Well, it has been 2-3 weeks since I’ve attended the 2008 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference.  I was impressed.  Now, I’m a little bit biased because I feel the Women of Power Summit was much better.  But I was pleasantly surprised.

My sister/business partner went with me to check it out.  If I had to make a criticism, I would say that the events needed to start on time.  A few of the events ran over and affected latter events and put a slight damper on the mood.  But BE made up for it in content.  First, the workshops were informative, entertaining and educational.  The panelists gave no hold barred advice and words of wisdom to the audience.  BE made sure to cover pressing topics that face today’s entrepreneur such as technology, finances, venture capital, disaster planning, supplier diversity/procurement, rebounding from disaster, and a host of other topics.  The keynote was Janice Bryant Howroyd.  She delivered the most inspirational session of the entire conference.  She shared with us her successes and thoughts on making it in the business environment.  She came down off the stage and wanted to engage with the audience on a personal level.  That was beautifully authentic of her.  Unfortunately I did not get to meet her one on one.  She is someone in the staffing industry that although we are on different paths, I admire her fiercely.

BUT, I did get to meet Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness fame).  Sonya Alleyne did the honors of a one on one chat with him during the luncheon.  He was honest, candid and shot straight from the hip.  Some people were  a little put off.  but you know what?  He spoke his mind and he has earned the right to be where he is.  Sure, there might have been the perception of arrogance.  But this man has given back in so many wonderful ways.  I gave him my card and I hope we can remain in touch.

Another bit of criticism I have actually doesn’t involve Black Enterprise.  Each year, they (BE) take the time to present to us the BE 100s.  These are the top black owned businesses in various categories such as automotive, advertising, financial services, etc.  Well this year’s BE 100 Company of the Year was none other than Harpo Productions (yes, my idol, Oprah Winfrey).  Now don’t get all worked up.  Ms. Winfrey couldn’t be there to accept her award as she was on her way to South Africa (allegedly) to participate in the process of selecting another head mistress for her leadership academy.  While I admire Oprah and I fully believe in her mission with this school, I couldn’t help feel like she might have taken the award lightly.  I was a bit disappointed that she could not be there to personally accept nor did she send a representative.  Instead, she sent a taped message.  Again, I can understand the circumstances, but a few people commented (and I somewhat agreed) that if this was Forbes or Fortune, she would have at least sent a representative.  Gail, Steadman, somebody!  I felt snubbed.  I will give Oprah the benefit of the doubt and believe that she would have been there had she been able to. Ms. Winfrey, if you by some small chance read this, please keep up the good work, but please try to “be there” for events like this.

But anywho, there were so many wonderful moments at this event, from meeting with some of the leaders of the BE 100s to making connections with other serious entrepreneurs like myself, to being inspired and re-energized to take my company to the next level.  But the ultimate moment for me was the one on one I got to experience with Mr. Earl Graves, Sr.  Yes, Mr. BE.  He came out to have lunch with the attendees (not one on one but you understand).  At first my sister and I didn’t want to bother him, as some rude chicks just interrupted his and his wife’s lunch to chit chat.  I could tell her was trying to be gracious.  I waited until everyone cleared away then asked his assistant if it was ok.  I sat down and initiated a conversation thanking him for putting together such a wonderful event.  I also let him know how BE was mandatory reading for me growing up and is in my own household now.  We chatted and he offered some very inspiring words of wisdom.  I followed up with letting him know I WILL be on the BE 100 some day.  And I meant it too! I thanked him for the exposure I have received through BE to which he commented “you are too young to have been in BE!”.  LOL  Thank you Mr. Graves!!!  :)  I gave him my card and asked if I could take a picture.  My sister unfortunately, has very unsteady hands!!  He noted I was using my Blackberry and asked if I could really take pictures with it.  He asked me to send it to him.  Well, I’ve been sidetracked with a death in the family  since then, but I am sending it to him TODAY.  Please excuse the blurry picture.  Again, it’s my sister’s fault!

I’m so mad at her!  :(

So if you can make it next year, I highly recommend going.  It is an inspirational and motivational event where you can learn tons for starting, growing and running your business.  I have appointments with some BE100 leaders in the coming weeks.  I am so glad I went and look forward to building strong networking relationships with everyone I met.

Next up…BE Golf & Tennis Classic.  According to Mr. Graves, that is where the real house party is!  (His words…I swear).

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham