdNCnksN91. Recordings from the event will be available May 10 through wdmchamber.org/bbbs-live-2024.

The next Summit is tentatively set to take place in April 2025. To learn more, visit: www.wdmchamber.org/BBBSummit.

Sponsors and partners of the Athene Black & Brown Business Summit play a crucial role in making this event possible. A portion of sponsor proceeds benefits the Pitch Competition, Presented by Bank of America. Over the past three years, pitch competition winners have collectively received over $100,000 in prize money. For the 2024 event, sponsors, partners, and supporters (listed alphabetically) include African American Museum of IA, Alliant Energy, Amplified DSM, Anthony Arroyo Photography + Creative, Athene, Bank of America, Bankers Trust, Belin McCormick, Black Capital Project/Iowa CORE, BMO, Chase, City of West Des Moines, ClaimDOC, Cocoa Creative Agency, Creative Planning, Delta Dental, Des Moines University, Drake Business Clinic, Dubuque Bank & Trust, Eide Bailly, Elevate by Principal, EquiTrust Life Insurance Company, F&G, Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Forvis, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Holmes Murphy (ethOs and Broker Tech Ventures), Hy-Vee, IMT Insurance, Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Small Business Development Center, Krause Group, Merchants Bonding, NCMIC, One Economy Financial Development Corp, Paychex HR, Sammons Financial Group, Shazam, Inc., Small Business Administration, Smash Park, Symetra, Turner Construction, UnityPoint Health, We Are Iowa, Wells Fargo, Whitfield & Eddy, and Women Lead Change.
About the Athene Black & Brown Business Summit
The Athene Black & Brown Business Summit is an annual event dedicated to providing a platform for Black and Brown professionals, entrepreneurs, and leaders to share insights, inspire change, and foster connections. The Summit serves as a catalyst for growth, empowerment, and collaboration within the community.

About the WDM Chamber of Commerce
The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, established in 1924, is a dynamic organization dedicated to championing all things West Des Moines. With a focus on strengthening local businesses, providing personalized resources, and attracting a top-tier workforce, the Chamber aims to position WDM as the best suburban city in America. Celebrating a century of excellence, the Chamber boasts a diverse community of over 800 members, offering something for everyone. Explore the possibilities, learn more about the chamber, and discover how you can get involved in shaping the future of West Des Moines at wdmchamber.org

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