If you know anything about the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), you know that it is the premier athletic conference for Historically Black College and University basketball fans and alumni. Every year thousands of people travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to watch top teams go head to head for the CIAA championship title, attend engaging educational and career development programs, and fellowship during what some consider to be their homecoming. This year, the organization will be hosting the NEXT Level: CIAA Minority Business & Leadership Symposium in partnership with Black Enterprise, and Fifth Third Bank. The symposium will be held on Thursday, March 1, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Charlotte Convention Center.
As Black Enterprise joins forces with corporate and community organizations on the road to the Entrepreneurs Summit, it is imperative for us to create opportunities for people to build, connect, and elevate their brands and businesses along the way. We spoke with Jacqie McWilliams, commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), about the unique partnership, how people can capitalize on the symposium, prepare for the Summit in June, and create opportunities to build and connect with others.
How did the CIAA Business Opportunity Summit come about?
This is our third year of doing this summit and this year it just kind of blew up! The first year that I was the commissioner of the conference, which was in 2012, we didn’t do anything with any of the businesses. Last year, we had panelists and some of our presidents there and the community was there and we had about 100-plus participants. I don’t know if I expected it to grow the way that it did! It just did and the stars aligned perfectly. We talked about doing educational sessions opposed to just having panel discussions. And, our relationship with the city, and bringing Black Enterprise here in June, and I came onto the steering committee and two of them are on our committee to put on CIAA, so it all just kind of fit.
How many people will be attending this year?
Our goal was 150 and I think we’re going to have about 200. We’re over capacity and our team is okay with that!
What impact does the CIAA hope to have with the Business Opportunity Summit?
I’d like to see the partnerships that come out of this. We are about the business of athletics, so this part is like the extra piece! We are a black-owned non-profit and we have the opportunity to get these businesses in front of our presidents, corporations, and our four major partners Toyota, Coca-Cola, Nationwide, and Food Lion.
My big thing is how do we engage our community and the minority business-owned community and make them feel like they’re a part because there’s not a lot of business that they can get directly with the CIAA but there’s an opportunity for them to network and opportunities that can build out of the CIAA if we engage them in that way.
What does this partnership with Black Enterprise mean to the CIAA and the city of Charlotte?
It’s huge! When you think about working with Black Enterprise and the City of Charlotte based on the growth that this community has had and the support that we have around black businesses we have in the community, BE is bringing the city together in a different type of way! We are seeing a very diverse group of small to large to city to non-profits coming together to help BE put on this event in June. And, I think that’s really meaningful because it’s a community and culturally that’s who we are as a community. So, I’m excited because we get Butch to be our keynote! That’s huge and I’m thankful that we get to have these powerful partnerships and representations so that people in our community will be able to see themselves potentially in him. Just like with me being the commissioner, women and other young girls get to see themselves potentially be a commissioner.
We are in roles of leadership and when you have folks that are doing well and exemplify what we want our community to look like that it’s important. For me, it has to be natural. I like this partnership because it is a natural fit for all of us.
How can attendees prepare for the event?
People should be prepared to know that they’re coming into a type-A, first-class event. And they should be prepared to present themselves as such.You want to be around some of the top professionals and network and build relationships. I would have my business cards and the information that I would want to share with other people as I network. Networking has always been tricky for me because it’s not about what you can get from someone but it’s about building authentic relationships.
What can entrepreneurs and small business owners look forward to at the symposium?
We’ll have breakout sessions. One is Assessing Capital to Jump-start Your Business, and then Understanding Your Value Proposition. From our The Women’s Business Center of Charlotte we have Natalie Williams who is the CEO moderating Assessing Capital to Jump-start Your Business and she’s phenomenal! Derek Dingle will be one of the moderators for Building Capacity: Joint Ventures, Associations, Mergers & Acquisitions Leadership That Yields Results
What do you want attendees to walk away with?
I love strategic partnerships and natural partnerships. When folks leave, I want them to be very passionate about the brand of CIAA and about what CIAA is doing in this community and all across our 12 schools. What we bring is these types of opportunities. We also do the career expo and once they leave this event they can go there and meet with a bunch of vendors who are giving jobs and internships. I want them to be able to see that outside of this there is that value to being involved with CIAA and beyond. We’re not just doing this for them. All of us have to win! We see ourselves as one big community.
Will there be follow-up events and programming to help entrepreneurs in the area after CIAA?
It’s not just the tournament. We’re very intentional about identifying key partners and members of our family that can help us execute year-round.
We have 14 championships a year for over 3,000 students. We do leadership training and educational programming. We are finding business and to help our students engage in leadership development, career development, and mental health development as student athletes. A lot of our sponsors want to get in front of athletes so this is our way that we do it. A lot of opportunities with facilitating and mentorship programming, we’re able to use small businesses to do that if our business allows.
What I have seen is that a lot of people are able to make connections and build partnerships and friendships during CIAA. And some of them have worked with us year-round whether they come and speak to our student athletes because they offer keynote services or keynote speaking, financial literacy or skill development and strategic planning… Those relationships have been built out of our conference. I’m seeing people being able to take advantage of the networking opportunity for their own businesses but also help CIAA promote what we do throughout the year.
What are you looking forward to most at the Entrepreneurs Summit in June?
I’m hoping that people will come to Charlotte and know that Charlotte is very progressive, energetic, and wants people to be successful. They’ll also see that the programming that we’re working on with BE is valuable information that they can use in Charlotte or whether they take it somewhere else. The other hope is that people will want to stay in Charlotte. We love our city! There is something about being here and how we come together to support events like BE‘s. I hope when people come here and leave they feel like they’ve had one of the best experiences with being in this city and got one of the best educational networking opportunities while in here Charlotte.
When I think about BE, and when I think about CIAA, it’s ours. We own that and so we get to create the platform that we want to create and BE gets to create the platform that they want to create to empower our own.
If you are interested in finding new ways to build and expand your business, join us in June for the Entrepreneurs Summit in Charlotte.