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Black Entrepreneur Initiative offers a space for Black creators and innovators at UNC

Sophomore Jordan Johnson, secretary and co-founder of the Black Entrepreneurship Initiative, poses for a virtual portrait on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Johnson said she wanted to get involved with the organization because "there are not really a lot of spaces where African American students can be in the spotlight ... and spread their voice."

When business administration major and sophomore Sherrod Crum noticed that Black students were less aware of the resources available for those pursuing an education in business, he set out to bridge that gap. 

“There wasn’t really a space for Black entrepreneurs here on campus,” Crum said. “So, I just decided one day that I wanted to create that space.”

Near the end of the spring 2020 semester, Crum helped to start the Black Entrepreneur Initiative. The initiative provides networking opportunities, seminars and resources to Black UNC students looking to start or improve their small businesses.

“The overarching goal of the Black Entrepreneur Initiative is to see Black businesses thrive and continue,” BEI co-founder and vice president Kene Uwajeh said. “A lot of the time, because we don’t have the same access to resources and capital, things of that nature, our businesses tend to not last as long and not produce that generational wealth.”

Crum, president of BEI, founded the initiative with the help of five like-minded UNC students who now fill the organization’s officer positions: Uwajeh, Co-Secretaries Gabrielle Loppe and Jordan Johnson, Treasurer Ajani McIntosh and Outreach Coordinator Jamal Smith.

Crum said BEI is a service-based organization, meaning students can participate in and attend events without having to worry about membership.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, events hosted by BEI have been held online. According to the BEI website, events include informational seminars on how to register a business with the state, tips on how to improve a LinkedIn profile and advice seminars on applying for grants and internships. 

“It is a place where Black creators and Black innovators and entrepreneurs can come and be cultivated and meet people and network,” Johnson said. “It really is a hub.”

Uwajeh said the efforts of BEI have been largely inspired by “Black Wall Street,” a nickname given to a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma where Black-owned businesses were burned down by a white mob in 1919.

“We kind of refer to this as well to honor them in a way,” Uwajeh said. “And to continue to inform our people about their legacy and the work that they did, which was unfortunately cut short.”

Johnson, who was certified to work as a nail technician in high school, said the organization’s networking opportunities have given her a space to support other Black-owned businesses on campus while growing her own business.

“My favorite part about it is just being surrounded by like-minded peers and just being able to talk openly and feel no judgement,” Johnson said. “It’s a great way to network.”

Crum said he is looking forward to growing BEI as an organization, and is confident in the organization’s ability to help young Black entrepreneurs navigate the business world.

“We have a lot of plans for BEI and are really excited about it,” Crum said. “We really would love for BEI to be a legacy for all of us to leave behind.”

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