This year I had the pleasure of attending the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was actually my first time attending, as typically I’m in the office, holding down the fort to ensure that those who can’t attend get the updates.
As a young professional and budding entrepreneur myself, I was excited to be among so many business and community leaders from diverse locations and backgrounds. Just being in the midst of them was inspiring alone, from T.D. Jakes to Jesse Jackson to Valerie Daniels Carter to Lauren M. Bias and so many others. It may sound a bit cliche but one doesn’t get this type of opportunity every day, thus, as a boss moves mentality dictates, one take as much of the opportunity to learn and grow as one can.
As I usually do, there were many takeaways from the conference on how to be a better entrepreneur and ultimately a community leader, but here are three for all my young professionals and entrepreneurs to inspire:
1. Despite negative statistics about millennials, youth (and the ability to bounce back from making mistakes) can actually be used to your advantage: Many of the entrepreneurs featured on panels (who have closed multimillion-dollar deals, employ hundreds of professionals, manage successful staffs, have invented tech innovations and advocate for entrepreneurs to gain capital) echoed the sentiment that getting started early helped give them a leg up in terms of troubleshooting and rebounding after failures. Being young and green can be advanteous in that the risks taken today can mean big benefits for the future. Take Lauren M. Bias, a serial entrepreneur, author and speaker, who, at 19, founded a boutique vineyard and winery that became an internationally recognized award-winning wine brand. Her story along with many others is more than motivational.
2. When it comes to growing your business, you’re as good as your last pitch. Gwen Jimmere, who was named one of HelloBeautiful.com’s 30 Under 30 Style Mavens, won the coveted Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch competition at the conference, pitching her Naturalicious haircare brand. (She even got the chance to rub elbows with Shark Tank executive Rodney S. Sampson.) As the victor, not only did she get to expand the reach of her brand via a room full of investors, entrepreneurs and consumers, but she won $ 10,000 to boot. Sure, the natural haircare (and beauty market in general) is saturated with products, but her pitch was concise, riveting and on point in terms of meeting consumers where they are—touting a new product that would solve a the problem of spending a whole day for a common haircare maintenance routine for consumers with natural hair.
3. Diversifying your networks and relationship-building methods is key in terms of future success. Many of us do things out of habit, routine or comfort, but if you want to see business and professional growth, you’ve got to think (and travel) outside the box. For example, during a panel on venture capital, a common theme was inclusion and access to investors for women and small business owners of color. Entrepreneurs were encouraged to not only diversify their methods and mentality on how they’re building relationships and with whom, but also supporting events that are outside what some may believe are norms. Though there are challenges and disparities, a great way to gain a seat at any big investor’s table is to actually be an active participant at (or at the least attend) the dinner party. (Sometimes, you may even need to crash the party, so to speak, by being great, speaking up and going for yours, whether the people look, talk and think like you or not.)