By Angela Lindsay
It can be challenging for minority-owned businesses to get off the ground, let alone remain sustainable for generations. While full of potential, too often these enterprises aren’t given the opportunities necessary to grow to the next level. Recognizing this challenge, business accelerator NXT Charlotte (NXT | CLT) has stepped in to give these companies a step up.
NXT | CLT operates as a public-private partnership between the city of Charlotte, local companies and corporate partners and works to help Charlotte’s entrepreneurs of color succeed in high-growth sectors. The initiative helps create a pathway of success for high-potential small and new minority-owned businesses by helping to build their networks, secure new business opportunities, and scale their businesses.
“What sets NXT | CLT apart from other programs is that each participant receives a $15,000 grant to grow their business,” said Greg Johnson, NXT | CLT strategic advisor and founder and managing director of Orbital Socket. “We also have the backing of business leaders from a cross section of our community advising our participants and connecting them with valuable networks so they can grow.”
“We don’t have a lot of relationships that some of our [white] counterparts may have,” said Derrick Davis, NXT | CLT community advisor and principal and co-founder of Informatic Concept. “We don’t have the same access to capital,” he said. “We don’t have that generational wealth. NXT | CLT wants to fill that gap and help the minority ecosystem flourish and thrive.”
To achieve these goals, NXT | CLT participants receive specialized guidance, mentorship, foundational resources and support to help them move toward identifiable business goals. The program focuses on three main areas: management education, market development and access to capital. This method informs why NXT | CLT cohorts are comprised of only 6 to10 businesses at a time, as they conduct an in-depth examination of the companies to uncover what they really need.
“We have a curriculum that’s custom-made for every cohort that comes in,” Davis said. “It helps participants manage their business and helps them look at their business in a different way,” he added. “What makes this so unique is every curriculum is unique to that class. Think of NXT | CLT as being a boutique as opposed to a box chain store.”
The program offers the participating businesses a team of advisors who are captains of industries within the Charlotte area and all around the country. The advisors provide their knowledge and social capital by connecting the growing entrepreneurs to companies that they may otherwise be unable to broker on their own. In addition, NXT | CLT provides a $15,000 investment to all participants.
“This is not a blank check for the participants,” Davis said. “This is a way to give participants the marching orders to make changes in their business. We’re giving them the tools to carry them out.”
NXT | CLT initially began with a meeting between its brainchild Greg Johnson and Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones. After the two leaders discussed the landscape of minority businesses in the Charlotte area, Johnson contacted several other local business leaders who then attended a series of meetings with Jones who provided them with the resources to start NXT | CLT.
“The great thing about NXT | CLT is with it being developed by minority entrepreneurs, we really know what we want to see,” Davis said. “For myself, I’ve attended a lot of courses, and I always see what’s lacking,” he said. “So, we were able to develop what we wanted to see within the marketplace.”
To be eligible for selection, applicants must meet certain requirements. They must have: an ethnic minority business owner with 51% or greater ownership of the business, more than $250,000 in annual revenues, one other employee besides the business owner(s), been in business for at least three years, and headquarters in Charlotte. But the biggest consideration is the mindset of the participants, said Davis. “You have to be at a place in your business where you’re open to change,” he said. Program participants hold monthly, self-directed meetings where they exchange ideas and expertise.
The inaugural cohort was formed in July 2020 and included eight entrepreneurs who completed their 6-month process in early 2021. While participants represent a diverse range of businesses, the program particularly focuses on high-growth industries such construction, real estate, professional services, fintech and technology. NXT | CLT is currently working with its second cohort of entrepreneurs which began in late March. The goal is to increase the number of these businesses in the area while creating an ecosystem of effective support for many more.
Although in-person connectivity isn’t possible at the moment due to the pandemic, Davis says NXT | CLT’s learning and community efforts weren’t terribly affected. “When we look at the isolation that a lot of us experience through the pandemic, NXT | CLT was definitely a welcome gathering of like-minded people,” said Travis Manigan, a participant and CEO of Gradify, a college and career engagement platform. Being able to share business goals with cohort members helped create a closer bond, Manigan said.
Manigan adds that while NXT | CLT is a program he would highly recommend to other entrepreneurs, they need to be prepared to fully engage in the program.
Participants have a responsibility to help nurture the small business ecosystem that NXT | CLT nurtures that will ultimately help all of the participants in the program succeed, Manigan said. “It’s a great honor to be selected, and entrepreneurs should wear it as a badge of honor, and they should bring their whole selves to the process.”
The cohort is just one part of the organization. Eventually, NXT | CLT plans to offer master classes, lectures and a curated environment for the community-at-large where collaboration and connections can lead to increased business expansions and greater success.
“One thing that was missing in Charlotte was connectivity for minority entrepreneurs,” Davis said. “What we really want to see is this unit thrive, grow, connect and help each other. That’s where the real change begins.”
The inaugural NXT | CLT 2020 cohort included the following entrepreneurs:
- Dr. Tracei D. Ball, OnCall Mobile Medical and Wellness
- Alana Weaver Bennett, Party In A Tent
- Pushpinder S. Garcha, Golden Tech Systems, Inc.
- Travis Manigan, GamePlan
- Nia McAdoo, Amped Events, LLC
- Ana Sai, COMNet Group Inc.
- Anita Stanton, Miles Enterprise Solutions
- Roland Udenze, RenzCo