Bro. Wilson Lester to leave Piedmont Business Capital for statewide venture |
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Bro. Wilson Lester to leave Piedmont Business Capital for statewide venture

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Wilson Lester has spent the past five years repositioning Piedmont Business Capital and growing the Greensboro-based, community-minded investment fund’s impact tenfold.

Now, he’s moving on to a bigger challenge. Lester is departing to take on a new venture with a similar aim that will continue to serve minority entrepreneurs across the state of North Carolina, specifically those seeking equity to grow and scale their economic footing.

Lester will step down as executive director of Piedmont Business Capital on June 30. He will then become a managing partner of Partners in Equity (PIE), which he founded last year with Durham-based entrepreneurs Napoleon Wallace and Talib Graves-Manns.

They are starting the Impact Investment Fund after receiving $7.5 million from one family-owned fund that saw significant alignment with PIE’s goal “to serve minority entrepreneurs across the state of North Carolina, specifically those seeking equity to grow and scale their economic footing.”

“There is an entire class of opportunity that requires equity to pursue. There are many entrepreneurs who don’t have access to that. Our fund fixes that,” Lester said.

Lester said the three partners share a passion for helping minority business owners.

“We’re three guys in the economic development system in North Carolina who have been sounding boards for each other and ideating together on how we could get more investment in black and brown businesses across the state.”

Starting on a low note

The threesome saw the need for greater access to capital with the theme of equity a few years ago, founded the business in 2019 and were funded in 2020.

“We launched last year just before the pandemic began. We were going to lean in late March/early April. Then Covid … changed our immediate focus.”

The investment fund temporarily turned into a relief fund, providing grants through ResilNC, a Partners in Equity Initiative that supports historically marginalized business owners in North Carolina.

But now it’s time to get back to the business of funding business. Lester will soon join Wallace and Graves-Manns working full time as managing partners at PIE.

Lester said Partners in Equity has chosen to establish its headquarters on East Market Street in downtown Greensboro. The office should be open around Memorial Day, and Lester said the company hopes to add to its staff of one later this year.

“Greensboro is a very special community for us and a community that we characterized as representative of driving institutional and societal change and progress,” Lester said. “Our fund is specifically designed to promote institutional, societal change and create businesses owned by people of color.”

Lester also said Greensboro’s central location provides easy access to the rest of the state.

“Anywhere you need to go, it’s three hours tops,” he said.

Not only does does Lester, 37, live in Greensboro with his wife, Jasmine, and their two daughters, but Graves-Manns also spent much of his childhood in Greensboro before heading to school at Hampton University.

Graves-Manns has founded several business in the Raleigh-Durham area, including: Knox Street Studios, a small business accelerator; AutoPilot Worldwide, a luxury lifestyle brand engineered to address the specific needs of trendsetters through custom innovations; Point AB Consulting; and Black Wall Street, an annual networking conference for early-stage entrepreneurs held in Durham. He has an MBA from the Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University.

Wallace served as deputy secretary in the N.C. Department of Commerce from 2017-2019 and is also the co-founder of The Activest, a research firm that works to highlight social justice concerns and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) risks. He was formerly the social investment officer at the Kresge Foundation, served on the executive staff at Self-Help Credit Union from 2010-2016, and was a Carolina Entrepreneurial Fellow at UNC-Chapel Hill from 2008-2010.

Leaving on a high note

Lester said he is also excited about Piedmont Business Capital’s future.

“We have truly put things in place that will make the organization sustainable,” Lester said.

Piedmont Financial, which became a certified community development financial institution in 2011, hired Lester in 2016. During his tenure, PBC:

  • Loaned more than $2.5 million to small businesses across the Triad $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000 dollars at a time;
  • Increased assets by 531%.
  • Secured more than $3M in grants for both operating and lending;
  • Developed regional partnerships with the Winston-Salem Foundation, Greater Greensboro Community Foundation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

PBC gave out $100,000 in loans in his first year, and that total steadily increased, hitting $300,000 in 2019. Then, PBC gave out $1.5 million in loans in 2020 as the pandemic devastated small businesses.

“In just five short years, we have become a regional contributor and solution for entrepreneurs seeking small-business debt capital to launch, sustain and grow their companies,” Lester said.

Lester was named one of TBJ’s Power Players this year and was one of TBJ’s 2019 40 Under 40 award winners in 2018

Wilson Lester has been a transformational leader for Piedmont Business Capital, growing the fund exponentially over the past five years. The fund is poised to help hundreds of small and minority- owned businesses in the region obtain financing for their needs,” said Kim Cameron, executive director of the N.C. A&T Real Estate Foundation.

“This access to capital is even more important to be within reach for the next few years as we rebuild our economy after the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

PBC is performing a national search to identify a successor.

Wilson Lester will be sorely missed. His vision, insightfulness, passion, and charisma was instrumental in the success of Piedmont Business Capital the last five years,” said Karl Robinson, chair of the PBC board of directors.

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