Home Business Sista Afya Mental Health Advocate, Camesha Jones, Wins South Side Pitch Competition

Sista Afya Mental Health Advocate, Camesha Jones, Wins South Side Pitch Competition

Courtesy of Sista Afya

Camesha Jones, founder of Sista Afya community mental wellness center, won the 2021 South Side Pitch competition — and $8,000. Jones plans to use the funds to hire two therapists who can offer low cost therapy to Black women.

“We are trying to scale our business to serve more women,” Jones told the Chicago Southsider in an email. “There is a mental health crisis in [terms of] openings for therapy sessions that are affordable to people. By hiring two additional therapists, we can serve 100 more women in 2022.”

South Side Pitch Competition

The South Side Pitch competition took place on Thursday, October 21, 2021 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm CST. The event was streamed on Facebook and Youtube. Noah Bazis, Institute for Justice Policy Fellow, hosted the 8th Annual Pitch Competition.

“Our six finalists are an elite group of South Side small business owners who were whittled down from a group of over 100 impressive applicants,” said Baziz. “It was truly difficult to choose these finalists. This shows how rich and diverse the business community is on the South Side.”

The Chicago Southsider had a chance to interview most of the finalists before the big day. They were full of energy and ready to share their products and services with the world. For some, this was their first time pitching their idea to a panel of judges. Others had applied multiple times to the South Side Pitch competition before becoming a finalist.

Courtesy of Sista Afya

“This is my second pitch competition,” says Jones in an email. “My first was in 2017, when I started my business and I received 2nd place for my pitch. But I actually applied to South Side Pitch three times (once each year) before being accepted this year as a semi-finalist – and now a finalist. I think timing is everything, and I have way more to show how much Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness has had an impact on the lives of women across our city.”

Judges and online audience members had a chance to learn more about each business. After the entrepreneurs delivered their pitch, a team of judges asked the finalists a series of questions.

The team of judges included:

  • Kelly Evans – Chicago Urban League
  • Blake Overlock – LOUD Capital
  • Joanna Trotter – Chicago Community Trust
  • Wendy Walker Williams – University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement

Jones Pitches Mental Health Access for Black Women

Jones was the last pitch finalist of the event to share her idea. She had three minutes to pitch her mental wellness services. Jones kept us glued to our computer screens with her dynamic presentation and passion.

“Mental health care is critical for women who’ve experienced the trauma of losing a loved one to gun violence or being burned out from taking care of their families and communities…especially in this pandemic,” says Jones. “Unfortunately, there are women who are empowered and ready to seek therapy, but they cannot afford the high cost.”

Jones also provided statistics to support her pitch.

“Did you know the average therapy session out of pocket is $150 and the black community is the highest uninsured in the nation? Those with Medicaid have a difficult time finding someone who takes their state insurance.”

Although the statistics are devastating, Jones has a solution that can help provide affordable therapy at one third the cost of competitors. Through revenue sources, such as insurance reimbursements and monthly mental wellness memberships, Sista Afya offers services without compromising quality.

“Since Sista Afya’s founding in 2017, we’ve served over 1000 Black women in Chicago through innovative, affordable, community-driven programs,” Jones said in an email. “We offer individual and group therapy, workshops, holistic healing classes, and social events focused on individual and collective healing for Black women.”

This year, Jones has taken her business to the next level. She opened her first brick and mortar mental wellness center in the South Shore community. Now, more people can access therapy services in their community.

“We are a business with a social mission,” says Jones during the Q&A portion of her pitch presentation. “Being able to have the purpose, people, and profit, we are able to stay in Chicago and be a staple on the South Side long-term.”

Announcing the Winners

Each contestant was evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Business impact
  • Business vision
  • Creativity
  • South Side Connection
  • Showmanship

Beth Kregor, director of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship, announced the winners of the South Side Pitch competition. The Community Award winner was Ian Gonzalez of Last Lap Cornerstore. The third place winner was Dominique Jones, founder of D. Jones Construction. She took home a cash prize of $5,000. The second place winner, Ismael El-Amin, founder of Piggyback Network, won $7,000. Sista Afya was announced as the champion of the 8th Annual South Side Pitch competition.

“This is my third or fourth time applying to the pitch competition,” Jones shared as tears started to roll down her face. “God’s timing is everything. I feel like everything I’ve gone through as a business owner…all the work…it’s hard work…it took a long time to get here. I’m so grateful.”

She adds, “In the Black community, people are ready to heal. I’m just honored to do this healing work to serve our community and the South Side.”

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