Last week Black Wall Street Homecominghosted in Durham, North Carolina, kicked-off an inaugural year by pairing entrepreneurs with storytellers, venture capitalists and a few tastefully-curated after-parties with the ultimate goal of setting the stage for growing Durham’s startup economy.

It’s not often that the Southeast gets recognized for progressively innovative startups or high-profile conferences. So the importance of providing diverse, high-quality content outside of Silicon Valley meant helped the evolving desire of smaller cities to be active participants in cultivating local economies that help entrepreneurs thrive.

The summit was spearheaded by a team of passionate leaders: Talib Graves-Manns, owner of Point AB, entrepreneur-in-residence with Google for Entrepreneurs and Code2040 at the American Underground; Jesica Averhart, director of community partnerships and new business development for American Underground; and Tobias Rose, principal and creative director of Kompleks Creative.

As evidenced by its name, the summit (held at the American Underground) wasn’t your ordinary startup conference meetup. Whereas typical tech and venture capital conferences boast highly-homogeneous panelists and attendees, the Black Wall Street event reflected a much more diverse audience of business hopefuls alongside seasoned experts connected to as much of the future of Durham’s economy as they are its past.

Paying homage to the original Black Wall Street of the 1900s, the summit’s namesake speaks to two dichotomies: the need for African-American presence in the 21st century economy and the connection to a history of contribution without recognition.

Parrish street, a four-block district in the heart of Durham, was the hallmark of the black business community from the late 1800s to early 1900s. As many as 125 prominent shopkeepers and black-owned financial institutions developed a powerful, self-sustaining economic system that supported their families and their communities during in the midst of systemic racism and segregation.

In addition to getting schooled on an important piece of American history, the three-day summit comprised of a collection of panel discussions and lectures breaking down the pathways to funding, pitching and developing sustainable businesses. The event was attended by a blend of early-stage entrepreneurs and those seeking to take the leap into the startup world.

Sessions included Venture Capital 101, Making the Deal, Storytelling and the How and Why and What it takes to be a VC.

The roster of notable speakers and panelists included: Chaucer Barnes, senior vice president of context strategy at Translation; Marlon Nichols and Trevor Nichols of Cross Culture Venture Capital; Stefanie Thomas, senior associate of investments at Impact America Fund; and Zack Mansfield of Square 1 Bank.

Collectively, the summit proved to be a well-executed variation of both lecture and networking. One that we hope will continue to grow in attendance as the rest of America begins to keep their eyes on what the entrepreneurs in Durham are building.

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Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology and digital inclusion.

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