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Grants help Black North Carolina entrepreneurs get off ground
NC BEC ECOSYTEM gifts to 8 agencies
 
Published Friday, January 1, 2021 12:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

PHOTO | WOCINTECHCHAT
NC BEC ECOSYTEM grants were awarded to eight organizations to enhance Black entrepreneurship in the state.

Two Charlotte-based organizations received grant funding from NC IDEA and the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council.


The NC BEC ECOSYTEM grants were awarded to eight North Carolina organizations to enhance Black entrepreneurship in the state (there were 140 applicants). Over $360,000 was provided in funding, with $50,000 going to ASPIRE Community Capital and $50,000 to City Startup Labs. Grants must be allocated to projects serving Black entrepreneurs.


“Under the leadership of the NC Black Entrepreneurship Council and just months after its formation, our call to fund organizations supporting more Black people in their ambition to start and scale growth-oriented companies drew an incredible response,” Thom Ruhe, CEO and president of NC IDEA said in a statement. “Equitable entrepreneurship is vital to our economic recovery. Partnering with these eight worthy recipients, creates greater opportunity to economically empower Black people with entrepreneurship, and collectively work to combat inequalities that perpetuate racial imbalances.”


Manuel Campbell founded ASPIRE Community Capital in 2016. He was inspired by his parents, both of whom are entrepreneurs. Campbell studied their experiences and challenges, specifically with regards to launching their businesses, the capacity to expand and the lack of resources available to them. He knew he wanted to give back and provide entrepreneurs like his parents with resources he wished had been available to them.


“Our mission is around radically transforming lives and communities through small business ownership,” Campbell said. “We do that through a three-prong approach. Our community business academy, which is a 12-week business training course that focuses on developing business acumen and to develop successful business practices of our participants. Once our participants complete the community business academy, they then participate in our business accelerator services program. They receive one-on-one coaching, where we really emphasize the application of a lot of the techniques and strategies that they learned in our community business academy and help them apply them to their respective business.”

ASPIRE Community Capital also provides experts and additional resources. The NC BEC ECOSYSTEM grant will support all of their programs, but it will also allow them to launch their Access to Capital program in the first quarter of 2021. Program participants will have access to micro-loans ranging from $2,500-$10,000.


“We not only envision being an organization that can provide training, and also coaching, but just as importantly we want to be a resource for access to capital,” Campbell said.
Henry Rock founded City Startup Labs in 2014, initially focusing on millennial Black men. The two-year pilot was in collaboration with the Urban League of the Central Carolinas. Then CSL moved to UNC Charlotte, where the Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurial Competency, Innovation and Leadership was established. They also expanded the pilot program to include women in 2017 and the previously incarcerated in 2018. The ReEntry Entrepreneurship Program has become a point of emphasis, helping returning citizens rebuild their lives through career opportunities. The pilot resulted in a new CSL model called “Learn/Earn/Build.”


“It’s really about accelerating folks through an entrepreneurial and on-trend skills training, and then apprenticing them in those skills, and then having them build either a job for themselves as a solopreneur or independent contractor, building scalable enterprise, if they are ambitious enough to do that, or build a new career starting off as an entry level employee, utilizing that skill they have been developing,” Rock said.


The goal for 2020 was to develop digital technology service skills, and by extension, addressing Charlotte’s digital divide.


“Think of it like a geek squad in the hood,” Rock said.


CARES Act funding from the COVID-19 response fund allowed CSL to pivot, giving the organization $50,000 to provide returning citizens with entrepreneurship education and design and development training. They would be trained as digital navigators—troubleshooters who provide basic helpdesk assistance. CSL also worked with Access Charlotte, a city initiative to install public WiFi, to deploy a team to work with Open Broadband, the company responsible for installation.


“We were able to nevertheless get folks involved in this digital tech space, not in an entrepreneurial sense, but more in a workforce development manner,” Rock said.


The NC BEC ECOSYTEM grant will help CSL expand on REEP, taking it from pilot mode to a robust program. The founders intend to bring on someone in a programmatic role.

“We want to make sure that the emphasis is on on-trend skills, because a lot of returning citizens are desperate for work, and they end up working in, relatively speaking, dead-end jobs,” Rock said. “Jobs that really don’t provide a future for them. They may be working, but tomorrow is not promised in terms of that job and they are not necessarily learning skills that are going to be in demand. We want to make sure the work we are doing with them points them in that direction, and also offers them the opportunity to exercise their enterprising selves however they might want to do that.”

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