Update Sept. 9, 11:37 a.m.: The BEI block party has been postponed due to inclement weather and will be rescheduled.
The Black Entrepreneur Initiative serves to cultivate Black entrepreneurs at UNC, while providing a space for Black entrepreneurs to profit and promote their businesses. The organization has three main goals — to promote, inform and connect.
“I think all three of the goals themselves have one central mission — and it’s just to uplift the Black community at hand,” Eliam Mussie, co-president of the BEI, said.
The organization was co-founded by students Kene Uwajeh and Sherrod Crum, and began as a community for Black business owners, students with ventures and those interested in the entrepreneurship field.
“Historically, Black people have been excluded from some of those spaces. Black businesses don't get as much promotion marking as some other types of businesses," Richard Okoro, co-president of the BEI, said. "I feel like that also has a greater effect on the Black community as a whole and not seeing other business owners that look like you."
He said that the initiative educates members of the Carolina community to be entrepreneurial in any field, from business to medicine to marketing, and helps them grow professionally.
“Thinking like an entrepreneur is a great skill to have,” John Obiefuna, event coordinator for the BEI, said. “In whatever career you’ll be doing, thinking like an entrepreneur will get you far, for sure.”
The organization hosts multiple events, such as pop-up shops and a block party every semester. They also conduct application workshops for the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship and 1789 Student Venture Funding. They aim to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with professionals by having speaker series.
Additionally, this year, Mussie said that BEI is planning for other events, such as a Black formal that doubles as a fundraiser event, and a startup-pitching competition similar to Shark Tank that will provide mentorship and counseling to participants.
They are also currently working to expand into other universities, such as UNC-Greensboro, N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, N.C. State University and Duke University.
“We want to elevate to new heights this year through hosting events, programs and informational sessions to have more students of color have access to knowledge on entrepreneurship,” Mussie said.
The block party
BEI is hosting a block party on September 10 in front of the Bell Tower from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The organization anticipates that this event will be its biggest one yet.
“It is really cool to see how it started off as a small idea last school year,” Okoro said. “Now it's become a tradition, and we're going to keep doing it.”
The event will feature student organizations such as Black Student Movement and the Organization For African Students' Interests And Solidarity. They will feature not only Black-owned businesses in the community as well as food trucks and vendors like Ben & Jerry’s and Sunshine Slushies.
The UNC vs. Georgia State University football game will be live-screened at 12 p.m. at the block party.
“I believe the block party is going to be a great catalyst to what we have for the rest of the year,” Obiefuna said.
Mussie said that he came up with his own venture, Franklin St. Market, after the first block party. He felt inspired to start it after connecting with executive board members such as Okoro and BEI Vice President Morgan Taylor, whose interest in the organization was sparked by the opportunity to promote their own businesses.
“There'll also be a lot of people who will want to be inspired, or to at least experience Black excellence that we have on this campus, and other campuses around us as well,” Obiefuna said.
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