Clark alumnus Nathan Webster directs conference aimed at new possibilities for Black, indigenous, people of color, female and veteran professionals
Nathan Webster is called a unicorn more often than he’d like. He knows people mean it as a compliment. Webster is a highly educated, Black veteran who owns a successful marketing firm, teaches business at Clark College, advises other entrepreneurs and actively volunteers in his community. He’s also a Clark alumnus.
“I’m not a unicorn. I meet people like me all the time,” he said recently. “But we don’t have a space.”
Webster is trying to change that. He’s organizing a conference in Vancouver, Wash., this October called Let’s Connect. The event is tailored specifically for business owners, executives and other leaders who identify as Black, indigenous, people of color, women or veterans. But it is also a conference open to all. The event will offer professional and personal development, as well as an opportunity to network.
“We operate in tribes,” he said. “As an employee, you usually build your tribe with coworkers. … But as a freelancer or entrepreneur, you have to go out and find your community.”
Carol Parker-Walsh, J.D., Ph.D., will speak at the opening dinner on Thursday, October 7, 2021. The bestselling author, international speaker, consultant and member of the Forbes Coach Council advises high-achieving professional women, artists and athletes including Grammy Award winners and Paralympic gold medalists.
Clark College President Dr. Karin Edwards will be a panelist on Friday, October 8, along with business leaders such as Himalaya Rao-Potlapally, managing director of the Portland-area investment fund Black Founders Matter.
The two-day conference will be held at the Hilton in downtown Vancouver. There is a virtual option for the second day. Tickets range from $69 to $149. Penguin Nation Passport cardholders get a 15% discount. Sign up for the passport to get the benefit.
During a happy hour at the start of the conference, attendees will mingle to tunes spun by D.J. O.G. ONE, also known as David Jackson. Jackson, a music producer, is the official DJ for the Portland Trail Blazers and has shared the stage with point guard Damian Lillard, and rapper, songwriter and entertainment company owner Jay-Z.
Event director Webster said his work as a business consultant often involves connecting clients with one another, so they can learn from and support each other as they build their businesses. He conceived of this conference, which Webster hopes will become an annual event, a few years ago, when he started to wonder how he could offer connections on a larger scale.
“The (conferences) that have been the most engaging have been the ones that let the attendees be themselves and not have to code switch—not have to put on facades.”
According to Webster, business resources for people of color and other underrepresented groups are generally only available in larger cities.
“It’s not done in the suburbs,” Webster said. But as he was planning this conference, he thought, “why not do it in Vancouver?”
Clark County is largely white. The 2020 census states the county is 77.5% white; 2.4% Black; 1.2% indigenous; 5% Asian; .9% native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; and 10.2% Hispanic or Latino.
The conference is an idea that Webster conceived before the pandemic. Although some people are less likely to attend the in-person event because of COVID-19, Webster believes that others might consider attending the conference precisely because their lives have been upended by the pandemic. Webster said he regularly meets people who might never have considered starting a business or setting out as a private consultant if not for the pandemic.
“It’s made people rethink their lifestyles,” Webster said. “And it’s made businesses more open to the idea of hiring someone not as an employee but as a contractor or consultant. So it’s really opening up new possibilities.”
Story by Lily Raff McCaulou