Through the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Black Entrepreneur Initiative provides resources and support to Black students, faculty and staff who wish to share and grow their businesses.
With entrepreneurship flourishing in North Carolina and new businesses at a faster rate than ever before, The Black Entrepreneur Initiative at Elon has established itself as a resource allowing Black entrepreneurs on campus to best set themselves up for success.
The Black Entrepreneur Initiative at Elon — BEI@Elon — started in the summer of 2021 through the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The initiative made its way to Elon after Sherrod Crum, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-founder of the BEI, spoke at an event.
After hearing Crum, Doherty Center Director Alyssa Martina knew she wanted to bring the black entrepreneurship effort to Elon. Martina joined with Soniyah Robinson ’23 and Kobie Williams ’22 to start the Elon chapter of the BEI, with the hope that the initiative would continue to spread to other schools. A third chapter has since started at Fayetteville State University.
“What we do is provide support in various parts of their entrepreneurial journey, as well as a mentorship program,” Robinson said. “Whatever business and field they are trying to get experience in, we try to partner them with a Black mentor to give them some expertise.”
The BEI@Elon regularly hosts networking events with other Black organizations on campus such as the Black Student Union, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Elon African Society to foster support for student entrepreneurs.
BEI@Elon is a partner with the Doherty Center’s Marketplace Under the Oaks initiative, giving members the ability to showcase their products at pop-up events. Once they join the marketplace, the students can get a stipend that can go toward launching their website or buying materials, for example.
Robinson is the founder and CEO of Boundless Blackness, a brand and community movement built to explore authentic, multifaceted Black stories and promote the impact of Black culture.
Robinson comes from a family of entrepreneurs and felt there weren’t enough structures in place at Elon to support Black entrepreneurs. That spurred her decision to get involved with the initiative.
“When Alyssa contacted me to be a part of initiating BEI@Elon, I was excited about it. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, not just for Black entrepreneurs at Elon but the Black community as a whole,” Robinson said.
“Creating Black generational wealth in the community and buying, this is another outlet to do that. As well as the faculty and staff support that we’ve gotten has been amazing from the start. I wanted to be a part of propelling that forward in any way that I could,” she added.
Williams is the owner of Best Spots, which uses crowdsourcing knowledge to help students find study rooms on campus. He is currently working on branching that off into using crowdsourcing knowledge for a general search for anything.
He said sharing the importance of ownership was a prime reason for getting involved. He hopes that the BEI inspires those within the Black community to pursue their dreams and ambitions.
“There’s a certain esteem that comes when you’re creating something and bringing value to people,” Williams said. “A network of people sharing ideas and resources just propels entrepreneurs and helps them accelerate their growth. It will make sure they have a good foundation to be as successful as possible.
Supporting Black businesses seems to be a trendy topic, especially during Black History Month and following periods of racial tension, Robinson said. But uplifting Black businesses requires continuous work and attention.
“We’re more than just a trend. I’ve noticed that my support increases a lot during February. Or during the summer of 2020, people were really into buying Black for a little bit and then it died down,” Robinson said. “We aim to remind people how important Black entrepreneurship is, even when it’s not trending. It’s foundational to our society and this campus.”
“Black entrepreneurship fuels our country,” she added. “A lot of the ways that our campus is structured and the way it runs would be nothing without the input of Black creatives and innovators.”