Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole Hayes gifts $8.75 million to HBCU graduates to boost entrepreneurship

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 8, 2024 2:14 PM EDT
Aisha "Pinky" Cole. Photo credit: The Bitter Southerner

Slutty Vegan founder Aisha “Pinky” Cole Hayes has gifted $8.75 million to the graduating class of  2024 at Savannah State University. The renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist announced the gift during her commencement speech to the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) graduates. The $8.75 million will provide them with the necessary tools and resources to navigate their lives as they transition into the world.

“I am passionate about lifting up the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs of our world. I know firsthand what it means to have mentorship and how someone believing in your dream can make a difference. This graduating class has experienced so much adversity. Their college years began with a global pandemic and they have had to navigate their lives through unprecedented events. Through it all, they have thrived and are ready to enter the ‘real world’ with more experience and the confidence to face life’s new challenges. I believe in these graduates, and I hope that this gift will help them as they transition into this next phase of their lives.” Cole Hayes said about the impact her gift will have on the graduates.

To actualize the donation, Cole Hayes partnered with One Million Black Businesses (Club), an initiative between Operation HOPE and Shopify, which aims to launch, grow, and scale one million Black-owned businesses by 2030. The investment will support an “Entrepreneurial Starter Pack” that includes entrepreneurial educational materials, one-on-one mentoring from 1MBB, and an eight-week small business training course in business plan development and financial management. Beneficiaries will also receive three months of free access to Shopify to enable them to realize their entrepreneurial dreams.

Under the theme “Thriving Through Change,” Cole Hayes inspired the graduates with her commencement speech. She impressed upon the Class of 2024, who missed many traditional events, celebrations, and milestones due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that the challenges they faced have made them resilient and flexible in the face of adversity. She drew on her own experiences of loss and success in building a multimillion-dollar brand to highlight the importance of perseverance and faith in overcoming obstacles. The graduates have already been tested and are now equipped with the tools to thrive among agents of change.

“Pinky Cole Hayes is a living example of what happens when a brilliant idea meets opportunity. With 1MBB, we want to offer opportunities to as many brilliant ideas as we can reach and are excited to partner with Pinky to help lift the next generation of Black entrepreneurial excellence.” John Hope Bryant, CEO and founder of Operation HOPE said of Cole Hayes’ impact on the young generation.

Cole Hayes has a long track record of empowering the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. In 2022, she gifted the graduating class of her alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, LLCs to begin businesses. She recently sponsored the Benjamin E. Mays High School prom, providing free admission to all students, prom outfits, catering, decorations, a DJ, and souvenirs. Cole Hayes is also a passionate advocate for marginalized communities and founder of The Pinky Cole Foundation.

She opened Slutty Vegan in the summer of 2018 out of a shared kitchen, selling vegan burgers through delivery apps. Cole Hayes went from selling only four burgers on her first day to purchasing a food truck and opening the Slutty Vegan food truck within a few months. She opened her first storefront a year later and raised $25 million through a Series A funding round in 2021 that brought the brand’s valuation to $100 million. As of 2023, Slutty Vegan has 11 locations in Georgia, New York City, Birmingham, Alabama, and Dallas.