By Candice Wagener
Camille Carter, president and CEO of the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce, laughs a bit when I ask if she had any hesitation in taking on her role. As an experienced entrepreneur with a financial services agency, Carter joined the chamber board in 2015, and was asked to take over completely a few years later.
“There was 100% hesitation, but we know the end of the story,” says Carter. “This was not an allocated career path for me, but you know, life has its twists and turns. We follow our trajectory.”
Carter is certainly on the right trajectory. She’s grown chamber membership from 300 to 550-plus businesses (and counting) and opened the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce’s first office space (at 618 S. Park St.) during her four-year tenure.
Carter refers to the pandemic as a “market-maker” for Black-owned businesses.
“Many businesses did close their doors, unfortunately, but many of them opened during the pandemic,” says Carter, adding that many Black-owned businesses have traditionally launched with lean or non- existent funding. “So they show ingenuity when it comes to reinventing and recreating themselves and pivoting, and we are really seeing those characteristics at play.Despite[everything],they have found ways to remain relevant and resilient.”
Carter is happy to see the growing momentum in supporting Black-owned businesses, and her overarching goal is to help them continue to thrive for years to come. She does that through advocacy at the local, state and national levels — as well as organizing various events through the chamber like a Black History Month promotion in February and their annual fundraising event in May. And this past August, the chamber sponsored the sixth annual Black Restaurant Week, promoting nearly 50 food-service industry businesses owned by people of color within the Madison and Dane County area. Plus, they host regular webinars lunch-and-learns and networking events for their members, which have been virtual for the interim, but will hopefully transition back to in-person soon.
Aside from partnering with the chamber, Carter advises businesses to do their research and build a solid business plan, as well as a strong network of support. “Great businesses are not built in isolation,” says Carter, stressing the importance of connecting with essential resources like an attorney and accountant. “Leaning into your local chamber and getting connected with networks, resources and opportunities — letting them know you’re out there, you’re available, who you are and what you do. You need to be as vocal and forthcoming as possible to allow businesses to engage with you.”