Deals Deals Deals!

Making connections at the B.E./Bank of America Entrepreneurs Conference, the premiere networking event for black businesses

McNeal, founder and president of Bulldog Bikes, a 2-year-old bicycle manufacturer headquartered on Wall Street, and a teacher of the Kidpreneurs(tm) Konference, has attended all five Entrepreneurs Conferences.

Although he can testify to the Conference’s potential for helping business people make the right connections, he emphasizes its inspirational impact.

After listening to panelists at the 1998 Entrepreneurs Conference, the idea for Bulldog Bikes struck him like a hammer.

“Every brother up there had a niche,” McNeal recalls. “One was into hair, another cable, and the other one was into cars. I said, ‘Man, there’re no black bicycle companies!'”

McNeal, who was nominated for the be Rising Star Award in 1996, was a champion biker as a child and, at 13, was getting paid for endorsements and testing out new bicycles. At 21, he left southern New Jersey for New York City, where he launched Bulldog Entertainment, the company that garnered him the award nomination. But a deal with a major record company didn’t pan out and his partners weren’t interested in exploring areas outside of music. Bulldog Entertainment ceased operations in the late ’90s. By the time the 1998 Entrepreneurs Conference rolled around, McNeal was primed for something new.

At an earlier Entrepreneurs Conference, McNeal met a Wendy’s executive and that resulted in the sponsorship of an event that Bulldog Entertainment had organized for its subsidiary, Bulldog Racing. Since the creation of Bulldog Bikes, he has collected names at the conferences he’s attended and the time is near for him to use those trump cards.

“I can play those cards now because I feel that two years out, my company is solid and competitive enough to make lucrative deals,” he says.

Vanessa Smith, president of Vantage Solutions L.L.C., a 3-year-old Chicago-based legal consulting firm, admits that her main reason for attending the conference was the motivational boost the event bestows. “I’m not the hard-core type who attends conferences with the sole aim of obtaining more business. It’s the energy, the very positive and progressive people who are willing to share ideas and thoughts, that primarily attracts me to the Entrepreneurs Conference. You can’t really go there and not be motivated to do better,” Smith says.

While she was attending a seminar where questions from the audience were being entertained, Karl Smith, president of Chicago Area Autopsy Service, asked a question about managing employees. “It was an ‘I-need-help’ kind of question,” Vanessa recalled. There were other human resource consultants around eager to help, but after several follow-up calls, she ended up landing a contract with the company.

Conference attendees were able to sit in on seminars about technology, personal and professional development, finance, and wealth building. There were also vending and procurement opportunities at The Exchange: Business-to-Business Expo. The Town Hall Meeting included the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as panelists, with Harvard Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree moderating. And the widely praised Kidpreneurs Konference introduced African American youngsters to the fundamentals of business.

The celebratory be Entrepreneurs Awards Gala Dinner capped off the event and recognized the

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