Creating an environment that develops the next generation of young entrepreneurs and business owners was the focus of a panel discussion Wednesday at the 16th annual A.G. Gaston Conference.
Bob Dickerson, executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center and host of the conference, said his team chose this panel topic to talk about how the community can create an incubator to nurture and support the next A.G. Gaston.
“There are people in our midst, folks who are starting businesses, some people who may be working somewhere right now, who have the wherewithal, who have something inside of them that might allow them to become the next A.G. Gaston,” Dickerson said. “I want them to leave here better informed about how to help grow African American business enterprise in our community.”
Anthony Hood, director of civic innovation in the Office of the President at UAB, moderated the discussion. He asked participants to talk about Birmingham’s ecosystem and what conditions need to exist for business owners, especially black business owners, to grow, thrive and become the next A.G. Gaston. Elijah Davis, Strategic Growth manager at Urban Impact Inc., said one way is to modernize technical assistance offered to business owners.
“One of the things I continuously complain about is that if we are using 1990s ways of technical assistance, we will fail,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the property owners as we really develop a cohesive vision that really of us really believe that it can still be.”
Tene Dolphin, deputy director for Business Diversity and Opportunity at the City of Birmingham, said the city is ripe for becoming a hub for minority entrepreneurs.
“The reason why I love this work so much is because I believe we create culture,” Dolphin said. “We create the energy that’s in this city. If we don’t connect to the businesses that are in somebody’s house, the retail businesses, the businesses that are in somebody’s head, we’re missing the mark.”
Carmen Mays, founder and CEO of Elevators, said there is a whole class of creative young people in Birmingham who people never see because they don’t present themselves in a way that many people think is acceptable.
“Because of that, we miss out on the beauty of the ecosystem,” Mays said. “That’s where all of the culture is. That’s where all of the swag is. That’s where all of the sauce is. All of that stuff that makes us so colorful and great is really with those people.”
Davis said discussions like this are an opportunity to help people around the country.
“I see this, Birmingham, as just not a particular type of local opportunity to uplift black folks, but this is also a signal to uplift black folks in the entire nation,” Davis said. “Nowhere else is there a historic black Wall Street that’s still owned and occupied by businesses that have been here.”
Dickerson said the discussion also helped participants leave with a better appreciation of who A.G. Gaston was and what he meant to Birmingham.
“What he taught, what he left us — I want them to be fired up,” Dickerson said. “I want them to leave here fired up about going out and either supporting an entrepreneur that happens to be an African American, becoming a better African American business owner, or a corporate person that understands the need and significance of supporting African American entrepreneurship in our community.”
The entire panel discussion can be viewed in the video below.