RALEIGH – When Jessica Featherson witnessed how difficult it was for her brother to get a job after a stint in prison, she decided something had to be done.

Enter the Rare Feather, a fledgling startup based out of Raleigh that provides cleaning services for residential homes, churches, medical facilities, office buildings, post-construction sites and more.

But it also has a mission: to give ex-felons a second chance by giving them gainful employment when they get out of prison.

Posing for a group photo … participants of the Black Entrepreneurship Week on Friday.

Last Friday, the company won first prize – and $3,000 – as part of the Black Entrepreneurs Week pitch competition.

“It’ll definitely help us with getting more equipment and insuring employees,” she told WRAL TechWire.

“Today, I’m putting ads on Indeed for job applicants. We’re open to contracts, so if anyone needs a cleaning service, we are definitely available and ready to work.”

The pitch competition was the culmination of the Black Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, an accelerated business development program held in conjunction with the annual Black Entrepreneurship Week.

The five-day conference was hosted by the Carolina Small Business Development Fund and Shaw University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at the Raleigh Convention Center from September 16-20. Other events focusing on minority entrepreneurs are taking place this week in Durham.

Diversity in Triangle startup community events: Black Entrepreneurship Week, Black Founders Exchange, Black Wall Street Homecoming

In total, 13 early-stage startups gave pitched as part of the competition.

The $1,500 second cash prize went to Nala Keye, founder of Nala Latrice International, a motivational platform that offers personal development and social events, like meditation workshops.

Torri McCullers, who runs Torri’s Officiant Services for couples getting married, won the $500 third cash prize.

Danya Perry, Wake County Economic Development’s director of Equitable Economic Development, served on the judge’s panel. He said supporting black entrepreneurship is a “critical piece” of smart economic development.

“This is our community, and we want to make sure our business community is representative of our community. That’s why it’s a critical piece.”