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Business startup event for Black and Brown entrepreneurs

Business startup event for Black and Brown entrepreneurs
BIPOC Startup Week founder Charlotte Epée-WillSuN
Photo by Abdi Mohamed

As a Jane-of-all-trades, Charlotte Epée-WillSuN has channeled her passion for business into several endeavors. Over the past four years, she’s launched three businesses including Black Bumble Solutions, where she provides IT recruitment and business consultation, and GrooVVee, an entertainment platform centered around content from the African diaspora. 

Her latest venture, BIPOC Startup Week, aims to support Black and Brown business owners in the Twin Cities who are looking to navigate the complex world of tech entrepreneurship. 

Raised in Nigeria, Epée-WillSuN grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Her father launched his insurance business at 22 years of age and expanded it to four African countries. Though she pursued a career in accounting after graduating from Augsburg College, Epée-WillSuN was eager to carve out her own path in the tech world.

In looking to network and develop her business in the technology sector, she attended various startup-focused events in the Twin Cities. For roughly three years, Epée-WillSuN attended conferences hoping to connect and find guidance on her journey as a tech entrepreneur but found herself on the outside of the predominately White industry. This led her to create an inclusive space for entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds. 

“One thing I always thought I was missing was that the leadership was typically not BIPOC. There was usually no BIPOC leadership,” she said. 


Epée-WillSuN would only see roughly a dozen Black and Brown people in attendance in the span of a few days. Frustrated by the lack of representation, she pivoted to creating her own quarterly event that would address the needs of Black and Brown entrepreneurs and create a comfortable space for them to connect. 

BIPOC Startup Week kicks off Wednesday night on Dec. 6, at the W Hotel lobby and is followed by three days of programming at the Workbox co-working space in Foshay Tower and Finnovation Lab located in Finnegan’s Brew Co. December 7-9, participants will be able to hear from a range of experts including venture capitalists, bankers and artists. 

The event is free to the public and is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the first two days, with multiple sessions taking place every hour. There will also be pitch competitions from 1-3 p.m. 

The first two days will focus on daily panels and networking. However, Saturday includes more emphasis on creativity and artistry. 

Tech creatives

Two Afrobeats artists are scheduled to perform along with a Latin artist. Filmmakers will be able to showcase their short films throughout the day. Saturday will also include a marketplace for BIPOC-owned companies to sell their goods at the event. 


The week’s festivities will lead to the culminating fashion show to spotlight local fashion designers. As a fashion designer and brand owner, Epée-WillSuN saw the event as an opportunity to bring attention to another one of her passions and spotlight creatives in the community. 

With fashion as her favorite form of self-expression, Katie Haghighi was more than happy to help Epée-WillSuN organize the event. The two connected over their shared goals of supporting BIPOC business owners and their experiences in the Twin Cities startup world. 

Having launched her brand earlier this year, Haghighi was eager to connect with other diverse entrepreneurs. Her company FR8 is a clean-tech circular fashion platform, where users can have their clothes picked up to be donated at a small fee. The clothes would then be sorted, with a portion of them being sold to independent designers to upcycle the items.

She sought to gain traction with her company in the local startup community but didn’t see herself reflected in the other companies that were receiving support. “Throughout the events that I kept going to, it was like, ‘Where is anybody else that is not White and looks like me?’” she stated. 

Haghighi shared that BIPOC Startup Week is a great vehicle not only for budding entrepreneurs, but also to gain inspiration for those interested in the tech industry. 


Another aspect of the three-day event is to highlight the work of student entrepreneurs. Epée-WillSuN was pleasantly surprised when she contacted post-secondary institutions in Minnesota to invite them to the event. 

“When I reached out to the directors for the business programs at these schools, the majority of the students that were in the entrepreneurship programs were immigrants, or of the BIPOC population,” she said. 

Student engagement

Atharv Kulkarni is also a part of the planning team behind the event. He’s charged with getting speakers and providing support wherever needed. 

Back when he was a student at the University of Minnesota, Kulkarni was a part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion board at the Carlson School of Business. He hosted events and town halls for students and faculty, but over time realized that the food that was being catered didn’t reflect the conversations they were having. 

Kulkarni then contacted food businesses in the local community to cater their events, which led him to launch his business, BIPOC Business Map, a directory with roughly a thousand businesses ranging from legal services and hair salons to restaurants and transportation services. 


He shared Epée-WillSuN’s desire to connect Black and Brown entrepreneurs with business resources and close the gap in disparities. In pursuing his own venture, Kulkarni learned that BIPOC communities were facing the same issues in sustaining their businesses, yet weren’t communicating their experiences. 

“One thing I’ve kind of found in my business spaces is everything’s very siloed,” he said. “I would wish that we would kind of collaborate together, especially in the Twin Cities where the communities are not too big.”

Twin Cities tech ecosystem

This week’s BIPOC Startup Week is the inaugural event to a quarterly program. Epée-WillSuN shared that she looks forward to building upon this event and hopes to gain more partners in the future. So far, she’s been able to secure sponsorships from U.S. Bank and Stearns Bank among others. 

Despite her experiences in the past, Epée-WillSuN says that the Twin Cities still has the potential to be a launching pad for BIPOC-led tech ventures. She credits local communities and their support for businesses as the reason why. 

“One thing that makes the Twin Cities a great space for startups is that it has a very strong, supportive ecosystem,” she said. “Once you have an initiative that resonates with people and they can identify with it, you will be amazed at how many people gravitate towards helping to build it.”

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