Skip to main content

After Debut Night, Graduates of Our First All-Woman Social Innovation Incubator Cohort Are Ready to Change Lives

The March 21 event was the culmination of our 12-week development program for early-stage social innovators.

April 5, 2023

Last month, the first all-woman cohort of our Social Innovation Incubator took a meaningful step: Eighteen inspiring social entrepreneurs presented their ventures to an engaging room of North Texas change-seekers at Debut Night—the culmination of their 12-week experience in the Incubator program.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, social innovation is part of everything we do to improve access to education, income and health. The Social Innovation Incubator is one example of our social innovation work in action. Its mission is to address historical opportunity and resource gaps, as well as systemic racial and gender inequities, in the social innovation sector in North Texas.

Read on to learn more about our most recent Incubator cohort and their inspiring achievements at Debut Night, as well as the committed community members who help make this initiative possible.

Social Innovators Make Their Big Debut

The Incubator provides an organizational and leadership development program exclusively for early-stage social ventures led and staffed by women and people of color. The social innovation team at United Way developed this initiative specifically for social entrepreneurs who are working to implement new and creative solutions to pressing problems facing North Texans in the areas of education, income and health.

Each Incubator cohort goes through an intensive learning process, during which they refine and validate their business plans, receive leadership coaching and mentorship, and learn about key topics like marketing and branding.

Their experience culminates on Debut Night, when each entrepreneur has an opportunity to showcase their work to some of North Texas’ most passionate community leaders. Much like The Pitch caps off the work of our Social Innovation Accelerator fellows, Debut Night is a chance to showcase the work of emerging entrepreneurs who have been historically impacted by the opportunity and resource gaps that exist for women and entrepreneurs of colors specifically.

Part of United Way’s investment is to provide financial, human and social capital to our Incubator participants. The financial support comes in the form of a $2,500 seed investment upon completion of programming, while the program provides human capital through leadership coaching from professional mentors. Debut Night boosts the social capital side by allowing founders to leverage the relationships within United Way’s vast network, which creates a promising pathway to good exposure and meaningful relationships.

As Jasmine Hillman, senior manager of innovation at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, explains, “I see Debut Night as a larger platform to say, look out for the next great innovators who will use their bold and creative solutions to contribute to healthier and stronger communities in the areas of education, income and health.”

A Night of Innovation and Impact

During the March 21 Debut Night, 18 of the Incubator entrepreneurs presented to United Way team members; United Way Women of Tocqueville supporters and members; and the night’s judges, Dee Brown, senior manager of strategy at Accenture, Cassandra McKinney, executive VP of Comerica Bank and former United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Women of Tocqueville chair, and Mandy Price, the founder and CEO of Kanarys™.

The entrepreneurs who presented were:

  • LaToya Thomas, S.E. Charities
  • Jill Nastasia, Fearless Dallas
  • Heather Villagomez and Elizabeth Garrison, Notre Dame School STAR Program
  • Jennifer Hills and Krystal Hills, The Leadership Academy of Creative Arts (TLACA)
  • Empriss Bennett-Moreno, Mindset Solutions MultiMedia
  • Elizabeth Price, NSPIRE Tutors
  • Cortina Jackson, Cortina’s Venture
  • Kayla Mainja, Helen’s Project
  • Latasha Cummings, We Are HER
  • Rae Phillips, Reading Huddle
  • Sherri Cook, Wholly Informed Sex Ed
  • Olufeyikemi Ibitayo, Generational Shift USA
  • Monique Muhammad, Code Pink Productions Inc.
  • Patricia Brackens, World Explorers of America
  • Tamia Parker, Commissary is Very Necessary
  • Prinscilla Moore, Delighted to Doula
  • Toneisha Qualls, Mind Molders
  • Star Jackson, SerenelyStar Publishing

This Incubator cohort also included Jasmine Fain of ENPWR U.

Our panel of judges evaluated each participant’s business plan, community impact and scalability. Then they and the live audience cast their votes for Most Innovative, Most Impactful and Audience Choice Award.

This year’s winning entrepreneurs were:

  • Rae Phillips of Reading Huddle, Most Innovative
  • Kayla Mainja of Helen’s Project, Most Impactful & Audience Choice Award
  • Star Jackson of SerenelyStar Publishing LLC, Runner-Up for Most Innovative

Congratulations again to all our graduates and to the Debut Night winners!

Investing in Women Entrepreneurs

We are incredibly grateful to our cohort and award sponsors—The Eugene McDermott Foundation and Comerica Bank, as well as the United Way Women of Tocqueville Fund for Women and Children. Each has committed to investing in women-led nonprofits and businesses, and we are so inspired by their generosity.

The Women of Tocqueville Fund for Women and Children was founded in 2017 specifically to provide targeted financial and skill-based investments in the areas of education, income and health for North Texas women and children.

“Our goal through the Women of Tocqueville Fund is to encourage an equitable economic environment in which all women and children can achieve financial stability,” said Robbi Luxbacher, chair of the Women of Tocqueville Advisory Fund. “We chose to invest in United Way’s Social Innovation Incubator because it allows us to directly impact women entrepreneurs, who often face greater obstacles in launching a business or nonprofit. The inspiring women in this year’s cohort are developing innovative solutions to long-standing community challenges, and the Women of Tocqueville Fund is honored to help fund this important work.”

“This marks the first-ever Women of Tocqueville-led fund at any United Way in the country,” said fund co-founder Kristy Faus. “As WOT members, empowering women and children are the pillars of our organization and are at the center of all we do.”

“During the pandemic, we had an opportunity to sit back, think and try to imagine what things were going to be like on the other side of it—who would be most hurt that we might partner with when the pandemic was over,” said fund co-founder Carol March. “We felt it was important that the fund lift up other women and elevate our purpose. More than the socializing and networking, the WOT Fund gives us a cohesive and tangible purpose that is really resonating.”

The fund, which has raised more than $16.5 million, will be a source of permanent support and provide annual distributions for programs that create opportunity and access for women and children to thrive.

Thank you again to our mighty Women of Tocqueville supporters and members who helped make Debut Night a success, including: Jennifer Sampson, Rachel C. Ybarra, CPA, CGMA, Rachel B. Simon, Kristy Faus, Carol March, Neena Newberry, Lynn Fisher, Jerome Rose, Tyler Riddell, Leadership MBA, Linda Yohe, Nancy LaVerde, Kate Newman, Stacy Dunton, Ellen Barker and Michelle Thomas.

Learn More About the Fund for Women and Children

The Women of Tocqueville Fund for Women and Children is a powerful force for lasting change in North Texas. Interested in learning more? Visit the fund’s website.


Invest in Social Innovation

Social innovation is one of the ways we create lasting change in the areas of education, income and health. We invite you to join the Live United movement by investing in our social innovation programming, which supports innovative organizations that are making a direct, lasting impact in their communities.