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Black Entrepreneurs Thriving In Charlotte Despite Challenges

Gwendolyn Glenn
Derek Dingle, senior vice president and chief content officer for Black Enterprise magazine

Black-owned businesses are growing at a rate of nearly 35 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. There are about 14,000 black owned-businesses in Charlotte and 2.6 million nationwide. 

All this excites Derek Dingle, the chief content officer of Black Enterprise magazine. Dingle is in Charlotte for the CIAA’s minority business symposium. He told WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn that Charlotte is a city where black entrepreneurs are thriving.

Derek Dingle: In Charlotte, businesses continue to boom mainly in the retail space. In terms of potential opportunities, there are a lot of opportunities in terms of government contracting, especially as the city grows and as you see more construction and as you see the airport being redeveloped. Airport concessions is a real opportunity.

But the biggest challenge that we see with African-American businesses in Charlotte and nationally is one: Access to capital. If you look at how black businesses are financed, most are financed by the entrepreneur, friends and family. Access to bank financing is a real challenge. In fact, African American firms are three times less likely than white startups to get approved for loans.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Are they going to venture capitalists, like GoFundMe?

Dingle: There’s a lot of GoFundMe ventures, a lot of peer-to-peer lending using the internet to gain financing. In terms of venture capital, that is a real challenge when you look at founders of tech companies. Less than 2% are African-American owned. We have to have black-owned firms expand so that they can access contracts from large companies, employ large numbers, finance them and contract black suppliers.

Of the 2.6 million black businesses, 95% are sole proprietorship so they are not of the scale to have large employees and have the impact in the community that we think they should have to expand economies nationwide and in Charlotte.

Glenn: Now there is BLKTECHCLT. They say they are giving resources to help businesses get off the ground and providing other services. What do you think of it?  

Dingle: When we developed our black entrepreneur summit, now called Forward, we connected with BLKTECHCLT because we believe technology will be the driving force in these businesses. What BLKTECHCLT is doing is providing education in how to get into and use tech to grow your businesses. They are accessing resources to help finance businesses driven by tech and going into tech. They are working with the economic development office, the city council, as well as corporate entities such as us to look at developing accelerators so entrepreneurs with good ideas can gain guidance and gain the financing so they can take their businesses to the next level. Our hope is we’ll see black Googles and Facebooks and, quite frankly, we’re seeing some of those on the national level.

Glenn:  We talked about overall how black businesses are doing. Can you break it down in terms of black women and the younger generation?

Dingle: Black women represent the fastest growing business segment in the nation. The challenge is that they have the hardest time gaining capital and establishing those networks, yet they show the greatest innovation in making their businesses sustainable.

In terms of the younger generation, I find millennials one of the most entrepreneurial generations I’ve seen. I think the past generation was more corporate-focused but millennials, even if they are working in a corporation, all of them have a side hustle, which is good. [Millennials are also] taking their side hustles to their front line business and they have no challenge partnering with one another. That's what they need to achieve scale.

Glenn: You talked about your conference that will be returning to Charlotte. What were the takeaways from last time and what do you hope to accomplish this time?

Dingle: Without hesitation, I will say that our conference last year (the Black Enterprise Summit) was the best we ever had. We had city and county government that was looking for ways to advance those African-American owned businesses. Those young millennial entrepreneurs came out and they supported it. 

Actually, we're reframing the Black Entrepreneurs Summit and we're calling it "Forward" because we found that one size doesn’t fit all. We will have two tracks. One track for established businesses looking to scale up and a track for startups so they can develop sustainable business models for the long term. Our conference will be more tech-driven and how entrepreneurs can take advantage of this hyper-connected world.

Charlotte has this great energy. Charlotte is not just a destination for Black Enterprise. We’re a part of the family of entrepreneurs that are in this community.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.