Photo credit: acjphoto.com
In 2016, a Black man named Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by a Black police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina. Scott had been sitting in his truck in the lot of the apartment complex where he normally parked. He was reading a book and waiting for his son’s school bus to arrive.
The killing sparked protests and riots throughout the city, with protestors carrying signs emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us.” In the end, county prosecutors decided not to press charges against the police officer.
At the time, Enovia Bedford was seven months pregnant. She was a marketing director at a restaurant and beverage group in Charlotte. Enovia called one of her business partners, Sherrell, in tears. “They’re going to keep killing us,” she remembers saying. “Every time it happens, it shakes us.”
The pair wanted to do their part to boost visibility among Black professionals and improve their community’s economic viability in Charlotte. As a Black woman who experienced repeated acts of microaggression in her professional life, Enovia thought about how to bring greater socio-economic equality to the Black community in her city.
She and her business partner decided to start by organizing a networking event for Black folks in tech. “[We wanted to] see where all the Black people in technology are,” Enovia says. “We would go to events all the time, and even though Charlotte is 50% Black, we would usually be the only Black people in the room.”
They hosted their first event at the Google Fiber Space, and their expectations were far exceeded when 120 people showed up. And with that, BLKTECH Interactive was born. As Charlotte’s hub for developing Black entrepreneurs and talent in tech, BLKTECH Interactive has since hosted in-person networking events throughout Charlotte and launched a $100,000 fund with the CDFI (Community Development Financial Institutions Fund) to help their community gain access to capital.
As BLKTECH Interactive’s VP of sponsorships and brand collaborations, Enovia has ushered corporate tech giants, such as Airbnb and Google, to touch down on Charlotte and explore its burgeoning tech community. BLKTECH Interactive has also expanded to include resources, such as memberships, classes, workshops, speakers, consulting, and recruiting services.
As each partner had their own businesses and day jobs, BLKTECH, a company under Black-owned agency Build the Good, wasn’t intended to turn into a business. The initial idea was to host a few annual events when they had the time to organize them.“We didn’t want to pay rent,” she laughs. “So we wanted to figure out how to get the spaces sponsored.”
As a natural connector and community builder, Enovia also launched Vett Deck, which pairs event organizers with brands for sponsorships. Her company provides one-on-one consulting and curated email lists. Enovia and her team have also built out an AI-powered sponsorship matching platform, where marketers and event planners can get curated contact lists based on their demographics.
The Azlo Moment
In the spring of this year, Enovia had her “Azlo Moment,” and left her full-time job connecting underserved entrepreneurs with small business capital. The shift was a gradual one, and she worked on her side businesses for years.
The transition allowed her to go full throttle with her two businesses. Here’s how Eonvia has kept both her businesses thriving during these uncertain times:
Helping Others Go from Frontline Workers to Tech Employees
With so many people losing their jobs, there was an urgency for those to find higher-paying jobs. Flatiron School Bootcamp is a five-month online software engineering program. The beauty of it is that attendees don’t have to pay any tuition until they land their first job in tech earning a minimum of $40,000 annual salary. BLKTECH hosted online informational sessions and helped persuade those to enroll.
“COVID gave some people who lost their jobs and opportunity to change their career paths,” Enovia says. “We were able to create that career path and push people who may have not wanted a way out, a way out. We were like, ‘Hey, you don't have to do that anymore.’” For instance, one of the Flatiron School graduates went from making $7.50 an hour at a bowling alley to landing a six-figure tech job at a big bank.
Photo credit: blktechinteractive
Pivoting to Digital
Vett Deck took a big financial hit when some of the larger festivals, such as the ESSENCE Festival and SXSW, were canceled because of COVID-19. However, in the last few months, Enovia has focused on helping her clients learn to build relationships.
