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The Indiana Daily Student


Three IU-affiliated entrepreneurs advance to NBA All-Star Pitch Competition Finals


Three entrepreneurs affiliated with IU advanced to the NBA Foundation All-Star Pitch Competition Finals on Jan. 9, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

Geng Wang, co-founder and CEO of Civic Champs; Katara McCarty, founder and CEO of Exhale; and Sharod Holmes, founder and CEO of Holm, will compete in the finals at 10:00 a.m. Feb. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during NBA All-Star Weekend. The winner will receive $150,000. 

The competition highlights local entrepreneurs, particularly those in the field of technology. Competitors pitch their respective companies to a panel of judges and receive feedback. 

“The NBA Foundation Pitch Competition is one of our signature programs,” Lauren Sills, NBA Foundation operations leader, said at the competition. 

The NBA Foundation — the NBA’s first charitable foundation — was created in August 2020 and works to provide economic and career development opportunities for Black youth. It has 177 grantees and has distributed $97 million across 28 markets. 

“Part of our mission at the NBA Foundation is to arm these aspiring innovators with essential tools, capital and resources,” Sills said. 

This year is the third annual competition. The first was in Cleveland during the 2022 All-Star Weekend. All competitors are given three minutes to pitch followed by five minutes of questions from the judges. 

The competition had five judges with backgrounds ranging from investment to diversity and leadership. Judges commented on and made suggestions to the competitors during the questioning portion of each pitch. 

Civic Champs is a volunteer management software company. It provides non-profits with software to schedule, manage and communicate with volunteers.  

“Non-profits continue to rely on a collection of paper sign-in sheets, Google forms and Excel to manage their volunteers,” Wang said during his pitch. 

Wang, a Bloomington resident, founded the company to combat non-profits' disorganized workflows in 2019 and received a $130,000 investment from IU Angel Network in 2020. 

Civic Champs serves over 140 non-profits across the United States ranging from 25 to 10,000 volunteers, Wang said. 

Exhale was founded in 2020 by Katara McCarty, a graduate of IU-Kokomo. It is a mental and emotional well-being app for Black women and women of color. 

“As I was reaching for mental wellness apps in 2020, I was frustrated to find that mainstream apps were not offering anything to the Black community to help support us,” McCarty said during her pitch. “I created the very thing I was looking for.” 

The app allows users to practice mediation and breathing techniques. It also contains calming sounds, a thought of the day and a podcast. 

“We center Black women and their experiences through the content,” McCarty said. 

Sharod Holmes graduated from IU Kelley School of Business in 2020. He founded Holm, in 2023 as a tool for creators’ web presence. 

“Our focus is on beginning creators, and we want to help them become more discoverable,” Holmes said. 

Holm targets local creators in the Midwest, which is a different approach from its competitors on the coasts. Since its founding, the company has collected approximately $100,000 in investments and aims to onboard users in 2024. 

“We believe the best way to grow is from the inside out,” Holmes said. “If you or anybody you know is thinking about setting up a web presence, there is no place like Holm.” 

A livestream of the semifinals can be found on the NBA’s website. 

Wang, McCarty and Holmes were joined by Cornelius George, CEO of Chuqlab; Ethan Rodriguez, co-founder and CMO of KLOTOFY; Jessica Bussert, CEO of Wave Therapeutics; and Klein Ilelji, co-founder and CEO of JUA Technologies International, Inc. All seven advanced to the finals. 

The NBA Foundation All-Star Pitch Competition Finals will be Feb. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The winner will receive $150,000. 

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