The spirit of entrepreneurship once again descended upon the campus of North Carolina Central University on November 20, 2019, for the second annual "How I Started My Business" panel discussion. As with last year’s inaugural installment of the series, students were privy to first-hand insight regarding life as an entrepreneur. As diverse as the panelists were in industry and interest, it was their shared experiences as African American entrepreneurs fulfilling their passions and aspirations that spoke volumes to the budding student entrepreneurs.
The discussion was moderated by Geoff Durham, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. He facilitated a 60-minute discussion with five entrepreneurs: Michael J. Bohannon, NCCU alumnus and president of Bovanti International; Cheryl Brown, owner and operator of Pattie C. Brown Enterprises; Amos Cooper Jr., CEO of Bull City Butler; Karen Levert, CEO of AG Techinventures; and double Eagle Lisa Smallwood Howell, CEO of Spoke-4 Communications, LCC.
The panelists shared their insight regarding the opportunities, challenges and benefits of running their own businesses, including being your own boss and having a flexible schedule. However, they all referenced the high intensity of work that goes into establishing a business, which oftentimes includes working very hard and being available to your business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Karen Levert recognized that even the most impassioned entrepreneurial student may choose to work in a corporate setting after they graduate, which in her words “is super because what you learn working in a larger organization, including their processes and structural operations, are all the things you need to be successful in your own business.”
In response to a question asked by Taylor Ford, a senior Business Administration Finance student, regarding building a level of trust and respect in the industry to maximize your product or services, Michael Bohannon explained the importance of working collectively with other business owners to get ahead. “If there is a beauty shop that already exists and could have products complementary to yours, it may make more sense to put your business beside it and work together to build your brand collectively so that you may leverage each other and cross-promote.”
All in all, the panelist presented thoughtful examples of real-world experiences, along with great tips and tools for building businesses. They all recognized the value of building upon the educational foundation set forth through the students’ collegiate coursework and taking full advantage of the rich network that has been cultivated at NCCU to grow and sustain their business aspirations.