A Cartier Program Is Helping Underrepresented Entrepreneurs


Since 2006, Cartier has championed female entrepreneurs whose business ventures have a positive effect on society and the environment.

Cartier, the Richemont-owned jewelry house, is doing this through a program called the Cartier Women’s Initiative. The initiative awards women-owned or female-led businesses from any sector with grant money, networking opportunities, loans and professional advice designed to help them overcome barriers including underfunding and lack of access.

Until last year, the program was exclusively female-focused. But in 2023, Cartier invited men into the fold: The company introduced a new diversity, equity and inclusion pilot award to the program to reward entrepreneurs — regardless of gender — whose businesses fostered opportunities for underrepresented groups.

When the pilot award was announced last year, 70 business owners applied, 80 percent of whom identified as female and 20 percent of whom identified as male, according to Cartier. (Cartier does not disclose its overall number of applicants to the entire program.) This year, the number of applicants to the D.E.I. award category rose to 83, with 20 percent of them being men.

“We feel that the D.E.I. category should be open to all, regardless of gender, social background, religion, origin, size or sexual orientation because everyone can face challenges to access,” Cyrille Vigneron, the president and chief executive of Cartier since 2016, said by phone from Geneva. “Our objective is to create a sense of belonging in a more inclusive world.”

In Paris, Wingee Sampaio, the global program director of the Cartier Women’s Initiative, said recently that in the D.E.I. category they looked for “businesses who seek to solve an inclusion challenge.”

“Usually these entrepreneurs choose an issue because of an experience in their own lives that inspired them to create solutions for change,” Ms. Sampaio said. “If they are left out of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, we don’t see those solutions being born.”

The new category reflects how the Cartier Women’s Initiative has evolved and how it may be defying the growing trend among business leaders of backing away from D.E.I. programs.

Mr. Vigneron has been a driving force behind the initiative. When the program began in 2006, it was a business-plan competition that was part of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. But in 2017, Mr. Vigneron turned it into a free-standing program that has since awarded more than $9.5 million in grants to some 300 entrepreneurs from 60 countries.

“I am a feminist,” Mr. Vigneron said in a speech at the initiative’s award ceremony last year in Paris, before an audience that included the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who also spoke at the event.

“We have the power to liberate women from stereotypes,” Mr. Vigneron said last month in an interview. “But we must also liberate men from their own stereotypes and encourage everyone to be who they want to be, with respect.”

“The initiative today is an independent entity because of a greater commitment on the part of Cartier and because we have experienced strong traction in all the regions we cover,” he said.

To determine the program’s award winners, a jury of businesspeople selects three fellows in first, second and third place in 11 different categories, one of which is D.E.I. These finalists are awarded $100,000, $60,000 or $30,000 in grants and other benefits.

Last year, two of the three top prizes in the category were awarded to men.

First prize in the category went to Blake Van Putten, the chief executive of CISE, a Los Angeles-based fashion house that sells products designed to empower the Black community. Its best seller is a vegan-leather handbag embossed with the words “Protect Black Women” that retails for $150.

“After the murder of George Floyd, I felt I wasn’t doing enough for the Black community,” Mr. Van Putten said recently by phone from Los Angeles.

Third prize was awarded to Chengchuan Shi, the founder and chief executive of Voibook Technology in Guangzhou, China. Mr. Shi, who lost his hearing at age 11 after an illness, founded the company in 2016 to help the hearing-impaired who did not know sign language to communicate using an artificial intelligence-based platform to write text or turn their typed words into sounds.

Second prize went to Ishani Roy, the female founder and chief executive of Serein Inc. from Bengaluru, India, whose company specializes in strategies and policies to address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

This year, no men made it into the top three in the D.E.I. category.

The current D.E.I. finalists are Sadriye Gorece, the founder of BlindLook, a company from the Bay Area that developed an A.I.-powered audio app to help the visually impaired shop online; Erica Cole, the founder of No Limbits in Richmond, Va., which makes clothing tailored for people with disabilities; and Akshita Sachdeva, whose company, Trestle Labs, in Bangalore, India, designed Kibo (“Knowledge in a Box”), a device that gives blind people audio access to printed, handwritten and digital content.

The prizes will be announced at an award ceremony on May 22 in Shenzhen, China.

“Shenzhen is a hub of innovation and creativity,” Mr. Vigneron said. “We also thought it would be important and interesting to go to China, where there is a very strong community of female entrepreneurs.”


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