If there’s anything we love more than our work, it’s our ability to give back.
So, when Ervin & Smith was approached with a unique give back opportunity by Karine Sokpoh, founder of the Midlands African Chamber (MAC) – our answer was an easy yes.
MAC is instrumental in the continued growth of our community. Its mission is to empower, connect, and champion the local and regional African and African American business communities by providing business growth, leadership and education opportunities. With a purpose dedicated to advocacy, our team was honored to be tasked with rebranding MAC’s official Pitch Black logo and support the winning contestant with a $10,000 marketing package.
First: the logo.
To celebrate its second annual competition, the Midlands African Chamber presented Ervin & Smith with a challenge: transform its current Pitch Black logo to one that better represents their mission of supporting black and minority entrepreneurship throughout Nebraska and the Midwest. Challenge accepted.
Through a strategic collaboration with the talented Omaha-based designer Steve Gordan, owner of RDQLUS Creative, our team worked to create a polished logo that embodied its vision forward while intentionally tying in afro-centric elements and representation.
What we landed on was a modern and unifying brand identity that drove home our goal of creating a bold visual anchor for the brand. Inspired by hieroglyphics and shapes within African fabric, the icon uses African letterforms of the name “We Pitch Black” to instantly draw you in. Once you see WPB, you can’t unsee it. As a final touch we added a pop of orange to unify the brand with that of MAC’s.
Second: the competition.
Connecting with our love of friendly competition, the annual Pitch Black event brings together local business owners and startups from across the metro to compete for the chance to win a $10,000 cash prize, plus additional awards from local sponsors.
Contestants must undergo three rounds of pitching before selected as a finalist in the Pitch Black finale. Of the 28 initial participating contestants, five were selected to present their ideas roughly 250 attendees at Creighton University. Those finalists include:
- Fatou Sogotou-Bekeyi, founder and owner of Finally Voyage LLC
- Imani Murray, owner of Ital Vital Living
- Nina Sodji, executive chef and owner of Okra African Grill
- Robert Ekpai, co-founder of Topkifer Inc.
- Ty Nared, owner of Meraki Montessori
With only 10 minutes to present, each contestant beautifully brought their own style and energy into their presentation by sharing their story, business values and a vision forward. Presenters were then given 10 minutes to answer questions from the panel of judges, which consisted of local business leaders, including E&S’s very own President and Chief Creative Officer, Leanne Prewitt.
“Karine and her team were so thoughtful in creating such an inspirational day for our local entrepreneurs. I was honored to be a small part of it,” said Prewitt. “The presenters were all so talented; we really had our work cut out for us as judges.”
With high anticipation, the judges came together to announce Nina Sodji, owner of Okra African Grill, as the winner of the 2022 Pitch Black competition.
Nina Sodji first immigrated to America in 1994 from Togo. Fueled by her desire to succeed, she attended culinary school at Metro Community College and continued pursuing her dream to open her own kitchen, all while raising two young children. As a homage to all African cultures and the transcontinental history that have influenced Togolese foods, her food tells a complex story of her country’s complicated history of colonialization, invasion, and political unrest. Okra African Grill is Nina’s dream of bringing the flavors she grew up loving to life in Omaha.
“We are beyond excited to work with Nina at Okra! Our team loves nothing more than forming a deep understanding of our clients’ goals and working alongside them to make their business next level,” said Prewitt. “Nina has a clear vision, an incredible drive and killer food—we can’t wait to get started.”
The day also included two well-known keynote speakers, Dominque Olowolafe and Vercie Lark. Learn more about them below.
Meet the speakers:
Dominque Olowolafe is the CEO & Founder of Lightly Travel, a luxury baby brand that gives wanderlust families the confidence to take more trips with their little ones. This sustainable travel service packages and sends baby necessities to wherever you’re traveling, so you don’t have to. Her entrepreneur mindset inspired attendees to dream big and always make the ask.
Vercie Lark was appointed by President Joe Biden as the regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration Region 7, which serves Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. With his vast knowledge as a small business venture capitalist and 35 years of experience holding various executive leadership positions, he encouraged attendees to take advantage of the ample government assistance options available to entrepreneurs.