Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit seeks to scale up black businesses for growth, opportunities

The buzz among Charlotte, North Carolina’s business leaders, entrepreneurs, and government officials has been palpable, generating excitement for what has been called “the business event of the year.” They’re all talking about and socializing the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit (#BEintheQC) to be held at the Charlotte Convention Center from June 6–9.

Scores of representatives from business and political circles—high-powered corporate executives and prominent company owners to influential politicians and county officials—could be found at a special press conference on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Auditorium in the heart of the Queen City.

Black Enterprise CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. asserted why the three-day conference, which is expected to attract 1,200 attendees, was so vital to African American entrepreneurs on a local and national level: “Our Summit is addressing the greatest issue facing black businesses. I argue that the biggest challenge to our companies isn’t the lack of access to capital. It’s scale. Currently, 95% of black businesses are sole proprietorships, which means that most black entrepreneurs are employing themselves. We are using this event to help them build capacity so that they do business with large corporations and as a result, employ large numbers of African Americans and impact on our communities.”

Black Enterprise CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. speaking at the event. (Photo: Tyrus Gaines)

Graves also told the press that it will serve as a powerful platform to reveal such opportunities as the future development of Brooklyn Village in Uptown Charlotte. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commission’s recent selection of a partnership led by The Peebles Corp. (No. 35 on the BE TOP 100 with $102 million in revenues), the nation’s largest black real estate developer, to advance this $680 million, 17-acre redevelopment, will expand minority business. Details of contracting opportunities for black-owned companies will be shared at the Summit.

Under the theme, “Connect, Build, Elevate,” the Summit will address issues confronting today’s business owners, including how to handle daunting competitive obstacles, leverage technology to achieve greater efficiency and profitability, and learn to pivot in an increasingly fast-paced, chaotic environment.

At the press conference, representatives of the 48-year-old multimedia company, which is working closely with Charlotte’s economic development team and corporate community, offered a preview of the event offerings:

  • Among various workshops and panels will be sessions on identifying sources of capital for startups; mining data to customize products and services; securing prime corporate contracts; using e-commerce platforms to bolster retail operations; and engaging in social media as a brand-building tool.


  • Participation in the BE Business Hub, an expansive “business showcase” in which attendees can connect with other entrepreneurs and major corporations to plant the seeds for future partnerships and customers.


  • One-on-one expert consultations at the Bank Pavilion and Business Coaching Center.


  • Contestants can vie for a shot at a $10,000 cash prize and business coaching sessions through the signature elevator pitch competition: “Level up! Pitching For Dollars!”


  • Inspirational fire-side chats with visionaries and titans like R. Donahue Peebles, CEO of The Peebles Corp.; Troy Taylor, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, one of the most expansive bottlers nationwide; and mogul Byron Allen who built Entertainment Studios, his multimillion dollar media empire, and recently acquired The Weather Channel for $300 million.


  • “Black Food Truck Thursday,” a high-energy evening event for attendees and local community members to sample cuisine and gain information from more than 50 local black-owned eateries.


At the press conference, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles offered among the city’s many accolades—including the fact that it was cited as the No. 3 locale in the country for business owners to launch a company—her pride “that we are the only city hosting the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit.” As such, the event will include local sessions in which Lyles and Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Stephen Benjamin will discuss business opportunities within one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions as well as a town hall for Charlotte-based entrepreneurs to gain access to government financing and contracts, among other areas.

From left, City Councilmember James Mitchell, chair of Steering Committee; Mayor Vi Lyles; Freda Hendley of Black Tech Charlotte Interactive; and City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield (Photo: Tyrus Gaines)

In fact, the press conference provided an opportunity to demonstrate growing corporate support for the conference. One such speaker at the gathering was Regina Heyward, senior vice president and head of supplier diversity at Wells Fargo, one of the Summit’s major sponsors. Citing that entrepreneurs are “driving the country forward with grit and tenacity,” Heyward said that Wells Fargo’s partnership with Black Enterprise serves as an extension of its focus to bring more minority businesses into its supply chain. According to Heyward, over 11% of the financial giant’s procurement dollars—a whopping $1.27 billion—were spent with diverse businesses last year. In addition to “having an economic impact on small and mid-sized businesses, Heyward shared with the audience  that one of its largest vendors is workforce solutions firm Act-1 Group (No. 2 on the BE TOP 100 WITH $2.8 billion in revenues), and that Wells Fargo has spent $57 million with the company over two years.

Regina Heyward, SVP/head of supplier diversity at Wells Fargo. (Photo: Tyrus Gaines)

Other partners include host sponsor Nationwide; Toyota; Koch Industries; Day Runner; FedEx; Walmart; Fifth Third Bank; North Carolina Historic Underutilized Businesses/North Carolina Lottery; Carolinas Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council, and VisitCharlotte.

Councilmember James Mitchell, chair of the local steering committee, also said that efforts have been developed to spotlight and attract millennial entrepreneurs throughout the region. In fact, he announced sponsorship of Black Tech Charlotte Interactive to attend the Summit as well as “scholarships” offered by local businessman Lenny Springs and the city to register an additional 10 startup companies run by young entrepreneurs.