If one has the time, energy and plan, jump-starting a business can bea cinch. But that's not necessarily the case if the chance at entrepreneurship falls beyond the reach of a deserving
African-American student who welcomes the challenge, but lacks resources and guidance.
That scenario and others were addressed during a recent summit sponsored by the Small Business Association (SBA) and U. S. Department of Education in collaboration with the White House.
"Entrepreneurship and innovation is actually occurring at every one of your institutions," Marie Johns, SBA deputy administrator, told a mixed gathering of business owners, government experts and leaders from several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) during the April 16 White House summit.
Johns moderated the two-hour meeting that consisted of two panel discussions. She said it aimed to get young people excited about entrepreneurial opportunities and to make sure they get counseling and
other support needed to get businesses up and running.
"We know it's just not business majors who are interested," said Johns. "Our job at the SBA – which boasts 17 development centers on
HBCU campuses across the country – is to ensure that innovative ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit can be harnessed, and then transformed into successful businesses."
Johnathan Holifield, co-founder of The America 21 Project, described the summit as a "wonderful catalytic first step" for getting more black students to consider business ownership.
"We need to create a thrust to complement existing entrepreneurship and small business leadership to ensure that African Americans as well as Latinos and others are connected to the innovation economy," said Holifield. "We have in our communities and in our HBCUs, good programs and good support systems – but we lack emphasis on explosive-growth for the kinds of companies that are responsible for the disproportionately high amount of jobs [created]."
Panelist Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College, stressed that African Americans are the original entrepreneurs because many bought their own freedom out of slavery.
She said HBCUs must continually embrace the notion of mentrepreneurship. "It doesn't have to be as extensive . . . but there certainly must be some presence on our campuses . . . to basically assist our communities" as well.
Malveaux said Bennett has been on the entrepreneurial bandwagon for at least four years, with several buildings having been erected on the campus.
"Those four buildings meant that we put $21 million worth of economic development into Greensboro, N. C., at a time when nobody was hiring," said Malveaux, who alluded to the growing number of sub-contractors who became self-employed through campus-oriented opportunities.
"One of the things that I insisted [on], was that the major contractor made sure 50 percent of the [sub-contractors] were people of color. . . [and] that's the role we [currently] play" in creating black-owned and operated businesses," Malveaux said.
When asked what he tells young people bent on becoming their own bosses, panelist D. T. Ogilvie of Rutgers University, responded that entrepreneurship is one of the most important subjects that can be
taught. He noted a campus project which encourages youth to think about owning businesses.
"We're doing something called 'Lemonade Day' in Newark for the first time," Ogilvie said. "Kids from kindergarten to age 12 learn how to be entrepreneurs in the context of developing a lemonade stand. [They learn] all the attributes of business" by putting a stand together to acquiring money for supplies, marketing and hiring.
"And that's important, because our young people need to be aware of entrepreneurship as an alternative career," said Ogilvie. "We believe that entrepreneurship is the key."
Ron Stodgill, director of the Small Business Incubator/Think Tank at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), said his campus has already ventured out to the business sector in Charlotte, N. C.
"What's happening in Charlotte is the realization that it's taking more than the banking community to power the economy," Stodgill said of JCSU's effort to align with the city's business district. "But our efforts are embryonic and won't happen overnight," he cautioned.
To that end, Holifield stressed that gatherings like the summit are think tanks that can also offer solutions.
"We want to make sure we not only focus on general entrepreneurship, which is a necessary part of our overall economic development strategy," he said. "But we also have to build a thrust that's focused on innovation at our HBCUs, and converting the intellectual capacity and property that emerge out of them intocommercial opportunities or real enterprise opportunities."