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Toni Hall and Natalie Prather – who, if you ask them their ages, will only admit they are closing in on 30 – have been best friends since high school.

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And just as Hall was certain Prather would be her best friend when they first met in the ninth grade, she was just as confident the duo would prevail during a recent high-pressure, 60-second business competition, sponsored by the group 100 Urban Entrepreneurs and music mogul and mega entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs.

Hall and Prather, the co-owners of Size 12, a shoe and accessory store that specializes in upscale women’s shoes from sizes 10 to 14, were at Howard University in Washington, D.C. earlier this month competing with hundreds of other anxious young, black entrepreneurs for a handful of $10,000 prizes. One hundred thousand dollars of the money to fund the project was put up by Combs himself through the Sean “Diddy” Combs Entrepreneurial Fund.

Part of the mission of 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, according to a statement, is “to help provide a meaningful, long-term economic boost to urban communities throughout the United States by supporting minority entrepreneurship at its earliest stages.”

The business owners had to submit a business plan prior to the competition, then had exactly 60 seconds to make their best business pitch to win the much-needed capital. But, before Hall and Prather got their turn at bat, they watched several tandems run out of time and come up short.

And if that wasn’t enough pressure, the event was being covered by national news organizations. Yet, the two delivered a pitch perfect presentation unscathed and nabbed $10,000 in the process.

“In our minds, we were like, `We got this; we won,’ and then when we won, it was just like icing on the cake,” Hall said with a smile inside the store, which is adorned in aqua and hot pink.

Size 12, located in the Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., opened in January and was born mostly out of necessity for the two long-time friends.

“I’ve been a shoe size 12 since I was 11 years old,” said Hall who proudly divulges she is 5’11 ¾”. “So, it’s always been an issue, a frustration for me to find stylish shoes. And I love fashion, but when it came to finding shoes to fit my personality, to fit my wardrobe, it was like, `What is up with this?’”

Shopping for shoes over the Internet – typically the only resort for many women looking for larger shoe sizes – was not satisfying for Hall.

“It wasn’t exciting to me to shop online for my shoes. I wanted to be able to go shopping at the store, pick out my outfit pick out my shoes and have the experience,” she explained.

Although winning the prize money and receiving exposure from news outlets like CNN has been exciting for the young women, Hall and Prather say they expected success from the beginning.

“It’s like Toni was saying, anything you do, you have to have the mindset that ‘I’m strategically planning to win; I’m strategically planning to be the best; I’m strategically planning to be on top,” Prather said. “This is a great idea Toni came up with, and we’re running with it, so with that happening now, everything is coming together, and we’re expecting things to take off … Confidence is contagious.”

“We’re like sisters,” she continued. “I think the component of me and Toni, when were together, we balance each other out. There are areas that I’m strong in, and Toni could possibly sharpen my strength, and vice versa.”

“We’re fulfilling the dreams of so many women,” Hall said. “You

can’t even imagine the emails that we get, the comments that we get – ‘Oh, my God … finally! I’m so glad there’s a store like this. My daughter, she wears a size 12, shopping for shoes for prom was such a hassle,’”

“I mean, we are really fulfilling women’s dreams and desires,” said Hall. “What could be more positive than that?”

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