Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely existence at times, especially for those whose thinking takes them far outside the box of traditional business.
But for Leslie Giscombe, the entrepreneurial spirit has led in the opposite direction. The founder and CEO of the African American Entrepreneurs Club had a dream to create an organization that would bring members of the African-American community together to carve out a niche in the entrepreneurial landscape. That dream was celebrated Thursday at the African American Cultural Society.
“I’m very proud because there are a lot of things on the journey that you have to prove to people that you are serious about economic development,” Giscombe said during the organization’s first anniversary celebration.
Giscombe said in addition to obstacles faced by any new organization, creating the African American Entrepreneurs Club required breaking down barriers within the African-American community.
“There’s a level of mistrust in our community with each other,” he said. “There’s a history that goes along with that.”
Giscombe said a lot of work went into forming the AA Entrepreneurs Club, but the effort was worth it.
“It was a lot of workshops initiating the club, putting out a lot of networking events specifically because we didn’t have enough of them,” he said. “It was basically putting together a platform for African Americans to know that they can work together and gain support from the community. I actually look upon it as a hand up rather than a hand out.”
Giscombe said there were doubts in the African-American community that an organization geared toward entrepreneurs would succeed.
“A lot of people told me they are amazed that we have done as much as we have in a year,” he said.
But reaching the first anniversary milestone is only the beginning.
“The next mountain for the club is to facilitate groups outside the state of Florida,” Giscombe said. “My business model for the club is not just that you come and socialize and network, but an educational component as well.”
For that part, Giscombe has turned to his alma mater, the University of Florida, where he studied entrepreneurship.
“They help to validate what I am doing by indicating it is something they truly respect,” he said, referring to the business school at UF. “We’ve had two speakers from the business school, specifically the entrepreneurship program.”
Beyond that connection, Giscombe said the AA Entrepreneurs Club plays an important role in the economic development of the county as a whole.
“It’s very important because there are trickle-down effects,” he said. “When you have more entrepreneurship in the African-American community you have a lower crime rate and you have lower unemployment.”
That significance is not lost on Jorge Gutierrez, president and CEO of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce.
Attending the anniversary celebration, Guiterrez said he wants to make sure the African-American business community is aware of the Chamber.
“In business, they have their own issues and problems so we need to understand them,” he said. “I lived in Jamaica for five years and I lived in Venezuela for 15 and it’s very different how we do business, how we communicate and how we deal with issues. It’s good to get everybody’s point of view, and that is why I am here.”
Flagler County Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin also dropped by to support the organization’s efforts.
“We support local business,” he said. “You’re talking about the people who employ 90 percent of people in the country — small business.”
McLaughlin said organizations like the African American Entrepreneurs Club are important to building a sustainable local economy.
“These are all important factors in our local economy,” he said.
For Giscombe, that is even more significant for African-American businesses.
“In every other community, dollars circulate longer,” he said. “In the African-American community, the dollar circulates the shortest because we are considered spenders.”
Changing that is part of the mission of the African American Entrepreneurs Club, Giscombe said.
“We have not been taught about true economic development,” he said.