Albany, NY

How CNYS Black Expo Founder Is Changing The Blueprint For Business Success. Expo Happens November 19

Ann Brown
Tatiana CunninghamCourtesy of Tatiana Cunningham

Tatiana Cunningham is the founder of the Capital of New York State (CNYS) Black Expo, whose mission is to promote economic growth and business opportunities across New York State.

The annual CNYS Black Expo is set take place on Saturday, November 19, 2022, at MVP Arena in Albany.

Cunningham launched the expo in 2018 and it seeks shines light on culture, community and connection while providing entrepreneurs with a regional platform to amplify awareness of their goods and services.

Cunningham, an entrepreneur herself, wanted to offer education and support to burgeoning minority-owned businesses. Her grandmother, Anette Dallavelade, an active entrepreneur and trailblazer in the Albany community encouraged her to develop her entrepreneurial skills at a young age. Cunningham been enterprising since the age of eight.

Seeing the need in her community to empower and encourage minority-owned businesses, in 2015, Cunningham had the opportunity to launch a business with partners in downtown Albany. The endeavor paved the way for the CNYS Black Expo.

NewsBreak interviewed Cunningham about her plans for the New York State (CNYS) Black Expo.

NewsBreak: What led you to found the Capital of New York State (CNYS) Black Expo?

Tatiana Cunningham: I was exposed to entrepreneurship at a very young age, partnering with family to establish, run and grow a number of businesses that had positive impacts on the community. As a young entrepreneur, I witnessed firsthand the challenges companies can face when looking for success. From facing racial barriers to maintaining the interest and support of my own community, I have had to find ways to overcome hardship and maintain appeal.

Understanding how difficult and overwhelming being an entrepreneur can be, I wanted to establish a forum for other burgeoning businesses to gather and share lessons learned, align with partners, vendors and customers, and establish new avenues of funding to keep their businesses afloat and even grow them. Albany, NY, the capital of New York State, felt like the perfect location to help minority business owners establish such a safe space. As a state committed to supporting new and emerging businesses to find their footing, what better place to start this mission.

The CNYS Black Expo was launched in 2018 at the Albany Capital Center. We have now grown to become one of the largest conventions of its kind in New York, hosted at one of the largest arenas. At a very young age, it has been my passion to encourage business and the CNYS Black Expo serves to reinforce this dream.

NewsBreak: Why do you think it is important to support Black businesses?

Tatiana Cunningham: Owning a business can be the foundation upon which sustained multi-generational wealth is established. Studies show the average net worth of a Black home is one-tenth of a white home. With that in mind, entrepreneurs launching new businesses typically will leverage personal and family savings to support their businesses. This is extraordinarily difficult to do when barriers establishing increased net worth are in play.

Black Businesses often enter the entrepreneur space at a disadvantage due to a lack of knowledge on how to properly set up their business, how to secure investors, or how to scale their business sustainably. The result – Black-owned businesses struggle with financing their business and often rely on sales to fund growth. It’s critical that consumers help this segment of entrepreneurs who continue to bring diverse, creative, and quality products and services to the market. Supporting Black-owned businesses not only strengthens the economy of the black community but of the greater marketplace as well.

NewsBreak: Black women-owned businesses have grown in numbers, but they are still underfunded. What can be done to change this?

Tatiana Cunningham: U.S. Black business ownership is on an upward trajectory, with Black women helping to drive the trend. According to recent reports, women of color are the fastest-growing segment of female entrepreneurs. While Black women entrepreneurs are growing, their funding needs are hardly, if at all, met. This trend was reinforced when reviewing how much government aid was provided to women of color during and post-pandemic. Even though new business owners of color were driven by women, they were least likely to receive financial support like PPP.

It's no secret that Black female business owners struggle to find access to funding support due to the vast inequalities they face when applying for business funding. With that in mind, there are ways that this trend can change. From encouraging and educating VCs on the benefits of Black, women-owned businesses to empowering and educating these same business owners on how to properly seek and apply for funding. Education, on both ends, is the key to enabling female founders to get the financial support they need to build scalable businesses.

NewsBreak: What have been the biggest changes to the expo since you founded it?

Tatiana Cunningham: Popularity. The expo began in Albany Capital Center and has expanded to being held within one of the biggest arenas in the state. It went from an unknown local event to an annual sought-after regional convention. I recall pitching sponsors and partners in an effort to spark their interest in the event. I am in awe and stand in appreciation of how we now boast dozens of sponsors who have and continue to support us year after year. With the support of partners, we are able to offer even more resources to attendees, exhibitors, and the community. The possibilities for growth are endless, and I look forward to our evolution going forward.

NewsBreak: What advice would you give to a Black entrepreneur looking to start a business in NY?

Tatiana Cunningham: As a Black entrepreneur, it is crucial that you arm yourself with knowledge. It is important to not only understand your business but also to immerse yourself in understanding your industry, competitors, and the New York State process, procedures, and requirements for establishing a new business. There are incredible resources available for minority business owners in New York State, available through state government resources as well as through non-profit organizations and funding institutions. From applying for licenses and permits to securing capital, stay focused, determined, and in the know.

NewsBreak: What is next for you and for the expo?

Tatiana Cunningham: The Black Expo fills an unmet need within the Black community and beyond. As we continue to build and expand upon new and current business relationships in the Albany region, we will look to engage with even more communities in the near and long term. From the major cities on the east coast to the Midwest and beyond, there are opportunities to support communities across the country. To achieve this expansion, we are in the midst of establishing a production company whose focus will be to develop and produce jobs, content, and events that will empower and support community growth and development.

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Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York City, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cape Verde,” a Facebook community. Among the topics she writes about are: business, travel, entertainment, and lifestyles.

Queens, NY

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