E3 Durham

Across America, entrepreneurs continue to face deeply layered systemic, structural, cultural, and demographic inequities that prevent them from accessing equitable opportunities.

This is experienced in the form of bias, barriers, and bureaucratic challenges throughout their entrepreneurial journey—dynamics are exacerbated by disconnection from resources and by market volatilities, including the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and inequities in recovery fund distribution. Without new economic growth engines and explicit support strategies, entrepreneurs are at significant economic and social mobility risk.

To address these vital challenges in the Durham community, Forward Cities is supported by the City of Durham and Durham County to partner with trusted local organizations to launch E3 Durham initiative – a program designed to help underserved and under-connected entrepreneurs in the region to equitably start, grow, and scale businesses.

We believe that socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs can be better connected to technical assistance, capital, and business recovery/stimulus resources through a systems change approach prioritizing broader outreach, trusted navigators, culturally rooted community spaces and utilizing technology to scale reach and impact resilience.


Mike Byrd headshot

Mike Byrd

SBA Program Manager

Mr. Byrd is the Program Director for Forward Cities’ SBA Community Navigator Pilot Program in Durham, NC.  As program director, he collaborates with local government and other local partners to build and sustain a more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Durham area. Working under a hub and spoke model with Forward Cites as the hub, Mr. Byrd will work in close collaboration with the current following 6 spoke organizations: North Carolina Central University’s School of Business, Provident 1898, Durham Tech’s Small Business Center, Knox Studios, Helius Foundation, and Infinity Bridges.  Passionate and dedicated to the success of underserved business owners, Mr. Byrd looks forward to strengthening connections that exist in Durham. 

His commitment to underserved business owners extends to his earlier work as the former Interim Director of the North Carolina Central University’s MBA program where he also served as the faculty advisor to NCCU’s HBCU MBA Business Plan Competition Team.  Mr. Byrd has also worked as a commercial loan underwriter for Initiative Capital, a community development financial institution whose mission was to provide financing for minority entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofit organizations within low wealth communities. Most recently, Mr. Byrd took seriously the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and acted as a commercial loan underwriter for the US Small Business Administration’s EIDL loan program, as well underwriting SBA backed PPP loans for SmartBiz Loans, a Silicon Valley Fintech. 

Understanding that individuals are able to thrive when their communities are adequately resourced, Mr. Byrd takes the needs of the communities in Durham into account just as much as he considers the needs of individual business owners. His community-oriented work has included: serving 2 years as a Google Fiber Digital Inclusion Fellow; membership on the executive board of the Raleigh-Durham chapter of the National Black MBA Association; board membership at Lincoln Community Health Center, and currently Mr. Byrd is co-chair of the Bigger Better Business committee of the Durham alumni chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated.  He earned his Doctorate degree in the field of law at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Marshall College of Law, his Master of Business Administration degree from Cleveland State University, and his Bachelor of Business Administration from the NCCU School of Business.


Map of North Carolina with a pin on Durham

Utilizing a “hub and spoke” model, the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program helps level the playing field for America’s entrepreneurs, especially underserved women, people of color, veterans, and rural and low-income communities.

Forward Cities serves as a centralized, lead organization or "hub", and incorporates “spokes” to leverage partnerships with deeply trusted community-based organizations to help small businesses navigate government resources and tap into critical resources. Spokes include the following Durham-based organizations: Durham Tech Small Business CenterHelius FoundationInfinity BridgesKnox St. StudiosNorth Carolina Central University School of Business, and Provident 1898.

This initiative will be strengthened by ongoing support from leaders within the City of Durham’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development. Building on the success from the City’s Small Business Advisory Committee,  entrepreneurs participating in the pilot program will benefit from both the City of Durham and Durham County serving in an advisory capacity and providing pivotal institutional expertise, network support, and guidance to align and integrate opportunities and resources. Additional local partners will be connected as the program develops. National partners include SourceLink and Legal GPS.

This collaboration is a unique opportunity to create a more diverse, equitable, and innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem in Durham by bringing together an array of organizations and institutions — those with a long history of being deeply anchored in the community alongside grassroots leaders — all providing vital services for entrepreneurs in our community. Designed to create a robust new model for connecting everyone in our local economy, this highly collaborative project leverages the long history of support from both the City of Durham and Durham County with the expertise and best practices gleaned from Forward Cities’ national capacity building work.

The program takes a systems change approach to meet the expressed needs of these entrepreneurs:

  1. Trusted navigators
  2.  Learning and growth opportunities
  3.  Professional services
  4.  Capital and market opportunities
  5.  Connected community

Community Navigator Pilot Program

Building on Forward Cities’ ethos of ensuring Equity for Every Entrepreneur (E3), the E3 Durham program will deploy trusted Navigators to recruit and support underserved and under-connected entrepreneurs and small business owners through services focused on Connections, Convenings, Counseling, Capital, Care, Civic Supports, Communications, and Coordination. Forward Cities will train and equip a designated Navigator within each spoke to engage existing and aspiring entrepreneurs where they are, including in commercial corridors, religious institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), community and marketplace events, libraries, and digital spaces including on social media.

Entrepreneurs are guided through the following continuum of care: 







1. Intake, Assessment and Check-Ins

Trusted Navigators reach underrepresented entrepreneurs through community events, 1-on-1 outreach, and a digital navigation platform.

The Navigators conduct an intake process that assesses the unique needs of each entrepreneur and will support that entrepreneur through navigation services and bi-weekly check-ins.


2. Plan of Action

Entrepreneurs who enter the intake process are provided with a customized plan of action, warm handoffs to business counselors, and/or technical providers equipped and positioned to meet their unique needs.


3. Capital Resources

Once connected to the appropriate counselors, qualifying businesses are directed to regional sources of capital, grants, market and/or procurement opportunities, such as local, regional, state, federal grants; CDFI lending and grants; venture capital, alternative funding, community banking products, capital readiness programs, and more.


4. Workshops and Mentorship

Every entrepreneur is invited to attend a weekly gathering where they can participate in group workshops and network with service providers, mentors and other entrepreneurs.






The Durham Centre, courtesy of sestevens

The employment of local Navigators — individuals who already have extensive relationships in the community and have established credibility as trusted advisors — has been identified as a key need for Black business owners in Durham. 

The Community Navigator Pilot Program will support the development of a stronger network of local entrepreneur support organizations, improving trust and collaboration between institutional and grassroots organizations. This effort will build new bridges for disadvantaged entrepreneurs and further invigorate the palpable energy we still have based on the history of Black Wall Street in Durham.

This program is important because with over 300,000 residents, Durham County is growing in population size and diversity. Income and wealth inequalities are one of the key drivers of inequitable access to business ownership locally and nationally. 

Positioned within the Triangle and adjacent to Research Triangle Park, Durham is an optimal location for investment in developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem to support disadvantaged business owners. The resources are here but the connections between institutions and business owners, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, need more nurturing. Additional efforts to increase cultural competence, repair community relationships damaged by systemic inequities, and build trust are needed at the institutional level. 

For more information about the Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Durham, NC, contact Mike Byrd - Forward Cities SBA Program Manager at mbird@forwardcities.org.



Special Thank You

We're grateful for being able to partner with the following organizations to make an impact in Durham:

CNPP logos


Funded in part through a Grant with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

* Header photo courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto