Following the Ambition Accelerator Summit, Sparkle Whitaker will fast track her social venture to reduce youth recidivism in Chicago with $25,000 after pitching to a judging panel of Olamide Olowe, Vince Staples, Spanto and Neil Borkan
Irvine, Calif. (November 7, 2022) – After three inspiring days of its inaugural Ambition Accelerator Summit, the Taco Bell Foundation and its partners Taco Bell and Ashoka are excited to announce the top changemaker of this social impact program: Sparkle Whitaker, founder of the Onyx Incubator, a free three-year program that supports youth in Cook County, Ill. who have experienced incarceration in building their creative and social skills in preparation for life after high school.
Nearly 300 submissions offered innovative ideas for enacting community and global-level change, with particular focus on addressing inequities. Of those, 26 teams from 14 states were selected to attend an immersive experience at Taco Bell’s headquarters last week. Attending teams sharpened their changemaking skills, learning everything from budgeting breakdowns to social media tips. Each received a total of $1,500 in seed funding for their social venture, while five final teams were invited to a pitch competition for a chance to secure the top award of $25,000.
To identify the breakthrough idea, four successful entrepreneurs served as judges, including skincare disruptor and Topicals CEO Olamide Olowe; musical trailblazer Vince Staples; BornxRaised streetwear founder Spanto; and Taco Bell franchisee and Taco Bell Foundation Chairman Neil Borkan. These innovators collaborated with the Taco Bell Foundation to select the Onyx Incubator as the leading concept in advancing society for the better.
“When I was a kid, I never dreamed I’d end up in music, but grew to realize that life’s about taking advantage of any opportunity,” said Staples. “Being part of this experience with Taco Bell, surrounded by these youth shaping our tomorrow, has been cool. They’re innovative and are focused on making a change which reminds us that anything’s possible.”
The Onyx Incubator, based in Chicago, offers workshops on creativity to youth who have experienced incarceration, or qualify for alternatives to detention centers. The virtual setting allows youth to stay home under parental supervision or maintain participation in school while learning new skills through classes at night, with plans to expand to in-person experiences in the near future. The $25,000 will help Whitaker expand her course offerings and provide physical materials in community centers so students participating in the classes can learn tangible skills, such as fashion design. The four other finalists in the Ambition Accelerator pitch competition were granted $10,000 each.
“It’s been incredible to be here, connecting with other changemakers and learning about all the issues they’re taking on,” said Whitaker, first-ever Ambition Accelerator winner and previous Live Más Scholar. “It’s epic to receive this funding, I’m super grateful and cannot wait for the impact this will have.”
This investment aims to increase young people’s access to the resources, connections and capital they need to enact positive change. Funded by Yum! Brand’s $100 million Unlocking Opportunity Initiative and supported by Taco Bell’s franchisees, the Ambition Accelerator is part of a commitment to creating pathways to build a more equitable and inclusive society. From addressing mental health issues to creating a more sustainable future, the leading ideas this year embodied the spirit of the Taco Bell Foundation and Taco Bell.
“Passion is at the core of Taco Bell,” said Mark King, CEO of Taco Bell and Vice Chairman of the Taco Bell Foundation Board of Directors. “It inspires everything our people do, whether in the restaurant or in their communities with the support of this program. They’re changing the game in pursuit of craveable food and a better society, and I’m so proud of them.”
As the first year of the Ambition Accelerator wraps, the Taco Bell Foundation is excited to confirm the program’s return in 2023. With nearly 60% of year one submissions tackling issues related to equity and inclusion, it will continue to address society’s most pressing needs while granting greater access to funding and building an even larger community of changemakers that may otherwise not be available to aspiring youth leaders.
“These past few days have left me speechless,” said Jennifer Bradbury, Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. “I’m leaving this Summit feeling more encouraged than ever, thanks to the brilliant minds participating. My excitement for next year is unmatched.”
“These young changemakers are leading the way and are examples of what it means to thrive in a fast-changing world,” said Tia Johnston Brown, Executive Director of Ashoka Youth Years U.S. “As partners with Taco Bell and the Taco Bell Foundation, we are committed to driving a world where everyone realizes their power to create change.”
Learn more about all of this year’s impressive finalists here and stay informed on programming at www.tacobellfoundation.org/ambition-accelerator/.
About Taco Bell Foundation
Taco Bell Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) public charity that helps America’s young people pursue their educational goals and career aspirations. Since 1992, the Taco Bell Foundation has reached more than 5 million young people across the country and has awarded more than $130 million in grants and scholarships, focused on education and career readiness. For more information about the Taco Bell Foundation, visit www.tacobellfoundation.org
About Taco Bell Corp.
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Ashoka is the largest global network of leading social entrepreneurs—individuals with new ideas to systematically address the world’s biggest challenges and the entrepreneurial skill to transform those ideas into national, regional and global social impact. Over 40 years, Ashoka has supported more than 3,600 social entrepreneurs in 90 countries with solutions addressing society’s most pressing issues. Ashoka’s vision is a world in which Everyone is a Changemaker– society that responds quickly and effectively to challenges, and where every individual has the freedom, confidence and societal support to address any social problem. For more information, visit ashoka.org. Follow Ashoka on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates.
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