GABC President and CEO Tam Hawkins greeted local officials, established business owners, and aspiring entrepreneurs. The meeting space was standing-room only.
Events Unleashed, owned and operated by local planner Lahoma Dade-Roberts, smoothly ran the event. Austin icon Hoover’s Cooking catered. As attendees enjoyed tastefully-prepared meals, community advocate Hopeton Hay shared statistics showing the state of Black business in Austin. The state is unfortunately dismal, though not surprising.
The evening’s theme, supported by statistics that Hay presented, was that unlike other metropolitan areas experiencing radical population growth, the number of new Black businesses in Austin is not growing proportionately with the population. This is no surprise since a 2014 study of 1999 to 2009 census data showed that Austin is an anomaly in the U.S.: It’s the only city in which the total population grew, while the number of Black residents shrank.
The Black chamber encourages every business owner, whether full-time or part-time, to become a member and strengthen its ability to bolster Austin’s Black business community.
The Black chamber encourages every business owner, whether full-time or part-time, to become a member.
Leslie Wingo, of Texas-based advertising agency Sanders/Wingo, led the audience in a multimedia discussion about how to succeed in an ever-changing marketplace. On the huge Google Fiber screen, Wingo played a clip from the television series Scandal. In the clip, Kerry Washington portrays Olivia Pope, whose father advises her to not become disillusioned by perceived friends in the political industry. “We have to be twice as good to get half the credit,” he warns.
For new business owners, Wingo emphasized the importance of conducting research every step of the way. Wingo quoted her father, “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” The meaning of that bon mot might be lost on Millennials. Wingo admonished them to be generous and humble, always sharing a business’s good fortune with all who help make it happen.
Wingo stressed the importance of business owners being flexible and innovative, sharing how she had to recreate the vision of her company several times along the way.
A panel offered diverse perspectives on relevant business topics. Panelists included Nicole Sellers with the U.S. Department of Labor; Charmane Sellers, Army veteran and Owner/ CEO of Aleon Properties, a construction company; and Charles O’ Neal, President of the Texas African American Chambers of Commerce. The panelists offered examples of success and answered a variety of questions from the audience.
Guest speakers and special guests included City Manager Marc Ott; representatives from the Texas Governor’s Office; as well as GABC staff; representatives from financial institutions; and a range of entrepreneurs. Conversation continued well after the final speaker concluded.
Conference attendee Kevin Cross said that he found value in just “being around successful business people,” and that it encouraged him to nurture the social services business concept he and his wife have long held. Desiree’ Townsend, having recently moved to Austin from Dallas, said that she was excited to learn of available resources and left feeling encouraged that “there is opportunity.”
Annie Cokley, of Cokley and Co., a locally-owned beauty salon, and her employee, Trenda Davis, were also glad they took time to attend the luncheon. Davis said the statistics Hopeton Hay shared confirmed that there is truly a business gap that she looks forward to helping fill. Both ladies said forums like this are important since there is not a Black Business District, per se, in which local entrepreneurs can network and share information.
Renata Estes and Charleston Samuel, both GABC staff, were excited to participate. They both expressed pleasure in being affiliated with events that provide so many resources and networking opportunities for local business owners. As an aspiring entrepreneur, Samuel is hopeful that future events will encourage established business owners to speak specifically to young and inexperienced business owners so that they can more fully engage in the conversation.
There are a number of upcoming events where such dialogue may take place, including on July 21, when the Texas African American Chambers of Commerce will visit Huston-Tillotson University at 8:30 a.m., and on Aug. 3 to 5, during GABC Small Business Week, at the Dedrick-Hamilton House from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., daily.