“While you could cold pitch deck, relationship building gets you so much further,” she says. “I’ve been teaching people how to build relationships with brands because when everything opens back up, they’re not going to be able to do that seven-figure sponsorship deal that they normally do with the stadium. They’re going to need to break it down smaller. And if you have that relationship, you’ll be on their mind.”
And instead of completely canceling the sponsorship deal for a larger event, Enovia has suggested these deals be moved to smaller, virtual events. Plus, sponsors can offer virtual gift bags, with digital downloads, online vouchers, and coupons to products.
She’s also been strategizing on how to improve her services, including a grading system for brands to help event planners and marketers identify which brands they want to work with based on grades. Event planners can anonymously give brands a grade. “I don't want to eat at a restaurant that’s 3.5 stars,” she says. “So why do I want to do business with somebody at 3.5 stars?”
Aspects such as check size and also that they committed fully to deliverables and terms of the sponsorship agreement will be factored in. As Enovia has found, Black event marketers often only get a portion of what white counterparts might get in terms of corporate sponsorship money.
“I've seen checks go out for white male events,” says Enovia. “And this is the first year they're having this event for $25,000. And I've seen checks going out for black female events, with the same amount of people in their fifth year. And it's like, ‘We'll see if we can give them $2,500.’ Really?”
Tapping into Financial Resources
While Enovia recently applied for an EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) to funnel money back into her two businesses, she’s managed to sustain them during the pandemic. Part of that is because her previous day job was working with business development in urban areas and helping communities of color apply for loans. She saw firsthand the importance of small businesses having at least three months of solid financials to be eligible for financing. Should something go awry, Enovia makes sure she has at least six months of payroll at all times to cover the salary for herself and her one employee.
“All of my jobs have been intentional,” Enovia says. “When I took the job doing small business loans, it was so I can learn what banks really look for with applicants. ‘What does the back of my house need to look like, you know?’ Well, my P and L needs to look like this. Here’s the paperwork that I need. So by helping other people get their businesses together, I got my business together.”
For fellow BIPOC business owners who are looking for financial resources, Enovia suggests looking into a smaller community bank or online bank, or finding a branch of the Women’s Business Center. An SBA’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) provides free resources and mentorship.
Photo credit: blktechinteractive
A positive during recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement is that Enovia has seen companies open their pocketbooks and offer some financial backing. For instance, TP Insights has received half a million dollars in funding within several weeks.
“It’s interesting because it's the same companies that you're constantly in conversation with that don't want to budge, but something like this happens,” Enovia says. “We've seen a lot of friends who've been in negotiations with companies for months, who have been trying to nickel and dime them, and all of a sudden they have the appropriate amount of money. So it's like, yeah, we asked you for $250,000 and you offered us $25,000. Now you have that 250K.”
What Needs to Change
For there to be an equal playing field for Black folks, diversity and inclusion practices in the workplace need to be at the forefront. It can’t just be that Black workers fill lower-paying positions in a company.
“You typically want Black folks to continue to clean for you, and continue to cook for you, and continue to drive you places,” she says. “But you don't want us to do your operational planning, right? You don't want us to help with your supply chain, right? You don't want us to touch your computers and your cybersecurity.”
In her experience, Enovia believes white women-owned agencies and companies sometimes come to Black-owned agencies, such as Build the Good, to meet their diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“You’re hiring a woman business owner, but they still have to come to us to fulfill the project,” she explains. “So let’s say it’s a $500,000 contract and you hire this company. And they can’t do the job, so they have to find us and hire us. And they want to give us $50,000 out of the $500,000 contract.”
Enovia has long-term plans to continue to cultivate relationships and grow her businesses to help spark lasting, real change. “BLKTECH was created during a time where there were protests in Charlotte because a Black man died,” Enovia says.
“We asked ourselves, ‘This is still happening. How are we going to impact it? Anytime it happens on a large scale, it always takes us into that mind frame of when we started it, and ask, ‘What’s the next level? And what are we going to do now?’”
Photo credit: blktechinteractive
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