Businesswoman Carla Ladd: Supporting Black Businesses and Building Generational Wealth

Businesswoman Carla Ladd: Supporting Black Businesses and Building Generational Wealth

Entrepreneurship runs through her blood.

“My grandmother was an entrepreneur, her mother was an entrepreneur and my father was an entrepreneur,” says Carla Ladd, a natural-born leader with a passion and heart for working to support Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. “I was born to be an entrepreneur.”

Though her father started several different businesses throughout Carla’s life, her mother worked as a registered nurse with the Veterans Administration. “My mom believed in clocking in and clocking out of a job and staying at that job until you retire,” says Ladd, who at 18 years old told her mother that she wanted to work for herself.

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Ladd worked at Hughes Aircraft as a test engineer after graduating from California State University in Los Angeles with a degree in electrical engineering. She relocated to Colorado in 1996 when she accepted a job as a system engineer for Lockheed Martin.

While settling into her new position and a new city she was still drawn to the idea of a life where she was working for herself. “Something wasn’t feeling right,” she says about her time as an engineer. Her heart was elsewhere; it didn’t belong to corporate America anymore. 

In 2002, her entrepreneurial spirit was ignited when she created an online directory of Black businesses through her company, Innovative Internet Marketing Solutions (IIMS). “My first business, DenverBlackPages, is dedicated to the development and growth of Denver’s Black community. assists business owners to market their goods, services and events to Denver metro’s Black residents and visitors.”

Business owners can apply on the DBP website to be listed in the directory. Ladd’s side hustle that turned into a true business has also served the community by offering strategic workshops to help people build their businesses, their products and what their audience may want.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, DBP offered 90-minute pitch workshops for established business owners to share with the DBP team what their businesses are about and how the committee can support them while exchanging some strategic advice. Recently DBP has done business takeovers at Black-owned restaurants in Colorado. In April, Ladd served as a guest bartender at Agave Shore. “Twenty-five of us supported Jessie’s Smokin’ Nola restaurant by making everyone from our group purchase something from the menu. We plan to continue events like this in the future,” she explains.

DBP’s success was an indication to Ladd that she should consider pursuing a life of entrepreneurship. Her mother—one of her main supporters— reminded her of the words she spoke when she was 18 years old. Around the age of 40 she took the leap and left her job to focus on her business and has never looked back.

The DBP advisory board noticed the success of the strategic workshops, and felt like they could expand their efforts to promote Black entrepreneurship with networking. In 2005, Mountain Region Black Economic Summit (MRBES) was born. For 13 years, the summit served the community by promoting Black generational wealth and financial literacy. Speakers from all over the country and vendors would attend this annual event, making the summit the largest gathering of Black professionals, influencers and business owners in the region.

Re-engineering the Summit

The MRBES was last held in 2018. After that, Ladd took some time away from the organization to re-engineer the focus and goal of MRBES. Then COVID-19 hit the world in 2020 and further postponed the return of the MRBES, but it also gave her and her team more time to cultivate and craft a better organization to support Black generational wealth. This summer will be the return of the summit but with a new name: BIPOC Economic Success Trust (B.E.S.T. dba Black Economic Summit.) 

She emphasizes that “Our guiding principles remain the same: community development and economic self-sufficiency for historically disadvantaged communities of color.” The B.E.S.T website states the goal of the organization is “to minimize the traumatic effects of racism in BIPOC communities by strategically leveraging partnerships in an effort to dismantle systemic barriers that impede building wealth.” The organization’s economic development focus areas are small business, leadership and workforce development, homeownership, financial literacy, youth economic empowerment, and addressing the barriers to achieving economic success.

She is looking forward to the B.E.S.T Summit returning this summer. The two-day event will start June 9 at the Sheraton Hotel Downtown with all-day events like the Success Summit Legacy Luncheon where Emmy award-winning 9News anchor Alexandra Lewis will host a “fireside chat” about rules for success with Denver native Big Jon Platt, who serves as chairman and CEO of Sony Music Publishing. The job expo, free and open to the public, will be held at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium on Saturday, June 10.

