Positioning Entrepreneurs for Success
United Way of Central Carolinas’ Unite Charlotte works with small, grassroots organizations to improve racial equity and increase social capital. Since launching Unite Charlotte in 2016 in response to the civic unrest in Charlotte, United Way has invested nearly $900,000 in organizations including BLKTECHCLT.
Frustrated by a lack of public programming in Charlotte inclusive of black tech professionals and startups, Sherrell Dorsey sought a way to boost opportunities in the city for entrepreneurs of color.
Sherrell, who spent years working for multiple national tech companies, launched BLKTECHCLT in December 2016 to give black entrepreneurs resources, mentorship and support to build businesses and grow jobs in the community.
“We didn’t see a ton of diversity in the tech and start-up conversations that were happening in the city,” said Sherrell, BLKTECHCLT founder and president. “This has kind of evolved and we’ve been able to take feedback and data and what people felt like they were missing. We’ve been building some pretty great momentum here in Charlotte.”
BLKTECHCLT is the area’s first and only inclusive tech hub for entrepreneurs and technologists of color, serving as a one-stop shop for professional development and business resources. The nonprofit aims to make Charlotte’s startup community one of the most diverse in the Southeast by providing programming and leadership within local technology initiatives.
BLKTECHCLT is a 2018 grantee of Unite Charlotte, a program led by United Way of Central Carolinas that provides early funding for local nonprofits and grassroots organizations focused on improving racial equity and increasing social capital.
The nonprofit’s work includes a microloan fund for entrepreneurs, quarterly networking events and a Learning Lab Series led by experienced professionals that offers business and technical skills to entrepreneurs. With more than 800-plus black entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area served by BLKTECHCLT, interest in the Learning Lab Series has jumped.
“We teach everything from preparing your company for funding to customer discovery to public policy and how it affects your business,” said Enovia Bedford, vice president of partnerships and sponsorships at BLKTECHCLT. “I hope we’ll keep up the momentum we have now and be able to double in size, offer more classes and have a bigger network.”
These goals are becoming a reality for BLKTECHCLT with grant money from Unite Charlotte. With the funding, the nonprofit will be increasing its learning labs from two times per month to at least four times, with each session accommodating 25-30 people in BLKTECHCLT’s new space at Camp North End.
The funding also will allow for more sessions to be offered during the evenings and weekends to give aspiring and current entrepreneurs flexible options for attending. Additionally, Unite Charlotte funds will assist BLKTECHCLT with technology upgrades, workshop materials and hiring a videographer to record learning labs.
“I feel really emotional because you come up with this random idea and people believe in you, and it’s just surreal,” Sherrell said. “It’s organizations like United Way and others that help us to serve this community. I know BLKTECHCLT is something we created, but it’s not really ours; it’s for everyone else. This is something we want to build to last and to outlast us.”
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