Published on October 16, 2019 by Morgan Black  

A record-breaking crowd of nearly 800 from across the globe gathered at Samford University to watch three entrepreneurs present their business plans at the annual Lion’s Den Business as Mission event Oct. 10.

The sixth annual Lion’s Den summit and main event hosted attendees from 11 countries, 26 states and 76 cities around the world. Presented by Cedarworks Inc., The Lion’s Den exists with the goal to inspire, educate and mobilize people to use their time, talents and other resources in the Kingdom through Business as Mission (BAM). BAM Global defines Business as Mission companies as profitable and sustainable businesses who are intentional about God’s Kingdom’s purpose and its impact on people and nations; are focused on holistic transformation and economic, social, environmental and spiritual outcomes; and are concerned about the world’s poorest and least evangelized peoples.

Akola, a Dallas-based jewelry and accessories brand, was recognized as the “best survivor." Executive chairman and founder, Brittany Underwood, presented Akola’s business plan and story. The company, whose name means “she works” in Ugandan dialect, aims to provide life-changing job opportunities to women in poverty. Each piece of jewelry is handcrafted by women in Uganda using local, high-quality materials. According to the company’s website, Akola is a “globally-inspired brand that embodies striking and luxurious designs that lift up, nourish, and champion women around the world” who works with a purpose of redeeming relationships between self, others and God. Since its inception, Akola’s products have been launched in Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The three finalists who presented at the main event were chosen through an applicant pool of dozens of companies starting in April 2019. These international entrepreneurs presented their business ideas to an audience who voted via texting poll on the likelihood of business success and spiritual impact that each company may have.  

In addition to the audience, the three business plans were presented in front of a panel of “lions” that evaluated how the companies would focus on producing financial, social, environmental and spiritual impact in their chosen endeavors, also known as the “quadruple bottom-line” in the Lion’s Den applicant criteria. Panelists included Hogan Bassey, chief innovative officer and founder of LivFul Inc. headquartered in Norcross, Georgia; Barbara Cartledge, senior assistant dean in Samford’s Brock School of Business; Greg Lernihan, an international investor based in Chicago, Illinois; Steve Rundle, professor of international business at Biola University in La Mirada, California; and Chuck Welden, Cedarworks Inc. board member and director of development for WeldenField Development in Birmingham.

Two additional finalists of the Lion’s Den 2019 included Jibu and Third Coast Content.

Jibu capitalizes and equips emerging market entrepreneurs to create affordable access to drinking water and other necessities, serving locations such as Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. According to jibuco.com, Jibu’s “innovative business-driven, charity-grounded model transforms the lack of access to basic human needs into an expansive opportunity by allowing thousands of properly equipped social entrepreneurs to become the solution, one neighborhood at a time.”

Third Coast Content, an independent production company based in Nashville, Tennessee, works with a mission to “tell stories that inspire people to do bigger and better things – stories that entertain, create conversations, and make the world a better place.” Of late, the company has been involved in the production of Christian films and box office hits such as Facing the Giants,WoodlawnWar Room, Courageous, and I Can Only Imagine.

In a private meeting the day following the main event, accredited investors met to learn more about the terms, dynamics, and aspects of each business who presented to the “lions.” From there, the investors will individually decide how to partner together to support these businesses, which discussions can sometimes take three to six months post-event.

During the event, Abbey Robertson, a senior Brock Scholar from Memphis, Tennessee, was recognized on stage as the Taylor M. Harsh Scholarship Award recipient. The scholarship was started by Carter and Cindy Harsh in memory of their son, Taylor, who suddenly passed away in 2017 and who was passionate about working to advance the BAM vision. The scholarship is given to a student who shares the same passion and desire to see God’s Kingdom glorified through their work and has supported Robertson’s internship with the Lion’s Den during this academic semester.

To close the event, the Erwin brothers were recognized as the BAM Operator of the Year. The duo presented to the inaugural Lion’s Den in 2014 when they pitched their business plan for the movie Woodlawn. They received this recognition due to their years of filmmaking, perseverance, and success both in business and from encouraging spiritual impact among thousands around the world.

“There is a process each year where we look at potential nominees who have excelled as examples of Business as Mission companies and achieved multiple levels of success in financial, social, environmental, or spiritual impact,” said Lion’s Den organizer and Cedarworks Inc. board member Andrew Clark ’03. “We felt that providing a tangible example of someone who has done it would help the audience get a full picture as they also see the presenters aiming to make an impact.”

“The Lion’s Den provides a godly platform for redemptive, social enterprises to promote their mission and business endeavors,” Cartledge stated. “The Samford community is blessed to host the event and allow our students to learn about national and international Christian entrepreneurship businesses. The students can catch a glimpse of social entrepreneurship being fully vetted and realized by intentional Christian investors. The Lion’s Den is an embodiment of the mission that Samford and Brock School of Business purports.”