WINCHESTER — Former Shenandoah University basketball player Alfred Duncan considers himself a “serial entrepreneur.” But when it comes down to it, he’s in the business of helping people.
Duncan, who has backgrounds in athletics, playwriting and music, created Black Men Ventures (BMV) last year with the help of two SU teammates and two others listed as founding members of the organization.
“We create access to capital for Black male founders,” Duncan said. “Capital comes in many forms — financial capital, social capital, intellectual capital. We give them access to all these forms of capital so they can increase their business and be sustainable within their community.”
BMV’s main focus is what Duncan calls its “flagship program,” which is a pitch competition. The organization’s second Black Founders Pitch Competition will be held virtually at 7:30 p.m. today.
Normally, judges select the winner of a pitch competition and serve as the “determining factor” of who wins. Not here.
“We allow the community to decide who the winner is,” Duncan said. “We do have judges, but they just facilitate. The community votes with their dollar.”
Voters select their favorite pitch and donate at least $5 toward a vote. The winner is the person who receives the most votes, not the most money. The monetary votes gives BMV the ability to help fund each selected entrant in the competition.
The entrants get 70% of the money donated toward their pitch while BMV keeps 30% for operating fees. The top three vote-getters receive other monetary prizes of $5,000, $2,000 and $1,000 for first, second and third places, respectfully.
“We also send entrants to a pitch practice program,” Duncan said. “They’ll go through four of those programs and then receive a certificate for successful completion, meaning that they have touched all of the points that we’re trying to convey.”
The criteria to enter BMV’s pitch completion stipulates the business must be at least 51% owned by a Black male, must be generating revenue but not more than $1 million and the business must be public-facing with a website. The business must also be in good standing.
The competition will be aired on the Black Men Ventures YouTube and Facebook pages. Folks can register to attend the virtual event at https://www.ticketfalcon.com/e/bmvjuly2021/
BMV was created in the same mold as a similar organization, called Black Girl Ventures. Duncan said he is good friends with the CEO of that organization, Shelly Bell, and she gave him her blessing to create BMV. Black Girl Ventures has been operating for about five years.
While focusing on his music, Duncan wrote a song following the death of George Floyd that eventually led to the forming of BMV.
The song, “BLM Plaza,” was written with hopes of getting the Black community to work together, specifically Black men, Duncan said.
“I wanted to show that we can build equity within ourselves. The hook of the song said, ‘bread bread, making plans, building with my brothers,’” Duncan said. “While I was marketing and promoting the song, I thought of my friend Shelly who was doing this for women (with Black Girl Ventures). So, I called her up and asked if she’d be supportive of me doing this for men. She then gave us the blueprint on how to make it work, and we ran with it.”
Duncan said that while change is certainly positively impacting some areas of the country, he hopes to make it better, especially when it comes to closing the wealth gap.
He said the current climate just might help that.
“I think the climate has allowed for there to be less friction. There are a lot of organizations that want to help the Black community or help under-served communities to sustain their community and to leverage out the imbalance in equality and in equity in the financial gap,” he said. “It was always needed. I just think there’s less friction to do something like this now than there’s ever been before.”
Black male business owners have answered BMV’s call, too. Both pitch events have had about 50 applicants nationwide. Business ventures have ranged across the board, Duncan said.
Duncan said he’s passionate about many things and said he’s never fully stepped away from any of his talents. When asked how he’s managed to juggle them all, he had to laugh first.
“I really don’t know. I just know that the Lord put a gift in me. I’ve been one of those people that never really liked the term ‘stay in your lane.’ God has blessed me with so many different talents. I just do stuff, and I just try to do it to the best of my ability,” Duncan said. “Throughout it all, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur because I’ve been a habitual failure. All of these particular things that I’ve done, I haven’t reached the particular level that I want to yet. But I’ve walked away with lessons in all of them. That’s applied to everything that I do.”
That included gathering interested partners for his BMV venture, which included some old friends and SU hoopers Billy Blake and Shawn Williams, who are listed as BMV founding members along with Torrence Reed and Jonathan King. Former SU hooper Chris Lassiter also serves as BVM’s content writer.
“It was actually pretty easy. Most of the people in the organization I’ve had a longstanding relationship with,” Duncan said. “They know where I stand.”
Duncan said he had an interest meeting with a few friends to see if they’d be interested in working with BMV and in what capacity. He said all of those in that meeting have played some type of role with BMV since its inception.
Duncan said having guys like Blake, Williams and Lassiter close by after being SU teammates is special. Memories, including making it to the 1996 NCAA Tournament, helped create lasting friendship, while growing BVM has helped to cement it.
“I’ve always been a team person. It’s always been a driving force. I really don’t like to do things solo, which is a gift and a curse,” Duncan said. “To be able to experience the wins with someone is a beautiful space to be in. To overcome the losses, that builds more friendship. It’s beautiful to do this with my family and use everyone’s gifts and skills and to celebrate the victories and figure out ways to overcome the obstacles together.”
To learn more about BMV, visit blackmenventures.org.