Entrepreneur is synonymous with privilege. Universities with the largest endowment in the United States, mostly predominantly white institutions, are the same schools that make up the largest number of funding founders.
Graduates and alumni of this school capitalize on institutional networks during their matriculation, and many are well-prepared to tackle the entrepreneurial journey after leaving college, enabled by interconnected, well-funded fundraisers that welcome them in open arms and pockets.
But when we say “entrepreneur”, who exactly are we talking about? Merriam-Webster’s defines an entrepreneur “The person who organizes, manages, and estimates the risks of a business or enterprise.”
While that definition is actually broad, it often does not align with society’s perception of entrepreneurs and the actions associated with them. The idea of an entrepreneur is the alarm of a white man, usually a well-known and well-informed university. All too often, this realization is true.
In order to truly diversify an entrepreneur, we must break down the concept of an entrepreneur as young, white and masculine.
In many cases, prestigious university alumni launch startups and other entrepreneurial ventures, aligned with a population profile that specializes in securing funding and consistently gains access to capital. Even with the overall gain of black founders’ access to capital in recent months, the amount of venture capital going to black founders is relatively low.
Similarly, the growth of pipeline programs for black students at the national and local levels to develop mentorship and professional growth has also led to a relatively greater success in realizing long-term leadership opportunities than their white male counterparts. But the success of the pipeline program did not translate into equitable funding.
This is where the opportunity for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) lies. Following the rapid growth of enrollment over the past year, HBCUs are well positioned to lead the next generation of entrepreneurs to train and champion by promising and creating programs that emphasize business experience, creativity, innovation and strong network building.
Related: The demand among black, Latino students fuels the college’s entrepreneurial program
An in-depth look at data highlighting entrepreneurial fundraising demonstrates the need for programs beyond pipelines and capacity building. Although slowly increasing, access to capital for black founders is still inadequate compared to their white male counterparts, even for women, especially black and Latina women. According to DigitalDivide.com’s biennial report ProjectDiane, black and Latina women received only 0.64 percent of total venture capital investment between 2018 and 2019, despite being founders at record rates.
In order to truly diversify entrepreneurship, we must perceive an entrepreneur as young, white and masculine and create a more inclusive approach so that everyone can imagine themselves in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
We can accomplish this by equipping HBCU students with the tools, resources, and networks to navigate a funding pipeline with entrepreneurial and innovation programs as part of the core academic curriculum and student experience at HBCU – and profound inconsistencies in equity.
HBCU provides a culturally relevant educational environment and assists in the development of individual and cultural identity. As demonstrated by the growing HBCU enrollment, Black and Latino / single students are looking for institutions where they feel safe and supported; Including security, safety and community building.
Enabling HBCU students to explore their identity and ambitions in a safe place and envisioning entrepreneurship as an effective career opportunity will help close entrepreneurial diversity and equity gaps.
The good news is that a number of HBCU organizations and communities are already developing programs and resources to address this need. Programs such as the SpellPrenure Incubator and the recently launched Howard University Center for Women, Gender, and Global Leadership are a start.
Studies have shown that black and Latino / an entrepreneur come from a wide variety of backgrounds and approach entrepreneurs from a community-centered perspective. HBCU partnerships with community-based programs have the potential to reach out to neglected and less meaningful founders.
For example, programs like Entrepreneur Development Network DC, where local founders and entrepreneurs gain experience and advice in measuring their small business, have the potential to reach entrepreneurs in a way that empowers their community.
We must expand such programs. Preparing HBCU students to be leaders in their communities and in their respective fields and teaching them how to innovate and showcase their achievements through entrepreneurship is essential for national economic expansion. Funding for similar or similar programs should be a priority for state and local governments and stakeholders who want to support and grow small businesses.
By prioritizing entrepreneurial curriculum development and pedagogy, HBCUs will help students better prepare for success. Moreover, these historical institutions will be able to lead conversations to redefine what it means to be an entrepreneur, moving forward not only in the present but also in the future.
Kayana M. Stuart is the CEO and chief consultant of GlobalForce Tech Consulting, LLC, a technology consulting and software development firm, and the president of 501 (c) (3) education technology nonprofit GlobalForce For Girls, Inc. He has a Ph.D. Student in the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies program at Howard University.
Produced by this piece about HBCUs and entrepreneurs Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter.