More than 300 minority entrepreneurs gathered Oct. 12-14 for networking, promoting and music at the Black Wall Street (BWS) Homecoming event in Durham.
The event, which was co-founded by local entrepreneurs Dee McDougal, Jesica Averhart, Talib Graves-Manns and Tobias Rose, was a chance for African-American and other minority entrepreneurs to hear from and engage with other successful entrepreneurs.
Talib Graves-Manns, whose family has lived in the Walltown Village neighborhood of Durham for four generations, said that he and his co-founders created the event to honor the history of Black Wall Street in Durham, as well as to change media representations of black entrepreneurship.
“The narrative is not really balanced when it comes to the press about African-Americans doing amazing things, especially in business,” he said.
The first BWS homecoming was held last year. After the success of BWS homecoming, additional events were held in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas.
“Most people here they think about either of those two cities [Durham, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma], but it’s technically more like 46 or 48 other Black Wall Street communities. They just didn’t have the same monikers. So, Washington D.C. is one of them,” Graves-Manns said.
This year’s event was also a success, and according to Graves-Mann it is the guests who attend that are key to the event’s success. “Our guests came from all over the country. They are our biggest asset. These are the people that believe in our mission.”
Participants to BWS travel from all over the U.S. to participate in the three-day event. “They’re all full-time very busy people. Entrepreneurs that are preparing for exits, venture capitalists that are traveling all over the world trying to find the best deals, educators from the best universities are coming in town to give freely. These people are very busy. We don’t pay them anything to come, but they come because they believe in what we believe in,” he said.
Tiana Horn, a senior at Duke University and founder of Flower Child, an all-natural line of hair care products, attended BWS last year and said she found the resources she gained so valuable that she decided to return for this year’s activities.
“When I came last year, it was actually the first time I’d ever pitched my product and my idea. I was really nervous, but luckily everyone was really nice and gave me good and positive feedback,” she said.
For Horn, events like BWS that target minority participants are especially useful.
“I feel like it’s definitely beneficial,” she said. “Even when I pitched last year, the fact that I was so nervous, I feel like it was kind of a sense of community.”
“Events like this kind of connect you with people who even if they don’t invest initially you can at least have connections that you might not have access to otherwise,” Horn said.
Twanna Harris, a marketer from Atlanta, Georgia, who is transitioning from corporate America to the tech world, said it was the list of speakers and content that were published online which sparked her interest in the event.
“The speakers that have adapted the most non-traditional perspectives and have been more aggressive about going against the grain have been the highlights of my weekend,” Harris said. “The concept I’m working on is really rebellious, and it’s going against the status quo. But it’s all for positive social change. And I think those are criteria that are absolutely necessary to make that happen.”
For three days Black Wall Street returned to its home in Durham, North Carolina, bringing with it 42 speakers, including architects, venture capitalists, university presidents, as well as CEOs and attorneys, almost all of whom were black.
As of now, BWS founders have no plans to expand BWS to additional cities, but it is not because of a lack of interest, according to Graves-Manns. “We all have full-time jobs, and we do Black Wall Street just out of our interests in giving back to the community and our love for entrepreneurship,” he said.
Graves-Manns insisted that if the resources, including time and money, became available they [the co-founders] would seek to include additional cities to the BWS Homecoming roster.