Ladd is excited about the 2028 Project that will be presented at this year’s summit. “The 2028 project is a collaboration of government entities, resource providers and community stakeholders to align priorities and enable accountability around Black economic empowerment,” she explains.

B.E.S.T will work with stakeholders to help develop a strategic plan to focus on four important key areas: small business, workforce, leadership development, and youth economic empowerment starting with Colorado’s Black community.

“Black people are left out in the dark when it comes to financial resources and wealth building. We want to start with our community to ensure we expose the community to these resources before branching out to other communities,” she adds.

One exciting element of the Black Economic Summit Trust is the Empowering Youth Economics (EYE) Program’s – EYE on the Future Project. The mentorship and leadership development program that will guide Black youth from 8th grade to high school graduation in 2028. B.E.S.T is now accepting 50 Black students entering the 8th grade in the fall of 2023. The program will cover financial literacy training, college and career planning, college scholarships, internships, apprenticeships, and mentorships. This is a free event but requires a firm commitment from students and families.

The program will kick off at the B.E.S.T. summit on June 9. EYE is the summit’s response to combat the increasing youth poverty in Denver. Ladd believes starting with kids is the best way to gain generational wealth. “Students will learn how to avoid getting in debt, how to properly spend, and all the resources you need to know about living a financially successful life. Parents can learn about homeownership through the 2028 project,” she says. 

Legacy Planning

Ladd wants B.E.S.T. to be her legacy. She recently turned B.E.S.T into a 501(c)3 nonprofit so the legacy can continue without her. “I want to pass the torch. I want this program to continue when I am no longer with the organization,” she says.

Legacy is something she is also hoping to share through the EYE on the Future Program through the 2028 Project where youth will create legacies that can be passed down from generation to generation. “That is how we can sustain the generational wealth in our community,” she shares.

She also believes the older generation of business owners should impart wisdom to the younger generation about the trials and tribulations of starting a business. “You only know what you know. If no one is teaching you or guiding you, you are going to be lost,” says Ladd, who notes that mentorship helped her along the way as an entrepreneur.

Two people, in particular, were in her corner. The late businessmen, Lu Vason (Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo founder) and entrepreneur David Thompson, helped her become the businesswoman she is today. “They both helped me a lot and I’m grateful for their mentorship. They helped me see blind spots in my business and told me if something would work or not work.”

Ladd says Thompson and Vason “helped me establish a relationship with the Black business owners of Denver.” She now pays it forward to the newer generation by serving as a board member for some nonprofits and creating bonds with young entrepreneurs.

Since building both of her businesses, she has received numerous awards including the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce’s Clara Brown Award, the Colorado Black Women for Political Action’s Community Service Award, the Gospel Music Workshop of America Business Award, the National Council of Negro Women’s Business Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Business Award. 

Importance of Mentorship

Growing two businesses has not been easy. She has learned about the inevitable business blunders an entrepreneur would encounter. “The first year I hosted the summit I did not know how much money an event could lose by not raising enough money,” she says. “I had to cover the loss with the main income from my job.”

She explains that at the time of organizing the summit, she didn’t raise enough money to cover the amount of loss her summit would make from not selling enough tickets. “I undervalued my worth,” she says, which is a common thing Black business owners and entrepreneurs will do to themselves.

Becoming an entrepreneur can feel like you are charting uncharted waters and there are many pitfalls, doubts and negative energy from people. Ladd’s advice is to “ignore the negativity and keep pressing. Not everyone is going to understand or support your dreams, and that’s okay. It’s your dream, not theirs. Not everyone is part of your tribe.”

From her desire to combat youth poverty, advance Black people’s economics and help businesses, she has written herself into Colorado’s history.

Editor’s note: Parents can submit applications for the 2028 Youth Economics Project with B.E.S.T at