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Howard University’s Black Commerce Conference doubles in size for its return on Juneteenth

Organizers expect up to 1,000 people at the convening, which features four days of events around Black-owned businesses and innovation.

Actor and entrepreneur Lamman Rucker (right) meets with attendees of the HUxPNC Black Commerce Conference in 2023. (Courtesy PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship)

This week, in tandem with Juneteenth, a conference specifically catered to Black entrepreneurs returns to the region for four days of programming, high-profile founders’ talks and more.

The HUxPNC Black Commerce Conference, organized by Howard University and The Howard University and PNC (HUxPNC) National Center for Entrepreneurship, begins Wednesday and ends Saturday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in the National Harbor. It will feature certification opportunities, panels, an awards gala and workshops. 

This year’s conference will feature more programming, more featured celebrities and about double the attendees of last year’s inaugural convening, said Erin Horne McKinney, the national executive director of the HUxPNC Center

“We’re scaling it exponentially,” McKinney told “People heard and saw what we did last year and are really connecting the dots to the difference. … There’s so much interest in the work that we’re doing.”

In 2023, organizers planned for about 200 attendees but ended up having a turnout of about 500. Depending on the conference day, McKinney said she’s expecting about 1,000 people this year, which is partly why the venue moved to the convention center. 

Attendees can choose from six programming tracks this year, or twice the amount from 2023. These include the “Dreams to Dollars Academy,” which will focus on teaching how to launch a venture, and “Empowering the Ecosystem,” which is all about building resources for Black entrepreneurs. The conference additionally features a research and policy track, bringing in scholars and policymakers to learn more about the unique challenges Black entrepreneurs face. 

Register for this year’s Black Commerce Conference

Several big celebrities in the entrepreneurship space will be featured, including Bea Dixon, the cofounder and chief innovation officer of the Honey Pot Company; and Baron Davis, a former NBA all-star and current founder and investor. The conference also includes an awards gala to honor center participants and a special Black Tech Saturdays gathering.

McKinney stressed that this is a multi-generational conference, bringing together students and experienced entrepreneurs. The conference also offers several student, staff and entrepreneurial scholarships to limit barriers to attendance, McKinney said. 

This conference is part of a larger partnership that started before the conference’s first iteration. The PNC Foundation granted Howard University a five-year, $16.8 million grant to help support and develop Black-owned businesses by creating the entrepreneurship center. The grant also covers programming at three other historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Morgan State University, Clark Atlanta University and Texas Southern University. Overall, it’s meant to develop a network among the 101 HBCUs in the US. 

“Internally at PNC, we were looking to think about what we could do as a bank to help support Black and low- and moderate-income communities,” said Sally McCrady, the chair and president of the PNC Foundation. 

“We had a number of connections at Howard, and they were also thinking the same thing and really had this vision for a national center that could support entrepreneurship, education, research and advocacy across the country,” she added. 

This hub and its programs aim to address structural dynamics that freeze out many Black entrepreneurs. The Pew Research Center’s 2024 analysis of the US Census Bureau and National Science Foundation’s latest Annual Business Survey data found that in 2021, majority Black-owned companies constituted only 3% of all US businesses with identifiable racial and ethnic ownership. In DC, they made up 15% of all relevant companies — the largest share of any ethnic group in the district. 

The PNC Foundation has been working very closely with Howard University to both create the center and plan the conference. This collaboration, announced in the fall of 2021, started at a time when George Floyd’s murder in June 2020 prompted many major corporations to make commitments like PNC’s. But the nonprofit arm of the company has been working closely with Howard, McKinney said. 

“A lot of those commitments were performative, or have never really been realized and deployed,” McKinney said. “I really just want to commend PNC for being an amazing partner and really stepping up, and not just handing over a check and doing a photo op.”

This story has been updated to clarify both Erin Horne McKinney and The Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship’s full names. (6/17/2024, 1:40 p.m.) 

Companies: PNC Financial Services / Howard University / Morgan State University

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