Hundreds of Black professionals and entrepreneurs from across the world descended on downtown Atlanta this week for the inaugural ForbesBLK Summit, a two-day conference exploring Black entrepreneurship.
The summit is part of the larger brand of ForbesBLK, a new community the business publication launched in May this year to bring Black entrepreneurs and leaders from across the globe together.
“To have Forbes recognize Atlanta and to bring their event here means a tremendous amount to Atlanta and our Black businesses and those that aspire to be Black entrepreneurs,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It means that Atlanta is thought of and well-regarded and is on the map.”
The summit started Sunday evening with a welcome party. Monday featured panels that brought in experts from a range of industries. The day started with a fireside chat with actress La La Anthony, discussing her career trajectory from radio intern in Atlanta to movies and TV.
Other panels included one on the business of sports, featuring executives from different NBA teams, to DEI officials from Google, Microsoft and AT&T discussing corporate diversity strategies.
Rana Coleman is an attorney, entrepreneur and member of ForbesBLK based in Detroit. She traveled to Atlanta for the first time just to attend the summit.
“To have us be the focal point, I thought that was very dope,” Coleman said.
The summit was also the site of a surprise announcement: Philadelphia-based real estate investment firm The Steinbridge Group announced it would be investing $100 million in HBCUs to help them manage their land holdings, though the exact details of the investment have not yet been decided. Tawan Davis, founding partner and CEO of Steinbridge, said he hopes to work with Atlanta schools.
Some sessions featured unexpected voices. Entertainer and entrepreneur Nick Cannon spoke on a panel about doing business in Africa. He talked about how his relationship with the continent had moved from just philanthropy to now expanding his improv hip-hop comedy brand “Wild ‘N Out.” Cannon said he has had talks with contacts in Nigeria about the potential expansion.
Jabari Young, the editorial lead of ForbesBLK, helped conceive of the summit, though initially he was planning on taking it to Washington. But former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed helped persuade Young to bring the conference to the city.
“We wanted to make sure that to start this event… we represent and we respect Atlanta for what it is. And if you try to ignore Atlanta for not being a place where Black entrepreneurs can thrive, then you’re not reading the city right,” Young said.
Young said Forbes is about teaching its audience about people that they need to know. He sees ForbesBLK as a way to broaden that lens.
“I feel like there’s enough Black people in 2023 that you need to know and I want to find them,” he said.
The summit also had a marketplace featuring several local Black-owned businesses, like Atlanta clothier Dayo Women.
Local business leaders were also featured throughout the day, like Pat Adams, global head of supplier diversity at Equifax, and Melvin Coleman, president and CEO of the Atlanta Black Chambers, who spoke on how businesses can get potentially lucrative supplier contracts with large businesses.
Though next year’s conference hasn’t been set yet, Young said it will also likely be in Atlanta.
“This is where it was born,” he said. “And hopefully this is where it will grow.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Report for America are partnering to add more journalists to cover topics important to our community. Please help us fund this important work at ajc.com/give