August is National Black Business Month. It is a prime time to increase visibility of Black-owned businesses.
Sheila Hawkins, CEO and chief creative designer of Sheila Renee Designs, creates custom jewelry, Converse, Crocs, tumblers, apparel and eclectic items. The Waldorf, Maryland-based Black business owner established her business in 2018. Her company also offers classes to assist other entrepreneurs with starting or elevating their craft business.
“Our class, “Bling Like A Boss!,” teaches the art of bling. We offer Crocs and Converse classes. We will be adding additional bling classes soon. Also, we will be offering crafting courses like jewelry making, sublimation, how to make t-shirts and other courses,” Hawkins said.
The creative entrepreneur is excited about taking her business venture on the road to Fredericksburg, Virginia. Hawkins and other Black business owners can be found at the 4th Annual Virginia Black Business Expo & Business Conference that is being held from August 11-13, 2023, in the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center, located at 2371 Carl D. Silver Parkway in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Hawkins believes that taking part in the weekend of excellence for the first time will be a valuable experience for her. She feels that attending the event will help her to grow her business and increase her revenue. The entrepreneur is also interested in supporting other Black-owned businesses and networking.
“Black business owners need to have a space to network and meet new customers. Networking allows business owners to build relationships, share knowledge and gain valuable insights. Having a dedicated space for Black business owners to network can also provide a sense of community and support. Additionally, it can create opportunities for collaboration and partnerships, which can lead to business growth and success,” Hawkins said.
The large, annual event will be presented by the Virginia Black Business Directory (VABBD). In case you missed it, a Black-owned business directory can be accessed online. Members are located from Annapolis and Glen Burnie, Maryland to Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg and Richmond, Virginia.
A printed directory is available once a year, according to Ernisha Hall. Along with Tracey Hall, she cofounded their growing nonprofit, VABBD in 2020. A variety of membership options are available, including a nonprofit rate and a youth entrepreneur rate.
VABBD’s genesis begins with Ernisha and Tracey owning a website and graphic design company, NIRAY LLC. They discovered a desire for fellow Black business owners to connect with each other. The business directory that the Halls created grew into a 501(c)3 organization.
“In short, the mission is about economic empowerment of Black businesses. In long, it is our mission is to amplify the exposure of small businesses by advancing the economic development and social equities of Black business owners,” Ernisha said.
She further explained that although the nonprofit focuses more on the state of Virginia, many members are physically located in Maryland and D.C. Virtual events that provide education, information and networking opportunities are also held. Topics such as grant writing, funding, trademarking and intellectual property and resource navigation have been explored.
The 4th Annual Virginia Black Business Expo & Business Conference is their largest, annual event that is held in Fredericksburg.
“The purpose of this is three days of shopping, entertainment, culture, and education with different leaders,” Ernisha said.
Quinn Conyers, a Maryland-based entrepreneur who is a highly experienced emcee, will serve as this year’s emcee and keynote speaker.
Ernisha mentioned that a business conference; food truck festival; the Great Blacksby Gala and concert where singer Keke Wyatt will perform; a brunch, skate party hosted by celebrity skater, Push; the Silver Fox Squad, touted as special guests; career fair; shopping opportunities and other activities will be offered during the weekend.
“Overall, it’s about recycling the Black dollar,” Ernisha said. “There’s going to be over 100 vendors here to shop with.”
Last year, 1,500 attendees and 140 vendors showed up, according to Ernisha.
Hawkins added final thoughts from a business owner’s perspective.
“Additionally, Black vendor events often feature unique and diverse products and services that may not be available elsewhere, providing attendees with a chance to discover new and exciting offerings. Overall, attending and supporting Black vendor events is a meaningful way to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society,” Hawkins said.
Expo and conference tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite. Visit https://www.virginiablackbusinessexpo.org to learn more about purchasing event tickets. Some activities such as the gala and brunch require ticket purchases at least a week in advance. Information about the business directory is available via https://members.vablackbusinessdirectory.org/directory.