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2018 A.G. Gaston Conference: College students display economic empowerment

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From left: Forrest Satterfield, Roland Adams and Marlow Rogers are college students who spoke at the 2018 AG Gaston Conference. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)
By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times

The 14th annual A.G. Gaston Conference kicked off Tuesday and wrapped up Wednesday with more than a dozen workshops, seminars and speeches on economic empowerment.

The conference, named for the iconic Birmingham businessman, included a number of events geared toward young people including 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.”

Adams was joined on the panel by Forrest Satterfield, founder of Satterfield Technologies, and biomedical engineer student at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) 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].”

From left: Forrest Satterfield, Roland Adams, and Marlow Rogers are college students who spoke at the 2018 AG Gaston Conference. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)

Satterfield, who owns a startup working to create affordable prosthesis and orthosis, 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.”

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 its very instructive,” he said.

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

“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 another the girl in the video, referring to the 2008 financial crisis.

Speaker for the A.G. Gaston Empowerment Luncheon was businessman Ramon Ray and he 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 the chief executive officer, Sullivan volunteered with the YWCA for 20 years, serving as president of both the Junior Board and the Board of Directors.