ALANA Holds Alumni of Color Entrepreneurship Panel

Mehek Singh, Contributing Writer

The Africana, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center, Mosaic, and Thought into Action groups held an Alumni of Color Entrepreneurs panel, inviting Colgate alumni who have pursued entrepreneurial careers to speak and inspire the Colgate community. The panel took place on Wednesday, Feb. 9, and was the second in an annual series of panels on different perspectives of entrepreneurship.

One of the organizers of the event, Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programs at Colgate Carolyn Strobel-Larsen, commented on the goals of the event. 

“The purpose of these panels is so that entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds can profile their stories, and so students can be inspired. These programs also include networking components. It is a great opportunity for students who are current entrepreneurs,” Strobel-Larsen said.

Veronica McFall, the associate director of alumni relations, who along with Strobel-Larsen worked to organize the event, facilitated the panel and asked questions ranging from their experience that comes with leaving a nine to five job, problem-solving strategies, issues with funding for entrepreneurs of color and more. 

The panelists shared their experiences about building their brand, finding their passion and how they overcame personal and financial challenges, while offering great advice to students and potential entrepreneurs. 

“I know a lot of alums who have started their own business. A lot of people don’t think that alums of color do this often, so I wanted their stories to be heard” McFall said. I have gone through the process myself and know how isolating it can be to be an entrepreneur.” 

The panel consisted of an hour long conversation with the panelists, and then a 30-minute networking Q&A style meeting in breakout rooms, where each panelist was placed in a different group.

The panelists: Kevin Morrison ’92, the managing partner of Morrison Group and NextGEN Aquaponics; Victor Perkins ’01, co-founder of TapTakeOverHarlem; Khatera Ballard ’03, co-founder of Honeysuckle Gelato; Kadian Dixon ‘18, founder and CEO of First Impression Nails; Sally Ngoje’19, founder of Maua Organics are just a few of Colgate’s passionate alumni of color with successful entrepreneurial pursuits. 

A common theme amongst  the panelists when discussing funding for their passion projects was that a main challenge for businesses run by women and people of color is that they struggle with financial support and having access to financing and capital. 

“It’s not easy to get funding when you don’t have as much access as a young person of color.” When talking about challenges she faces, Ballard spoke about unforeseen roadblocks and that “sometimes you can’t start the way you envisioned it, and that’s ok.” 

When asked about leaving their nine to five jobs to pursue their business, Morrison described it as a “terrifying experience” since there was no safety net when he decided to leave his corporate job, but that he never looked back and hopes to see more entrepreneurs following their passions in the future. Each panelist, whether they were financially able to fully commit to their brand or if they maintained  a typical day job while following their passion on the side, stressed the importance of bringing one’s authentic self to their business. Many of the entrepreneurs also focused on giving back to their community through philanthropy and social impact movements. 

When asked about what advice the panelists had for young entrepreneurs, a common theme was the importance of finding community and other entrepreneurs who have similar goals so you can learn from them and help each other. Also, it’s important to understand your brand and its value, and realize that not everyone can be your customer, and a business can do well without having to sell to everyone. 

Morrison has a diverse portfolio and has provided exposure to fast growing developing markets on the continent of Africa. Similarly, Perkins has started a youth organization that provides presentations for grammar school students, including tap demonstrations and an educational component. Ballard manages Honeysuckle Gelato’s day-to-day operations with a focus on the company’s overall brand development.  In the beauty industry, Dixon launched First Impression Nails, an online press on luxury nail company, and Ngoje is working towards launching her beauty brand and effective hair care line.  

Fifty-three Colgate students attended the event, and when asked about the success of the panel, McFall responded “This year’s panel reached the goal of having more people. The aim was to get the word out that there are alumni of color entrepreneurs and to show students of color that entrepreneurship is possible.” Mcfall, in collaboration with her team, is working on future panels in this series and hearing from other voices and perspectives.