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Start-Up Hosts Black Business Entrepreneurship Forum at Auburn’s New Venture Accelerator

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This post originally appeared on the Harbert College of Business Newsroom.

We Parlay, a Tuskegee-based start-up with ties to Auburn University, recently hosted an event at the New Venture Accelerator located in Auburn’s Research Park to recognize and help drive the success of local area Black-owned businesses. Co-founded by Henry Moses and Malachi Ards, the new company is focused on providing fellow Black entrepreneurs with the easy-to-use digital networking tools and services they need to grow their engagement with customers, partners and suppliers. The event featured 11 local area Black-owned businesses, representatives from the City of Auburn, Auburn High School and Auburn’s Harbert College of Business entrepreneurship programs. More than 40 members of the local business community were also in attendance.

We Parlay event attendees

“It was exciting to see We Parlay create, organize and manage this uniquely valuable event,” said Lou Bifano, Director of the New Venture Accelerator. “It was their idea. They reached out directly to local area Black-owned businesses, local community economic development officials and other interested parties. While we are thrilled to contribute our expertise and resources to helping bring this event to Auburn, the lion’s share of the credit for the success of this event goes to them – and the business owners they invited to attend.”

Serving An Unaddressed Need

We Parlay is addressing the specific needs of Black business owners for closer connections between their businesses and their customers, partners and suppliers, particularly small business operators and aspiring entrepreneurs serving primarily the Black community.

According to Moses, “Our research indicates that Black-owned small businesses and aspiring Black entrepreneurs face challenges markedly different from other business owners and entrepreneurs. We founded We Parlay to provide this community with value-added digital networking tools and services that are simple, quick and easy to deploy.”

The We Parlay networking app leverages a tiny tag users affix to the back of their smartphone that communicates with any phone it is “tapped” against, automatically exchanging contact information and social media sites with that user, and vice versa. The customizable software allows users to select which kind of information is exchanged, and includes a host of networking, marketing and promotional tools small business owners can use to communicate directly with their customers. From e-mails and text messages to social media ads and loyalty programs, We Parlay puts value-added customer engagement capabilities into the hands of Black-owned businesses, many of which currently have little to no digital marketing experience or programs.

Black Business Owners Share Their Journeys

One of the highlights of the event was the interactive, collaborative format in which each of the business owners in attendance had the opportunity to share how they got started, what they learned and how they’d like to be able to collaborate more closely with fellow Black business owners and the community at large.

“That was the most rewarding part of the evening for me,” said Ards, “listening to the business owners talk about the challenges they faced getting started, the steps they’ve taken so far to succeed and what they need to continue to grow. Those testimonials were not only inspiring, but they also confirmed we’re on the right track in terms of the features and functionality we are building into our initial networking app.”

Auburn’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem at Work

The unique event was the latest example of Auburn’s New Accelerator serving the needs of local area entrepreneurs. The Harbert College of Business – which funds and directs the New Venture Accelerator – recently partnered with the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation to secure a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Agency to support and expand the services provided by the New Venture Accelerator to entrepreneurs and startups in the local community and the Lee County area.

Bifano noted that the recent grant was an important acknowledgement of the success the New Venture Accelerator has achieved since its formation. “Auburn University-affiliated student and faculty entrepreneurs have ‘punched above their weight class’ when it comes to starting and developing promising start-ups. The businesses started and nurtured here at the Auburn NVA have raised more than $60 million, have a combined market capitalization of over $130 million and are responsible for creating more than 350 jobs in Alabama and beyond.”

A ‘Thank You’ to All Participants

The Auburn New Venture Accelerator would like to join We Parlay in thanking all participants and contributors to the Black Business Entrepreneurship Forum:

  • Caitlin Myers, Economic Development Manager for City of Auburn
  • Audrey Marshall, Director of Auburn High School’s Work Based Learning Program
  • Joshua Sahib, Director of The Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship at the Harbert College of Business

The NVA would also like to extend a special “thank you” to the 11 local area Black-owned business leaders for taking the time to contribute their experiences and insight to this important local area business networking initiative. We encourage all local area residents to support these businesses:

  • Josh French, 008 Services, @008services
  • Denzel Veale, Access Health Bar, @accesshealthbar
  • Victoria Palmer, Beauty by Victoria Nicole, @beautybyvictorianicole
  • Daniel Moore, Dani’s Cheesecake,
  • Tressy Thomas, Hair Palace,
  • Theo Moore, Hiztorical Vision Productions, @Hiztoricalvp
  • Catrice Hixon, Melanin Café, @melanin_cafe_llc
  • Anthony White, Nexxt Level Barbershop,
  • Naiah Matthews, Neya’s Boutique, @neyasboutique
  • Jobe Kelly, PNP, @pnp.u.s
  • Jackson Thomas, Premium Auto Care, @premiumautocare334

Anyone interested in starting a new business or growing an existing one is encouraged to contact Lou Bifano, Director of the New Venture Accelerator, to find out more about how Auburn’s NVA and other entrepreneurial programs can help.