Black Entrepreneurship Topic of White House Summit

Dorothy Rowley | 4/25/2012, 11:55 a.m.

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