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SF woman outhustles others to win #PitchLeBron online contest

The owner of a San Francisco company gets a big-league shout-out from the NBA star on social media.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read
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Yolanda Jones makes her pitch to "Cleveland Hustles" host Bonin Bough (left) and Twitter executive Adam Bain.

Terry Collins/CNET

Last week, Yolanda Jones had 23 seconds to sell high-level tech leaders in San Francisco on why NBA superstar LeBron James should give her SF-based company an online endorsement.

In a matter-of-fact pitch, Jones wooed the basketball star's representatives -- tech mogul Bonin Bough and Twitter Chief Operating Officer Adam Bain -- on Yolanda's Construction Administration & Traffic Control, or YCAT. Cameras caught every word: The pitch was part of the #PitchLeBronContest, a national promo tour for James' executive-produced reality TV show, "Cleveland Hustles."

Jones also took to Instagram to tout her business, which she started to help keep young people off the streets of SF's rugged Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. The company dispatches men and women to construction sites, where they keep pedestrians from wandering into work zones.

"LeBron, I need your help...We place men and women on construction projects to earn a decent living," Jones, wearing a hard hat and orange construction jacket, said in her Instagram post. "Put the guns down, put the dope down and pick up a stop sign..."

James' pet project, "Cleveland Hustles" is a collision of celebrity, technology and everyday Americans scratching out a living. The program, which follows in the footsteps of shows like "Shark Tank," pairs entrepreneurs with investors. Four investors will vet 20 entrepreneurs and eventually work with 8 of them.

Cleveland Hustles also aims to revitalize some of America's most hardscrabble neighborhoods, a spirit that was clearly evident in James' Tuesday Facebook post.

"HUGE s/o to CLE Hustles #PitchLeBron winner Yolanda Jones & YCAT Control!! Loved watching the video," James said. "Keep going Yolanda, keep changing lives... your passion is inspiring. #YoHustles #GameRecognizeGame#StriveForG."

There were also tweets about it:

Jones started her business with $200 in 2010, a few months after her son was killed in a shooting. Her goal: Provide job opportunities to young people with troubled lives.

Since then, YCAT has grown to about 16 employees who receive basic construction training and some funding for their union membership. The company is currently on four major SF construction sites, including those of two hospitals. It hopes to double staffing, as it will oversee construction traffic for a major sewer renovation in the city later this year.

Jones told Bough and Bain that her financial success was less important to her than providing opportunity to people who need a chance.

"An endorsement from LeBron James will help me get the word out to those fresh out of prison, those mothers who don't want their sons and daughters in juvenile (detention)," she told the two executives. "What I do is I reach into the community, not out. I help show them a way that they can live a productive life."

That message resonated with Bough, who recently stepped down as the head of e-commerce at Mondelez. Bough said he hoped his digital chops would help companies like YCAT grow.

"One of the big challenges is that a lot of small businesses don't have access or know-how to use digital channels to increase their potential and growth," Bough said. "We have to ask ourselves what are we going to do to invest in lifeblood and infrastructure to make these small businesses thrive?"

"Cleveland Hustles" debuts Wednesday night on CNBC.