Toy Company Launched to Empower Children of Color Wins $100K Grand Prize in National Competition

Healthy Roots Dolls took both the judges’ prize and the people’s choice award at the American Underground’s Startup Stampede. As a result, the Cincinnati-based company will partake in a suite of services valued at $100,000 provided by event co-sponsor McKinney.

Healthy Roots Dolls is a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks that teach natural hair care because, as the startup points out, every girl should feel empowered by the beauty of the kink of her curl and the color of her skin.

“The Startup Stampede created an open and supportive community,” said founder Yelitsa Jean-Charles. “This made it possible for me to ask the questions and get the feedback I needed from people who had my best interest in mind because they were personally invested in my success and want to see everyone flourish. I’m excited about working with McKinney because, as a creative, I have immense respect for the work they do and what Healthy Roots can learn from them.”

Sponsors launched the stampede incubator and pitch competition in March at Durham’s American Underground startup hub to help a curated group of promising young companies better position themselves to earn a piece of the fast-growing consumer products market.* After honing its product offering and business plan, Healthy Roots Dolls competed in final pitches against eight other startups from around the country (see full list below).

“The Startup Stampede produced a lot of winners,” said Doug Speight, the American Underground’s executive director. “Healthy Roots executed brilliantly. Congrats to them. All of the pitch teams are now in a better position to reach and win their target customers. And the Triangle region demonstrated the remarkable resources here to help launch all kinds of companies — from software and tech to retail and lifestyle.”

Judges from Burt’s Bees/Clorox, McKinney, Ad Age and Walk West evaluated the pitches. Audience members following online or in person at the American Tobacco Campus’ Full Frame Theater weighed in on the people’s choice award.


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