Home » Blog From the President/CEO » Celebrating Innovation and Empowerment: A Chronicle of the Athene Black & Brown Business Summit presented by Wells Fargo

Celebrating Innovation and Empowerment: A Chronicle of the Athene Black & Brown Business Summit presented by Wells Fargo

Katherine Harrington

From Katherine Harrington, President & CEO | West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce

As we anticipate the fourth annual, international Athene Black & Brown Business Summit presented by Wells Fargo, and Pitch Competition presented by Bank of America, inquiries abound regarding the genesis of this esteemed award-winning event. It is with a sense of both astonishment and anticipation that we approach the event set for April 18-19 at Athene in West Des Moines, Iowa. People from all around the nation and world will attend, be part of the pitch competition, impart their words of wisdom, spotlight their organizations, and illustrate how they can support the Minority Business Owner community.

Commencing my tenure as President & CEO of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce on April 1, 2020, marked a period of profound transformation both regionally and nationally, against the backdrop of significant upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and within the Black community, catalyzed by the tragic murder of George Floyd.

In collaboration with the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce Executive Board member, Angela Jackson, the Chamber team embarked on a journey to explore avenues for bolstering our business community—a fundamental tenet of our chamber’s mission. The establishment of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee provided a platform for stakeholders to deliberate on impactful strategies not only for the West Des Moines locale but for the wider region and state. Leveraging digital platforms, such as Zoom, facilitated the participation of individuals from across the state, fostering a collaborative environment.

Terrence Thames’- Owner of Cocoa Creative Agency – pivotal involvement in the DEI Committee catalyzed the conceptualization of a summit aimed at empowering, educating, and cultivating generational wealth within the Minority Business Community. Recognizing the value of pitch competitions, we enlisted the expertise of Bobbi Segura – Regional Manager of Women Lead Change – to integrate this essential component into the summit. Further logistical refinement was provided by Jennifer Smith – Partner at S&S Employment Partners, whose attention to detail streamlined the planning process.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the endeavor, the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce established multiple committees, engaging key stakeholders. Drawing inspiration from Iowa’s past, the reinstatement of the Mel Essex Award, spearheaded by Debra Carr, added a prestigious dimension to the summit. Collaborative efforts working with the West Des Moines Chamber team and across various committees—including the Core Committee, Pitch Competition Committee, Mel Essex Award Committee, Minority Business Expo Committee, Non-Profit Fundraising Committee, and the Marketing & Public Relations Committee—ensured the summit’s success.

We extend heartfelt gratitude to the myriad of DEI Committee members, volunteers, sponsors, partners, speakers, and our dedicated Chamber team whose collective efforts made the summit inclusive and impactful. Without their unwavering support, our mission to uplift the Minority Business Community and position West Des Moines as a beacon of excellence would not be achievable.

For this year’s event, we have nearly 100 speakers, 25 breakout & informational sessions, keynote speakers Tiffany Pham and Hill Harper, plus a new Welcome Party and Minority Business Expo at Smash Park. In addition, our real estate panelists have sold over $150 million in assets. This year’s marketing panelists manage major projects for top brands across the world including Google, Taco Bell, Instagram, and Sony Pictures. Venture capital panelists help impact over one billion dollars in economic development for entrepreneurs, and over the years, due to the support of our generous sponsors and Athene, the West Des Moines Chamber has been able to give away more than $100,000 to pitch competition winners.

As we move closer to the April 18-19 event at Athene, it is important to reflect on the Summit’s journey thus far. Below, we present a retrospective of Pitch Competition Winners, Mel Essex Award Honorees, and Keynote Speakers:

Mel Essex Award Honorees:

  • 2024 – To be announced soon!
  • 2023 – Perlla Deluca – Owner & CEO/Southwest Contractors
  • 2022 – Lu Spaine – Owner/Zumi Collection, LLC
  • 2021 – Pernell Cezar – Co-Founder & CEO/BLK & Bold Specialty Beverages

Pitch Competition Winners Presented by Bank of America:


  • First Place: VYBBES Luxury Beats & Instrumentals – $5,000
  • Second Place: Zamorins Solutions, Inc. – $2,000
  • Third Place: Mathai Tax Services – $1,000
  • Additional Awards: Speak Up Stories, Styled To Perfection, Uno Staffing Inc., ShinDigg – $500 each


  • First Place: Lumena Energy Inc. – $12,000
  • Second Place: Autistic & Loved, LLC – $10,000
  • Third Place: Stagerie, Inc. – $6,000
  • Additional Awards: A Little Buzzed, Dae-licious Delights, Dupee Consulting Group LLC, Evry Intention LLC, Iowa Media Co., Light Pong, Mountain High Jz Coffee LLC – $2,000 each


  • First Place: Louisiana Creole Pecan Candy – $20,000
  • Second Place: QuikLiq – $15,000
  • Third Place: The Joy of Curls LLC – $10,000
  • Finalists: Bri’s Dance Place, Coffee For a Cause, Four Corners Coalition, Manifest Your Purpose, Kut Kings – $1,000 each

2024: To be announced April 19th!

Keynote Speakers:

  • 2021: George Hererra
  • 2022: Pamela Jolly & Daymond John
  • 2023: Jimmy Thomas & Pamela Jolly
  • 2024: Tiffany Pham & Hill Harper

To find out more about the Athene Black & Brown Business Summit presented by Wells Fargo visit: https://wdmchamber.org/bbbsummit

Skip to content