NC IDEA grants $100K to Charlotte organizations supporting Black entrepreneurship

ASPIRE Community Capital and City Startup Labs were among the eight recipients selected to elevate Black entrepreneurship in North Carolina.

Just over four months ago, Durham-based foundation NC IDEA formed its Black Entrepreneurship Council to help guide more funding and programming to Black-led startups throughout the state. 

From those efforts, the foundation recently announced more than $360,000 in grants awarded to eight organizations with programs specifically helping Black entrepreneurs and firms start and grow scalable businesses. Charlotte’s ASPIRE Community Capital and City Startup Labs were among the recipients. 

Why it matters: Black founders represent only 1% of venture capital-backed entrepreneurs, according to Harvard Business Review. The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 further spotlighted systemic biases that create challenges for Black entrepreneurs, who were also hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thom Ruhe, CEO and president of NC IDEA, said equitable entrepreneurship is vital to economic recovery.

Partnering with the eight grant recipients, he said, “creates greater opportunity to economically empower Black people with entrepreneurship and collectively work to combat inequalities that perpetuate racial imbalances.”

[Related: Statewide council to focus on Black entrepreneurship]

In Charlotte, Manuel Campbell, CEO of ASPIRE Community Capital, says the company’s $50,000 grant will be divided among its three-step program series.  

  • The Community Business Academy is a 12-week entrepreneurship training course that focuses on business fundamentals. Typically, 20 people participate in sessions held twice a year.
  • The Business Accelerator Services program, where participants receive one-on-one coaching and additional support services under a 90-day action plan. 
  • The Access to Capital program, which connects those who completed both previous programs to funding resources. During Q1, ASPIRE will launch a micro-loan initiative to provide funding, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000, for businesses in low- to moderate-income communities.

“We realized that a key component of really building and developing the Black, small-business ecosystem in Charlotte is really about being a source, as well as a resource, for access to capital,” said Campbell, a Charlotte native and former banker.

For Henry Rock, founder and executive director of City Startup Labs, the $50,000 from NC IDEA will go toward helping his organization move forward with its ReEntry Entrepreneurship Program (REEP). 

Before the arrival of Covid-19, REEP was set to roll out a pilot cohort of 20-25 formerly incarcerated people looking to step into entrepreneurship. However, the pandemic forced Rock to “recalibrate” his plans and take a workforce development approach. City Startup Labs trained and employed returning citizens as “digital navigators” to address the growing digital divide, a slight deviation from its original curriculum that boasted more hands-on entrepreneurial training. 

Pictured l to r: Michael Welch-Bey, Travis Williams and Jerry Thompson during the 2019 REEP Demo Day. The three men participated in the 2018 pilot launch of City Startup Labs’ ReEntry Entrepreneurship Program (REEP), which began as a way to help formerly incarcerated people create opportunities through entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Henry Rock

[Related: City Startup Labs gives returning citizens tools for entrepreneurship]

“This money will allow us to really refocus our energies on developing our ReEntry Entrepreneurship Program in a more robust way,” he said.

Rock acknowledged the efforts of NC IDEA, particularly under Ruhe’s leadership. 


“Over the last couple of years, he’s been very committed to making sure that they not only get a more diverse group of organizations and individuals that they support, but he’s been — particularly this year with the emphasis on the need to support Black businesses — very instrumental in making sure that that happened,” he said.

Click here to see the full list of grant recipients.

Katrina Louis
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 news tip? Email her at

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