It couldn’t have worked out better if you’d written it yourself. You’re a small business owner given an expense-paid trip to attend the Black Enterprise/Pepsi Golf & Tennis Challenge in Miami. After a few days of networking and hitting the courts, you return home, relaxed, refreshed and, most importantly, with the contacts that lead to a lucrative contract from Pepsi-Cola. That’s networking. And that was the fate of Gregory Edward Gray and his wife, Cheryl, owners of the Detroit Theater for the Dramatic Arts.
The Grays were invited to attend the Golf & Tennis Challenge by American Express, a sponsor of the event and of the theater. “American Express invited us because they believed the experience would open doors to other potential supporters of the theater and its programming,” says Cheryl. American Express may have sponsored the registration fee, but once there, the couple took the initiative and walked away with a prestigious business partner.
Word-of-mouth, referrals and networking have long been the foundation of many successful mainstream companies. Today, in the African American business community where these strategies are paramount to survival, black entrepreneurs and professionals are now creating their own environments where schmoozing, deal making and relaxing take center stage. In fact, one such tailored event, the Golf & Tennis Challenge, is gradually developing into the Labor Day must-attend affair for small business owners. Convened every September since 1994, the event has attracted more than 1,300 participants over each of the past two years and celebrated its fifth anniversary in 1998.
Participants and sponsors of the Golf & Tennis Challenge say the affair provides a unique mix of activities in a venue that lends itself to more than just relaxation. As a result, some dynamic business deals have come out of the occasion.
The Grays were so taken by their first experience attending the event, they returned on their own in 1998. “It’s a rare opportunity for us to be able to spend a few days devoting our undivided attention to mind and body without interruption,” says Cheryl who, along with her husband, spent most of the time at the event indulging in the spa.
“The Challenge can be whatever one wants to make it,” says Maurice Cox, vice president of corporate diversity and development for Pepsi-Cola, title sponsor of the event since its inception. “If
someone wants to make it a very serious networking event, they can do that. If someone wants to make it a deal-making event, they can do that as well.”
BENEFITS NOT FOR MEMBERS ONLY
More and more new attendees show up every year. As first-time guests in 1997, the Grays realized a number of benefits from the event. Their small theater company, founded in 1985, has produced the works of several African American playwrights including August Wilson, Amiri Baraka and James Baldwin. They attended the event because they’re constantly seeking to connect with companies committed to arts and culture who are looking to do business in Detroit.
Between spa treatments the couple found time to take serious note of a