Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell (left) and Black Enterprise President/CEO Earl "Butch" Graves Jr. at BE conference announcement on Feb. 18, 2019. Photo: Qcitymetro

Black Enterprise (BE) is returning to the Queen City for its 24th annual entrepreneurs’ summit, but it’ll have a different name and expanded focus.

The four-day conference — meant to attract entrepreneurs of color — has been rechristened as FWD: Business on Your Own Terms and returns to the Charlotte Convention Center on June 19-22, BE President and CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. announced during a press conference on Monday.

“Charlotte is one of the most thriving business communities that exist. It is Atlanta 2.0, but more developed, in my view,” Graves said. “We need to make sure that African-American entrepreneurs participate in this growth and develop in the same way it happened in Atlanta 20, 25 years ago.”

What’s different about FWD?

Huddle in the Hub will be home to the summit’s central activities. The expo-like experience — known as The BizHub — will include more engaged workshops for startups and established businesses, coaching and networking. Another perk, contract matching. Graves says the plan is to have a live auction for contract bids.

Outside of the Hub, sessions will provide tips to help businesses fold technology into their operations.

“All businesses have been disrupted by technology. But, if you don’t embrace technology, you’ll be left behind or you’ll be closed down,” he said.

Organizers hope the signature event attracts both millennials and seasoned entrepreneurs.

What remains the same? Black Food Truck Thursday. For last year’s gathering, Black Business Owners of Charlotte tweaked their usual Friday staple to accommodate 22 vendors and 5,000 people looking to support black-owned restaurants and catering companies.

Black Food Truck Thursday at the 2018 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit attracted 5,000 people. Photo courtesy of Cathay Dawkins

Moving Charlotte forward for black entrepreneurs

City and county leaders shared in the excitement about the economic opportunities up for grab and spotlighted how the summit provides a way to show appreciation for black businesses.

Graves credited Councilman James Mitchell, the city’s economic development committee chair, for being “an unyielding advocate in creating opportunities for black entrepreneurs.”

In December, Mitchell had strong words after learning that Charlotte lost its bid for the CIAA basketball tournament, an event that brought more than $50 million annually in economic impact. While FWD isn’t expected to replace dollars brought in by the CIAA tournament, Mitchell said the conference shows that the city is “committed to moving the needle on entrepreneur success in our community.

“We are passionate about developing African-American entrepreneurs. My councilmember [LaWana] Mayfield and I use the term ‘unapologetic’ for doing that because it’s the right thing to do,” he continued.


Mecklenburg’s Board of County Commissioners Chair George Dunlap said Charlotte’s geographic location should also draw business owners, noting that there are six towns within a 30-minute drive to Charlotte.

“We’re talking about people driving from Atlanta. Well, let’s work on those that are homegrown, those that are here to help build this,” Dunlap said.

Homegrown talent like 31-year-old Travis Blackmon, owner of 2527 Cleaning Services, LLC. The Charlotte native is also a member of Next Level Leadership‘s inaugural cohort where Mitchell serves as board president.

Entrepreneur Travis Blackmon (left) and Councilman James Mitchell (right) at the Black Enterprise summit press conference on Feb. 18, 2019.

Councilmembers surprised Blackmon with a $295 sponsorship — the cost of a promotional registration for the conference.

Although Blackmon has been in business since 2010, he admits his challenge is an everlasting learning curve.

“Being a part of [FWD] will definitely help me hone in on my skills, learn more about contracting opportunities and position myself in other areas to expand services I can provide for my clients,” he said.

How to attend FWD?

Registration is open to attend FWD. General attendee registration starts at $395. Groups of four can register for $320 each. Costs include all sessions, meals and access to The BizHub.

Purchase registration at

Katrina Louis is managing editor of who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Katrina covers Charlotte's Black business scene for QCity Metro. She's a Miami transplant, pescatarian and lover of the arts. She earned a public relations degree from the University of Florida. Got a...