Black Wall Street Homecoming began as a way to engage North Carolina Central University alums and students around Durham’s entrepreneurial heritage prior to their annual celebration on campus.
Now, the three-day event draws a national lineup of speakers and some of the most active venture capitalists funding black and other diverse founders around the nation. There are opportunities for idea stage and more mature entrepreneurs from Durham or elsewhere to pitch, network and learn strategies for operating, funding and growing their businesses.
Co-organizer Talib Graves-Manns likens the caliber of programming and entertainment to what can be found at South by Southwest, but in a more intimate setting and with better access to power players in the entrepreneurial and philanthropic communities. He expects more than 200 attendees, an increase from last year.
All of the speakers have been tasked with providing tactical advice and resources.
“We wanted to do less talking heads and more workshops,” says Graves-Manns. “We want our guests to literally sit there with pen and paper and take notes and have action-oriented direction from the leaders we brought to town.”
Highlights of the week include talks by Chaucer Barnes from New York’s Translation LLC, who will walk attendees through his “cook book” from working with Fortune 50 brands.
A pair of successful Techstars graduates will share about their experience in the accelerator program. And a pair of Thursday keynotes will be given by Christal Jackson, who founded Head and Heart Philanthropy, a network of philanthropists, thought leaders and social entrepreneurs, and Kwame Anku, founder of the Black Angel Tech Fund, a collective of Stanford alumni investing in scalable companies.
Both will discuss building sustainable, generational wealth, and the importance of pumping it back into the community either through philanthropy or venture investing.
Graves-Manns’ contributions to the programming come from several years building connections in the nation’s startup ecosystem. When he started work on his consulting practice Point AB and as a contractor for RainbowMe in Greensboro, a friend invited him to an event in Silicon Valley held by Code2040, a nonprofit helping Black and Latinx engineers and technologists become leaders in tech.
As he spent more time building a network in the Bay Area, Graves-Manns applied to Code2040’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence program and was placed at American Underground in Durham from 2015-2016. His mission was to work with the team and broader community on various diversity and inclusion initiatives.
One afternoon in a conversation with now Leadership Triangle Executive Director Jes Averhart and Tobias Rose of Kompleks Creative, the idea for Black Wall Street Homecoming was formed. Now, they’re co-organizers of the non-profit event alongside Dee McDougal, whose day job is in marketing and communications for Square 1 Bank.
Besides workshops, meetups and talks during the day and parties at night, there are a few new additions to the lineup in the festival’s third year. A bootcamp for 10 entrepreneurs kicked off Monday on the American Tobacco Campus. They were chosen from more than 50 applicants to work with DC-based The Black upStart for the week, while also attending BWS programming.
11 entrepreneurs will pitch their startups at a Pitch, Please! competition Wednesday evening, with a $5,000 prize for the winner.
An Art and Tech Expo will be held Thursday afternoon, featuring projects and products from startups and established brands.
The organizers are also collaborating for the second year in a row with the American Underground-hosted Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange program for black founders, a boot camp for 10 companies from around the nation also happening this week. The culminating event is the Black Founders pitch competition, open to the public.
Last year, BWS speaker Arlan Hamilton of L.A.-based Backstage Capital judged the competition and surprised the crowd by providing a $25,000 convertible note to each participant. She won’t be back this year, but Graves-Manns expects the event to be just as exciting.
Graves-Manns says the week’s events are open to anyone who’s about “hustling and working.” With ticket prices ranging from $105 for daytime programming to $250 for a VIP pass—a large discount from SXSW pricing—BWS hopes cost isn’t a barrier for local entrepreneurs to take part.
“Homecoming is for African American founders (and others) to feel at home and meet others who are going to open up their rolodex and mind to assist you,” he says. “It’s an open sourcing of intellectual capital and financial capital to help entrepreneurs.”