College students discuss economic empowerment at 2018 A.G. Gaston Conference

College students discuss economic empowerment at 2018 A.G. Gaston Conference
From left, college student entrepreneurs Forrest Satterfield, Roland Adams and Marlow Rogers participate in a panel discussion at the 2018 A.G. Gaston Conference. (Ariel Worthy / The Birmingham Times)

Events geared toward young entrepreneurs were a major part of the 14th annual A.G. Gaston Conference, held Tuesday and Wednesday in Birmingham.

The conference, named for the iconic Birmingham businessman, offered more than a dozen workshops, seminars and speeches on economic empowerment, with several that emphasized young businesspeople, such as a panel Wednesday titled “College Student Perspective on Entrepreneurship.”

“There are several concerns within business entrepreneurship and the development of young people that we need to talk about,” said Roland Adams, a 21-year-old public administration student at Samford University. “I’m glad they asked us as college students to speak on it, because we’re the ones dealing with it firsthand.”

Ramon Ray, editor of Smart Hustle Magazine, speaks at the 2018 A.G. Gaston Conference. Ray talked about the importance of mentorship for young entrepreneurs. (Stephonia Taylor McLinn / The Birmingham Times)

Adams was joined on the panel by Forrest Satterfield, founder of Satterfield Technologies and a biomedical engineering student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Marlow Rogers, a student at Lawson State Community College.

Adams, who wants to own vineyards internationally, said the conference shows that people of color are motivated to own their own businesses.

“This says that people have ideas, people are inspired,” he said. “Having people come and listen to us shows that they want to know what we can do, and that means a lot to (our generation).”

Satterfield, who owns a startup working to create affordable prostheses and orthoses, said Birmingham is the best city to grow his company.

“I don’t want to go to Silicon Valley or anywhere like that because of the diversity problem; it’s an echo chamber,” he said. “In Birmingham, because of its great diversity, we can get a much richer data set, all these different points of view to create a compelling product. It’s been proven that the more diverse the team is, the better the solutions are.”

Rogers, who sold handmade bowties in high school and now does it as a side job, said his goal is real estate. However, his side business will help.

“I’m going to be around people all the time,” he said. “It’s a great marketing tool, word-of-mouth tool. I could probably do both businesses at once, selling a house and bowties.”

Apprehensions and mentorship

Elsewhere during the conference, Anthony Hood, assistant professor at UAB’s Collat School of Business, also talked entrepreneurship and millennials. He showed a video of students discussing their apprehension about starting their own businesses.

“This is an unscientific sample of students, but nevertheless it’s very instructive,” he said.

In the video, one student felt pressured to attend a four-year college, even though it is a financial strain.

Bob Dickerson, executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center, with Yolanda Sullivan, CEO of YWCA Central Alabama and this year’s recipient of the A.G. Gaston Award. (Stephonia Taylor McLinn / The Birmingham Times)

“I should have gone to a community college,” she said. “I would have saved thousands of dollars, … took my basic classes and then transferred. I am going to have a job when I graduate, but I will still have to have a second job to pay off my debt in the time I want to.”

Another discussion on video was fear of failure.

“When we grew up, we watched our parents fail as a result of not even taking big risks – they were doing what they were told they could do – and we watched it come crumbling down around us,” said a girl in the video, referring to the 2008 financial crisis.

The speaker for the A.G. Gaston Empowerment Luncheon was businessman Ramon Ray, who talked about the importance of mentorship.

“One thing we can do to echo the life of A.G. Gaston is to keep reaching out and touching somebody,” said Ray, author and editor of Smart Hustle Magazine. “All of us can send somebody a text, make a phone call and say, ‘how are you?’”

During the luncheon, Yolanda Sullivan, CEO of YWCA Central Alabama, received the A.G. Gaston Award. Prior to her appointment as chief executive officer, Sullivan volunteered with the YWCA for 20 years, serving as president of both the junior board and the board of directors.

This story originally appeared on The Birmingham Times’ website.

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