For the past three years, Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith and his agency — the Jaylon Smith Minority Entrepreneurship Institute (MEI) — have supported eight early-stage ventures led by Black founders and invested over $800,000 in capital across marketplaces in Texas and Indiana — all of which have presented $13 million in investable opportunities.

This week, his agency announced the third annual MEI Florida Showcase and Pitch Competition in Tampa, which will hone in on business ideas from Black, Latinx and women entrepreneurs. 

The annual competition is supported by a plethora of dedicated companies and individuals who all believe in closing the racial wealth gap for minorities in America.

“I am so excited for our third annual MEI Showcase,” Smith shared in a statement. “The entrepreneurs from Indiana and Texas were outstanding and I am looking forward to supporting minority-owned businesses in Florida!”

According to a press release shared with AfroTech, Crunchbase reported that Black and Latinx founders raised a total of $2.3 billion in funding, only representing just 2.6 percent of the total $87.3 billion in funding allocated to all founders last year.

In an effort to close that gap, the MEI pitch competition offers business owners a chance to pitch to a star-studded panel of celebrity judges and compete for a prize of $200,000 in capital.

Judges for this year’s competition include Smith, founder of MEI; Arron Solano, Managing Partner at Calano; Derrick Brooks, former NFL Linebacker and Hall-of-Famer; and Allie Felix, VP of Platform at Embarc Collective.

“We’re thrilled to be one of the judges for this year’s MEI Pitch Competition,” Felix said in a press statement. “We firmly believe that entrepreneurship can be one of society’s great equalizers, but it can only work if investors are willing to meet minority founders where they’re at. This event is an incredible opportunity to bring startup investors to the Tampa Bay community.”

The Minority Entrepreneurship Institute — founded back in 2019 — was created with a purpose to “equip minority entrepreneurs, regardless of their background or experience, with the skills they need to build and grow their business,” a press release shares.

In addition to pitch competitions, MEI also acts as a resource that holds educational events and provides a founder playbook to help entrepreneurs understand core concepts in business such as sales and marketing, finance, and business operations. The playbook also offers insight in the form of candid conversations with successful business owners about the challenges and triumphs that come with being a minority founder.

Applications for the MEI Florida Showcase are open now through May 9.

For more information about MEI and the upcoming pitch competition, click here.