Entrepreneurship hub Provident1898 promotes community, entrepreneurship in Durham

Team Photo left to right of Carl Webb- Co-founder; Tyra Wade- Community Manager; Peter Cvelich- Co-founder. Photo courtesy of Provident1898.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

By Campbell Atterbury

Within the walls of Mutual Tower in Durham, resting between cookie cutter office spaces, lies an entrepreneurship hub and coworking space Provident1898.

Provident1898 distinguishes itself from other offices by offering a variety of workspaces for business teams from various companies to come in and work. Founders Carl Webb and Peter Cvelich saw potential in the abandoned area in the Mutual Tower and created the space so a diverse community of entrepreneurs could have a place to grow. 

“In the process of trying to repurpose some of the unutilized space within the NC Mutual building we looked at what was the cafeteria and auditorium, and they had become obsolete, it was vacant,” Cvelich said. “And thought about a space program that would reactivate that with sort of a commercial real estate business model but a community orientation, which is the way those spaces were designed originally.”  

With a history rooted in the advancement of Black-owned businesses, Provident1898 was named after The North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association that was founded in 1898, later known as North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. John Merrick, Dr. Aaron Moore and five other men came together to establish NC Mutual in 1898 after the massacre of Black citizens in Wilmington, North Carolina. NC Mutual went on to be one of the largest Black-owned companies in the U.S. and eventually moved their business to Mutual Tower and it remains a historical landmark in Durham as part of its  “Black Wall Street.” 

“My thought was how do you build back as you are going through the redevelopment of the property, something that pays homage to the legacy of those individuals that worked in that building,” Webb said. “We landed on, ok, let’s create a shared, coworking space that is built on the history of Black Wall Street and in doing that, continue to keep it open and accessible to the public.”

The workspace embodies Mutual Tower’s rich legacy of Black economic empowerment while embracing a forward-thinking approach to teamwork. 

Whether people want to start or continue to grow their businesses, Provident1898 cultivates  collaboration with comfortable and versatile workspaces. With 22 offices, four conference rooms, a training room, cafeteria and fitness center, Provident1898 offers a broad scope of working facilities. It also offers a multitude of flexible memberships that have opened doors for a new wave of entrepreneurs. 

“On a personal level, this was my chance to say thank you, this made a big difference in my career and perhaps it might be beneficial to the next generation.” Webb said.

Provident1898 is set apart by its emphasis on community and connection. Through Pull Up to Provident networking events, workshops, mentorship programs and more, members and the public have the opportunity to forge meaningful relationships and acquire a wealth of knowledge. Whether it is a panel discussion featuring industry experts or a hands-on workshop in digital marketing strategies, these events provide valuable insights and opportunities for growth. This sense of camaraderie fosters cooperation, propelling businesses to new heights. 

For instance, NC IDEA is an independent private foundation that helps entrepreneurs in North Carolina start or grow their own business. In order to assist their clients, NC IDEA often requires a larger working space to review applications for small businesses that have applied for their grants. Provident1898 is able to facilitate NC IDEA’s needs by enabling them to utilize conference rooms that can comfortably accommodate a large group for discussion.

“[The conference room] is a huge resource for us,” said Cristhian Rodriguez, the marketing coordinator for NC IDEA. “Provident has been a huge support for us, allowing us to have those spaces where we can have open dialogue.”

In its essence, Provident1898 serves as a pillar of the Durham community. It is a local platform that empowers small businesses and locals with the tools they need to succeed in today’s competitive entrepreneurial landscape.

But Provident1898’s influence is not limited to the local business scene. Earlier this month, the coworking space was positioned on the national stage.

On March 1, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at Provident1898 with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. Harris was visiting the Black Wall Street in Durham to discuss economic growth. 

This special visit paralleled another almost 60 years ago, when Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to speak at Mutual Tower in celebration of North Carolina’s minority entrepreneurs. 

Harris announced on her visit that the Biden-Harris administration had invested $32 million in entrepreneurs in North Carolina, specifically highlighting businesses owned by women and minorities.

 “Being a kid from Durham it was certainly gratifying,” Webb said. “But it was even made better by the fact that financial resources were being brought to the area as well.”

This substantial commitment signals the national dedication to creating pathways to success for underrepresented groups. Furthermore, Harris’s presence at Provident1898 served as a testament to the national significance of Durham’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

“To invest money back into Black businesses and businesses in North Carolina was what I had hoped for when me and my partners, Peter Cvelich and Dewayne Washington, when we created Provident,” Webb said. “We wanted that kind of impact where not only did we provide space, but we provided resources that would help.”

The success stories emerging from Black Wall Street showcase Durham as a beacon of innovation and opportunity worthy of attention and investment from across the country. 

“It was a perfect demonstration of the value of a historically relevant space,” Cvelich said. “That is focused not just on being a museum but on enlivening and advancing that legacy through the act of support of entrepreneurs trying to make it happen every day.”

Looking towards the future, Webb and Cvelich envision that the collaborative workspace business model of Provident1898 will support the growth of entrepreneurial environments in other communities.

“The idea is to be able to take the key components of Black Wall Street and of Provident and package it in such a way that other communities can institute some of those best practices that we have discovered in ways of using history, as a way of economic uplift,” Webb said.

As Durham continues to evolve as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, Provident1898 remains at the forefront driving positive change and empowering the next generation of leaders. With its unwavering commitment to diversity, inclusion and economic empowerment, Provident1898 is not just a workplace but a catalyst for transformation and progress in the business world.

“Even in our name [Provident1898] acknowledge that other folks took a chance on a community and on a people and changed lives,” Webb said. “So that’s what we’re doing and I feel good about that everyday.”

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