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Black Rosie Media Selected for Inaugural Stepping Stones Program

Last week, Heartland Forward, Builders + Backers, and the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) announced the Stepping Stones program. Ten Tulsa Alumni Builders were selected for their new Stepping Stones program.

I am honored to share that Black Rosie Media has been selected as part of the inaugural cohort!

This pilot run of the program will provide additional support to alum Builders who have gone through the program's initial phase and are in the process of creating or expanding revenue-generating businesses. As the founder of Black Rosie Media, I will attend a three-day intensive workshop in Tulsa and receive $10,000 in non-dilutive funding to go toward my business.

Since completing the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator powered by Heartland Forward, I have contracted melanated creators to cover the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), including the 2022 All-Star Weekend in Chicago, as well as the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).

The hardest part of being a "solopreneur" is having to create content, and hire freelancers or staff, while also handling day-to-day business operations. The Stepping Stones program is an opportunity for me to get additional guidance from the Builders + Backers on all these areas and more!

"Since these ten Builders have completed the Idea Accelerator program, we've been continuing to provide mentorship and guidance and have been excited by each of their continued guidance," said Donna Harris, Founder, and CEO of Builders + Backers, in the official announcement. "We know though that moving from those early days of idea validation to actual revenue generation can be particularly challenging. This program will provide the literal stepping stones to make that transition and our team is excited to help grow each of these ventures."

I moved to Tulsa just before heading to China to cover my first Winter Olympics – during a global pandemic. I attended the Idea Accelerator orientation session while at the airport en route to Hong Kong, then Beijing. So, when I say Builders + Backers has been along for the ride, I mean it! With everything I was experiencing, it also became even more evident that Black women and other creators of color were missing from these spaces.

Through my discovery process in the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator program, I learned BIPOC creators are not absent because we don't want to be in sports media. Black Rosie Media was founded to eliminate barriers to entry and coach and develop Black women and other melanated creators along their careers.

"We believe the Stepping Stones program will help participants navigate a difficult time between idea and growing business, and we look forward to seeing the successes of this first cohort," said Katie Milligan, Program Manager, Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Heartland Forward.

I am eager to continue to experiment and grow Black Rosie Media to be a place creators can be equitably compensated for their content and have their professional accomplishments celebrated and supported at every stage of their careers. The Stepping Stones program will help me create a pathway to hiring my first employees and hitting my revenue goals in 2023. I hope I can also support the thriving entrepreneur community in Tulsa by building up Black Rosie Media.

"Tulsa is a city of opportunity, with a strong community of entrepreneurs and creators," said Ben Stewart, senior program officer for GKFF. "This program builds on our thriving small business economy to create even more opportunities for Tulsans."

I cannot wait to share more about the Stepping Stones program in the coming months. In the meantime, check out the full list of Tulsa companies participating in the Stepping Stone program:

  • BotanicallyBe, founded by Britt Parrish, offers events, products, and services for the exploding market of houseplant enthusiasts.

  • Black Rosie Media, founded by Erica Ayala, is creating opportunities and a community for Black and melanated women in sports journalism.

  • Athlete Reserve, founded by Hunter Solano, brings a hyperlocal, matchmaking approach to college athletes for NIL sponsorship opportunities.

  • Bounceless, founded by Chantelle Lott, is a functional-first sports bra for full-busted women with patented technology.

Britt Parrish and Erica L. Ayala at a Plant.Sip.Vibe event in Tulsa. Both entrepreneurs participated in the Winter 2022 Cohort of the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator.
Britt Parrish and Erica L. Ayala at a Plant.Sip.Vibe event in Tulsa. Both entrepreneurs participated in the Winter 2022 Cohort of the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator.

  • Eat36N, founded by Cheryl Lawson, is a wildly popular pop-up food truck park serving North Tulsa.

  • Tulsa Policy Institute, founded by Samuel Kurtz, is a platform to promote understanding of and transparency in local government functioning to help increase confidence in civic institutions.

  • The Dose Calc Academy, founded by Latoya Smith, is an app and curriculum giving nursing students a better approach to calculating medication dosages.

  • Scale State, founded by Jolie Vu, an AI-powered software, automates manual, repetitive & error-prone tasks so your team can focus on reaching audit conclusions

  • The Barter Shop, founded by Shanice Brown, a platform for small businesses and freelancers to swap services in cashless transactions.

  • SkillFund, founded by Trae Sjogren, is a platform and program teaching high school graduates remote-friendly skills for expanded job opportunities.

About Heartland Forward:

Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, 501c3 organization whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research and programs to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. To learn more, visit

About Builders + Backers:

Builders + Backers invests in exceptional entrepreneurs who are building global-scale ventures to power an entirely different future - one where technology creates value for many instead of capturing it for a few. Through proprietary programming, Builders + Backers also inspires and equips people to best seize the opportunities of our digital era - from experimentation and solving problems in their local communities to starting new ventures that could scale. By backing the most creative builders across the country, we can shape the digital future to be one in which more people participate and thrive. For more information about Builders + Backers, visit

About George Kaiser Family Foundation:

George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) is a charitable organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through investments in early childhood education, community health, social services and civic enhancement. Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, GKFF works primarily on initiatives developed in collaboration with Tulsa-based direct service organizations. For more information about George Kaiser Family Foundation, visit

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