I had the pleasure of serving on a panel at the recent White House HBCU Entrepreneurship Conference. A blue-ribbon panel of luminaries from academia and industry was on hand at the invitation of avid U.S. Black Chamber supporter Marie Johns, Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Enlightening. Encouraging. Affirming. Each of these could describe the outcomes of the all-day session. It really had my Florida A&M ”Rattlers” and Clark Atlanta University “Panthers” blood pumping.
The consensus of everyone in attendance? America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) must commit themselves to: develop the next generation of Black business leaders; be centers of excellence and thought leaders on entrepreneurship; jumpstart innovation in the communities they serve; and encourage and foster entrepreneurial activity among students before graduation.
As you might imagine, the discussions were wide-ranging, touching on globalization, technology, re-engineering education models, access to capital, and the lingering impacts of discrimination on all of the above. There were reports of real-world successes from Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, and Ron Stodghill, director of Johnson C. Smith University’s Innova Laboratory, a business incubator. Though not HBCUs, Silicon Valley’s Mission College, represented by President Laurel Jones, and d.t. Ogilvie, founder of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development at Rutgers Business School, provided real-world examples of the kind of innovation that HBCUs can emulate and monetize.
The harshness of the reality as presented by one panelist brought home just how critical it is that HBCUs embrace this latest challenge: the total revenues of all 2 million Black-owned businesses contribute less than 2 percent to America’s GDP. As incredible as that sounds, that figure represents growth in performance and highlights just how much room to grow Black business owners have.
The USBC is going to pitch in and do what we can to help. We’ll start by making sure several student business leaders are able to attend our upcoming School of Chamber Management this July 24-28 in Washington, D.C. Maybe they’ll learn something; maybe we’ll learn a thing or two from them.
We’ll also commit to encouraging closer cooperation between our member chambers and the business departments of HBCUs located near them. I’m certain only good things can come from increased interaction between current and future business leaders.
There is no question that the rebirth of Black Entrepreneurship will take root and grow on the campuses of America’s Black colleges and universities. Thousands of bright, talented young men and women focused on using their brains to change the economies of their communities and the world. What’s not to like about that?
And finally, I must acknowledge the Obama administration. I have mentioned SBA Deputy Administrator Marie Johns, Donald Cravins from the Senate Committee on Small Business and others. More importantly, the president gets it. Virtually every agency has embraced his insistence on inclusion. Maybe I’m just feeling good because I’m the product of two HBCUs, but to have the White House in the fight with us, that’s really a good thing.
Ron Busby is president of the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc.