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What Do You Do When You're Not Lawyering?: Elevate

Two black men in business attire shaking hands

As an attorney, I understand the importance of networking, building relationships, and developing business opportunities.  However, most of the networking events I attended as a junior associate were not particularly diverse. Given my upbringing and background, I often struggled with “small talk” and finding things in common to talk about. It just felt really unnatural. But, as an entrepreneur with a side business co-owning The Exchange & Alibi Lounge in downtown Minneapolis, I was able to do something about it.

Determined to diversify my networking settings, I created “Elevate Our Network” in January 2017, which is a weekly event geared towards bringing together diverse professionals in the Twin Cities.  While the networking event is open to everyone, it has certainly become a popular place for diverse entrepreneurs and professionals to gather, unwind after a long week, celebrate birthdays, promotions, and other achievements, and deepen relationships. The atmosphere is casual and low stress, which makes networking easier and more natural, in my opinion.


Over the last five years, Elevate Our Network has partnered hundreds of diverse individuals, minority-owned businesses, and diversity-based organizations to continue providing a space to bring together diverse professionals


Just a few months after launching Elevate Our Network, I was a panelist at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal Diversity in Business Forum, which included a report on a study conducted by Make It. MSP. and the University of St. Thomas.  The research explored why the metro area loses professionals of color at a much higher rate than white professionals. The study was based on a survey of 1,228 professionals of color, in addition to a focus group of 65 participants. Two findings from the study really stuck out for me: (1) 56% were dissatisfied with the quality and quantity of culturally relevant events and activities in the community; and (2) 50% said it was difficult to connect with people outside of co-workers. During the Forum, I took the opportunity to explain that Elevate Our Network provides a high-quality, “culturally relevant,” weekly space for diverse professionals to meet and connect with other diverse professionals. Thankfully, over the last five years, Elevate Our Network has partnered hundreds of diverse individuals, minority-owned businesses, and diversity-based organizations to continue providing a space to bring together diverse professionals – often hundreds on a weekly basis gathering at The Exchange & Alibi Lounge.

During the unprecedented last couple of years with the pandemic, however, The Exchange & Alibi Lounge closed for a lengthy period, like all other hospitality businesses.  I didn’t want what I had built from the ground up with Elevate Our Network to die, so I had to quickly pivot.  I decided to revamp the Elevate Our Network logo to create a lifestyle brand and movement called “Elevate.”  Since I couldn’t curate a space for people to gather in-person, I thought I could connect people through my brand by selling merchandise such as hoodies, t-shirts, hats, etc. with the Elevate logo front and center.  As the proverbial saying goes, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” and we all start somewhere.  The Elevate mantra is a reminder to level up, rise up, improve, and become better day after day.


The Elevate mantra is a reminder to level up, rise up, improve, and become better day after day.


Today, Elevate Our Network is going strong with weekly events and hundreds of people are wearing Elevate merchandise around the Twin Cities and throughout the country.  As a result of what I have created outside of the law, I was honored as the 2021 Male Entrepreneur of the Year by Black Business Enterprise at the annual Black Business Ball in November 2021, recognizing my Elevate brand and the diverse networking space I created at The Exchange & Alibi Lounge.



Family of 12 in red, blue, green, and purple shirts with a city skyline in backgroundBy Chris Pham
Chris Pham (pictured center) is a shareholder at Fredrikson & Byron. He is an advisor for clients in business, sports and entertainment, where his clients range from start-up entrepreneurs to nationally recognized athletes and businesses. He is committed to pro bono work and leads the firm’s inclusion and diversity initiatives. He is also the co-chair of the firm’s Sports & Entertainment Group. 
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