Stampede Recap + Grand Prize Winner

May 16, 2018

Toy Company Launched to Empower Children of Color Wins $100K Grand Prize in National Competition

Healthy Roots Dolls of Cincinnati Takes Top Spot at American Underground/NC IDEA/McKinney’s Startup Stampede

(DURHAM, NC) — May 1, 2018 — Healthy Roots Dolls took both the judges’ prize and the people’s choice award on Monday night at the American Underground’s Startup Stampede. As a result, the Cincinnati-based company will partake in a suite of services valued at $100,000 and provided by event co-sponsor McKinney.

Healthy Roots Dolls (@RootsDolls) is a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks that teach natural hair care because, as the startup points out, every girl should feel empowered by the beauty of the kink of her curl and the color of her skin.

“The Startup Stampede created an open and supportive community,” said founder Yelitsa Jean-Charles. “This made it possible for me to ask the questions and get the feedback I needed from people who had my best interest in mind because they were personally invested in my success and want to see everyone flourish. I’m excited about working with McKinney because, as a creative, I have immense respect for the work they do and what Healthy Roots can learn from them.”

Sponsors launched the stampede incubator and pitch competition in March at Durham’s American Underground startup hub to help a curated group of promising young companies better position themselves to earn a piece of the fast-growing consumer products market.* After honing its product offering and business plan, Healthy Roots Dolls competed in final pitches against eight other startups from around the country (see full list below).

“The Startup Stampede produced a lot of winners,” said Doug Speight, the American Underground’s executive director. “Healthy Roots executed brilliantly. All of the pitch teams are now in a better position to reach and win their target customers. And the Triangle region demonstrated the remarkable resources available here to help launch all kinds of companies — from software and tech to retail and lifestyle.”

Judges from Burt’s Bees/Clorox, McKinney, Ad Age and Walk West evaluated the pitches. Audience members following online or in person at the American Tobacco Campus’ Full Frame Theater and weighed in on the people’s choice award.

“It was amazing seeing people present companies they’d borne from their own vision,” said Jenny Nicholson, group creative director, McKinney. “As a mother of a young girl, I am excited to support Yalitsa and to help young women of color embrace their natural beauty.  As an advertiser, I was attracted to the power of her story and the intensity of her hustle.”

“I’m rooting for each and everyone of the competing companies to wildly succeed,” added Swap Patel, director of media, McKinney. “We’re looking forward to work with Yalitsa to broadly tell the story of Healthy Roots and get Zoe in the hands of millions of impressionable children.”

The participating retail-focused startups serve a wide range of segments, from cosmetics and personal care to craft liqueurs, and included: Beard and Lady (Creedmoor, NC), @beardandlady; Brothers Vilgalys (Durham, NC), @BrosVilgalys; Descalza (Raleigh, NC), @WearDescalza; Fillaree (Durham, NC), @FillareeSoaps; Healthy Roots Dolls; Nellino’s (Raleigh, NC), @NellinosSauce; Sonoma West Beauty (San Francisco, CA), @SWBeautyCo; Tracy’s Gourmet (Morrisville, NC), @TracysGourmet; Wotter (Cary, NC), @WotterSwim.

PHOTOS and other images HERE.

*Deloitte’s 2018 Consumer Products Industry Outlook states: “It is estimated that online sales of consumer products will increase 350 percent from $8B to $36B.” The number of consumer product startups at Durham’s American Underground has grown from four in 2013 to 18 today. 

About McKinney

McKinney is, pound for pound, the most effective agency in America, with a consistent 15-year record of outpunching its weight at the Effie Awards since the agency began entering in 2003. Cannes, The One Show, D&AD, ANDY, CLIO and The Webby Awards have also recognized McKinney’s creativity. McKinney’s clients include Sherwin-Williams, CarMax, Samsung, ESPN, DuPont, Crocs, Blacture and Marpac. The agency also does pro bono work for Urban Ministries of Durham and the Ad Council/Dollar General Literacy Foundation. McKinney is headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, with offices in New York City.  Visit to learn more and follow McKinney on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


NC IDEA is an independent private foundation committed to supporting entrepreneurial ambition and economic advancement in North Carolina. Since 2006, NC IDEAhas fulfilled this mission through multiple grant and mentorship programs; awarding over $6.5 million to North Carolina startups and organizations that execute creative programs to support entrepreneurs. Learn more at

About American Underground

The American Underground — one of 11 Google for Entrepreneurs tech hubs in North America — launched seven years ago in the basement of an old tobacco warehouse at the American Tobacco Campus. It now encompasses close to 125,000 square feet of space at three locations in downtown Durham as well as a strategic partnership with open source leader Red Hat to offer an office in Silicon Valley. Founding partners include Google for Entrepreneurs, Lincoln Financial Group, Coastal Credit Union, Duke University, Fidelity Labs, and Capitol Broadcasting Company.


Janet Northen
(919) 313-4062

Greg Behr
GBW Strategies
(919) 272-5621