Daymond John’s stepfather once told him, “You better be pro-black, but you better not be anti-anything else.”
An entrepreneur and millionaire investor on television’s popular “Shark Tank” business competition series, John spoke about business tips and the importance of supporting African-American businesses at Saturday’s continuation of the Columbia Black Expo.
The annual Black Expo, a weeklong celebration of the power and success of the African-American spirit, on Saturday featured seminars on topics ranging from banking to scholarships to hair and health, shopping booths, and meet-and-greets with celebrities including former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams and Empire television star YAZZ.
Hoping to step into the spotlight of self-made success in the way of African-American role models such as John, a trio of entrepreneurs vied for a $15,000 business starter package in Black Expo Biz Tank, a “Shark Tank”-style business pitch.
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Khali Gallman, Corey LaBoo and Matthew Edmond beat out nearly 30 other contestants for the opportunity to present their startup business plans to a panel of local judges Saturday at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
“I think that it’s so important, as a millennial myself, to make sure that we are prepared and well-rounded because of the fact that, you know, no one is going to hand you anything. You have to work for everything,” Gallman said, as she made the case for her Not Just Spring Break mobile app, which aggregates listings of social and professional events nationwide geared toward young urban professionals. The app already has some 5,000 subscribers in 10 countries, Gallman said.
“People in my demographic tend to not take life so seriously,” she said. “I wanted to create the app to make people my age more well-rounded in all aspects.”
LaBoo wooed the judges with trays of his turkey “wangz” – not your average wings – and bottles of his special Dat Sauce. He hoped to use the prize money to market his food truck business and make headway toward one day opening his own restaurant.
But it was Edmond who most impressed the judges with his Rock Shock Lights concept for LED-lit clothing and backpacks.
“Can you see me now?” Edmond joked with the judges and the crowd as he showed off samples of backpacks and vests with strips of green and blue lights tastefully integrated into the design. “We frown on people that don’t want to be safe.”
The idea for Rock Shock Lights was prompted by one of Edmond’s grandchildren, Christopher, who was 4 or 5 years old when when he had the thought of putting lights on his and other kids’ clothes for safety while they played outside in the evenings.
Christopher’s idea has turned into a burgeoning business for Edmond, who is already selling items online and in a handful of stores, including Carolina Honda in Columbia.
“Thank you, thank you,” he told the judges when they announced him the winner. “We’re here to make the world safer.”
Columbia Black Expo wraps up Saturday night. A schedule for the day’s events is at blackexposouth.com.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.