UVA Darden Black Business Student Forum Conference Explores Paths to Growth in the U.S.

By Carlos Santos

An audience — including about 150 undergraduate students from historically black colleges — received sound advice Friday, 6 February, on how to find and stimulate growth in the United States.

The guidance came from CEOs, government leaders and serial entrepreneurs who turned out for the 27th annual Black Business Student Forum (BBSF) held at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. The forum focused on the topic, “Emerging Domestic Markets: Finding Growth in the U.S.”

The undergraduate students hailed from North Carolina A& T University, Howard University and St. Augustine’s University, and were invited by the BBSF, a student-led club, as part of its effort to strengthen the culture of diversity at Darden.

Keynote speaker Maurice Jones, the secretary of commerce and trade for the Commonwealth of Virginia, told the students that Virginia relied too heavily on jobs in the public sector — the Defense Department is the state’s top employer — and said “the real challenge is how to catalyze more businesses in the private sector.”

He urged students to start businesses. “We need to prepare our folks to be competitive,” Jones said. “We don’t want to be satisfied with just jobs, but with good paying jobs.” Be prepared for failure, he added. “You’ve got to be resilient and live life with optimism.”

Panelists advised students to network, to ask for help, and to persevere. “You’re only as good as your network and interpersonal ability,” said Jim Powers, CEO of HemoShear, a biotech company based in Charlottesville. “It’s important to seek out advice, to reach out in the early stages” of starting a business.

“Networking is a daily thing I do,” said Bill Harvey (MBA ’77) of Dupont. “I’m networking at this forum. That’s how you build relationships.”

Even think of lunch as a networking opportunity, said Rob Masri, a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Cardagin Networks, which helps businesses grow loyalty programs. “I always try not to eat alone … It’s 50 minutes out of the day, but everybody has to eat.”

Successful entrepreneurs are both nimble and flexible. “Being mentally flexible is part of the recipe for success,” said Tracey Greene of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council. “When you start, you have a vision for your company. Then you quickly find out it should be different. You need to know how to pivot.”

Vasco Bridges of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses — a program meant to help entrepreneurs create jobs — said it was important for the students to help their neighborhoods. “In our community of color, it’s important to pass on a tradition of education and entrepreneurship. It’s important to keep businesses in the family. That’s how you build intergenerational equity.”

Know the challenges entrepreneurs always face, said Andre Stokes of THG. “One of the biggest challenges is running out of cash. So look at what makes a business attractive. Is the industry growing? Is their recurring revenue? Is it capital-intensive?”

Are things harder for black entrepreneurs? Bridges said yes, but told the story of his late father, an entrepreneur who started a computer software business in Chicago but refused to consider it a minority business. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be considered a black company. I want to be considered a good company.’”

Darden Professor Greg Fairchild also spoke to the students about Darden and the progress it has made, while a panel that included John Young of Union First Market Bank, Stephen Davis of the Community Investment Collaborative and Samuel Boyd (MBA ’03) from the Small Business Administration spoke on small business financing.

Warren Thompson (MBA ’83), CEO of Thompson Hospitality, also reflected on his journey as an entrepreneur.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia