The annual Black Enterprise/NationsBank Entrepreneurs Conference has proven to be an education of sorts for hundreds of African American business owners looking to increase revenues and expand their networks.
Through hard work, perseverance and relationship building, many entrepreneurs, like Derrick Wallace, president and CEO of Orlando, Florida-based Construct Two Group, are making the grade and winning lucrative contracts.
By summer ’97, most had heard about BET Holdings Inc. and Walt Disney World Co.’s deal to launch theme restaurants and dubs. The timing couldn’t have been better for Wallace, who learned of the joint venture from one of the speakers at last year’s conference–none other than Robert Johnson, founder, chairman and CEO of BET, last year’s “BE Company of the Year” (see “The Branding of BET,” June 1997).
“Hearing about [BET] at the conference and reading about it in the magazine led us to do the follow up,” says Wallace, who got in touch with Bud Dare, vice president of facilities and development for the Wait Disney World Resort, through the project’s construction manager. Dare advised Construct Two and put Wallace in contact with Derrick Newton, vice president of marketing and operations for BET’s restaurant division. Newton provided Wallace with information on submitting a proposal.
After submitting a “top-notch” proposal, Construct Two was selected as the construction manager for BET’s new entertainment facility, a deal worth $4.2 million, making it Wallace’s third largest contract to date.
Construct Two had to work on a tight schedule for the project, which officially began in mid-November ’97. “We were aware that it was a significant short-duration [contract],” says Wallace. Still, BET Soundstage opened at Disney’s Downtown Pleasure Island in Orlando in June ’98.
“One of the greatest benefits of this conference,” says Earl G. Graves, publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE, “is that it provides an opportunity for businesspeople to develop a rapport with each other and begin to explore what synergies may exist between them; those that they can mutually exploit to enhance their growth and profitability. I believe that the future growth and success of African American businesses will depend largely on our willingness and &termination to undertake various types of joint ventures with each other.”
IN THE SPIRIT OF BUSINESS
The pulse of growth could be felt at Walt Disney World as the ultimate networking event for African American business owners was set to kick off. Participants, like Delceno C. Miles, president of the Miles Agency, a niche marketing and public relations firm in Virginia Beach, Virginia, arrived in droves. Miles says, “I just wandered around until I saw a lot of people who looked like me, and I knew I was in the right place.” The “me” she refers to were the more than 1,200 entrepreneurs from across the U.S.
“Looks like the numbers were good and the caliber of attendees was good. That’s what I’m looking for: a chance to network with my peers,” says Miles. And she was in good company.
According to a breakdown of the participating companies: 17% grossed $100,000-$249,999, 12% grossed $250,000 – $499,999, 8% grossed $500,000-$999,999