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Talib Graves

Talib Graves

5 Questions with Talib Graves-Manns

Durham's history and future are based, in part, on the entrepreneurial spirit of its diverse community. This Black History Month, we celebrate the legacy of Durham's Black Wall Street and tip our hat to the innovators who are making Durham one the best places in America to start a business.

We teamed up with American Underground to bring you a series of profiles of African-American entrepreneurs in Durham who are changing the business landscape. Talib Graves-Manns, American Underground's Entrepreneur in Residence, talks hustle, his favorite Durham spots, and latest ventures.

1. What ventures are you currently involved with?

I created my own consulting company, Point AB consulting, in 2014. We're focused on providing marketing and finance solutions to startups, small and medium sized businesses. Around that time I [founded] Life on Autopilot, and co-founded and helped build a few other [startups].

With Life on Autopilot, I've been working with that team for four or five years, and that is a physical product. It's a hat carrier. It holds four or five caps during travel. The one we released now is a luxury item, it costs $495.

SkyCap has been in market for only two months. [Life on Autopilot's] whole objective is to provide innovative luggage and products that are lifestyle driven. We have four other products that are in R&D right now. Life on autopilot is a feeling, when everything is going well and you're cruising. We want you to cruise and be yourself no matter where you are in the world.

I also work with Words Liive, a startup based in Washington D.C. that's all about increasing literacy through lyrics. When you sit a student down who's not proficient in literary devices and explain to him what metaphor is [using lyrics], they can identify with it, they're better equipped to move on to more traditional literary pieces, whether it's Walt Whitman or Shakespeare.

The other venture is Black Wall Street. It was a big event this year. The idea was how do we celebrate the history of Durham's Black Wall Street, but usher in the future of innovation and technology. That's the challenge. It was going to be a one-off event where we were going to bring out some venture capitalists. It worked out well, we had over 400 guests, and there was $100 million in venture capital that flowed through that weekend. We've since formalized [the event] and we're going to do it again next year. We're also going to take it to SXSW and do an event in Washington, D.C. in the spring.

2. You're also the Entrepreneur in Residence at American Underground, which is part of the Google for Entrepreneurs-backed CODE2040 Residency program. What has that experience been like?

So the EIR role has been a great opportunity. I was part of the first cohort [of Entrepreneurs in Residence]. There were only three, one here in Durham, Chicago, and Austin. This year they're rolling the [position] out to the nine other Google for Entrepreneurs Tech hubs.

This year there weren't too many guidelines about what to do and what not to do with your community. So we took it and ran with it. So you want us to be change agents and represent diversity and inclusion with Black and Latino business owners in the community? Okay, we're going to go hard for as long as we can with the support of the American Underground staff and entrepreneurs in the community, and we were able to create a Black Wall Street event that's going to go on for years to come because of CODE2040 plugging in and providing support.

A word of advice for anyone going into the EIR role or entrepreneurs: build a strong team that will give you the bandwidth to focus on other things, like your life, other ventures, community, and social work. I have been afforded a network of really strong, smart teammates.

3. You have so many different projects and ventures you're involved in. Do entrepreneurs have a problem sitting still?

I call it hustle. Some people have it, some people don't. It's a need to create something new, to build something.

Entrepreneurs see the world as a creative place with unlimited resources to make their dreams come true. That's what's going to make this community in Durham prosper. With the amount of resources in the community and creativeness of the people here, really great things that haven't been seen before will be created in this community.

4. What is like being an entrepreneur here in Durham?

As someone who has been in the entrepreneur ecosystem for a limited amount of time - 10 to 12 months - it's been my experience that [Durham] is very supportive of entrepreneurs. The community works together for the betterment of the collective.

The hustle is here, the edginess, the competitiveness to succeed in a very big way. The tenacity of the people to dream big, build big, and couple all of that with the biggest asset around the Durham community - high quality educational institutions.

5. Name your favorite Durham dining and drinking spots. Go.

I like the empanadas at Luna -- gotta have those; the arepas spot on Ninth Street, EpaChamo; and Sam's Quik Shop. Those are my three favorites.

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