Create or die.
That’s how “digital content architect” Michelle Ferrier dubs her program that brings together journalists, business owners, educators, programmers and the like to conjure up new vehicles for consumers of media. Moreover, it’s a fitting message for entrepreneurs in today’s unmerciful business climate.
While in Philadelphia attending the recent National Association of Black Journalists conference, I had the opportunity to meet Ferrier and a score of dynamic entrepreneurs, financiers and journalists during a special lunch meeting at a local Italian eatery. As you would expect, informal chats and introductory conversations eventually turned to our most pressing issue: The devastating impact of an alarmingly high Black unemployment rate of 16%. Instead of sharing a series of doomsday scenarios though, each attendee focused on targeted, long-term solutions.
The universal answer in the room could be boiled down to job creation through entrepreneurship. To do so will require adopting a philosophy akin to the one that drives Ferrier’s program: “Innovate, incubate, initiate.”
According to Deputy SBA Administrator Marie Johns, self-employed individuals represent 95% of roughly 2 million black-owned businesses nationwide. So it will take individual effort and partnership with government, corporations, foundations, HBCUs and other institutions to build Black enterprises of considerable size and scale.
Boldly participating in today’s “Innovation Economy,” Black entrepreneurs must create the next Google, Facebook, Apple and IBM.
The gathering and an NABJ session on start-up capital was organized by Mike Green, a journalist who lectures and writes a blog for the Huffington Post on innovation and business. Along with bio-life scientist Chad Womack, entrepreneur Johnathan Holifield and journalist/entrepreneur Sheila Brooks, he operates the Black Innovation and Competitiveness Initiative. Green says: “We are supported by three essential pillars of innovation — education, capital and entrepreneurship — and our strategy seeks to leverage existing assets within Black communities to create new opportunities and ensure competitiveness.” BICI is teaming up with Rutgers University and the White House to produce a major innovation forum for minority entrepreneurs on Nov. 17.
From developing digital-driven business models to advocating STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education for minority youth, many have embraced the charge. For example, William Crowder, a managing director with DreamIt Ventures, an outfit that offers capital and coaching to start-ups, shared how Comcast Minority Entrepreneur Accelerator Program he now oversees will produce next-generation tech firms. Tim Reese, co-founder of Minority Angel Investor Network, discussed investment in high-growth minority-owned companies. Hezekiah Griggs III, a managing partner of venture firm H360 Capital, spots “early-stage start-ups with market-disrupting ideas.” In fact, our August issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE reported on Silicon Valley-based NewMe Accelerator, an incubator providing instruction, technical expertise and potential financial assistance to emerging digerati.
Organic growth from start-up to established firm tends to be a long-term proposition. Those with the right concept, backing and management team can grow to become employment machines and powerful game changers. The most successful of the lot will join the ranks of the BE 100s in coming years.
This scenario has been played out before with BE 100s entertainment companies, urban apparel manufacturers and IT firms. For instance, hip hop mogul Russell Simmons’ Rush Communications and serial entrepreneur Bob Johnson’s BET Holdings started from scratch to realize exponential value growth. As a result, both provided significant employment and wealth-building opportunities. Exiting these ventures with enormous wealth — in fact, Johnson became the nation’s first black billionaire when he sold BET to media giant Viacom Inc. for roughly $3 billion in 2000 — they went on to build other lucrative enterprises.
In the IT space, BE‘s 2005 Company of the Year Dimensions International increased its value in the homeland security sector after 9/11 and purchasing fellow BE 100s firm SENTEL Corp. By 2007, tech leviathan Honeywell acquired DI for $230 million. As part of the deal, CEO Russell Wright was able to spin off SENTEL as a separate entity which currently ranks No. 52 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 with gross revenues of $73.2 million and employs 343 workers.
Will the next generation of entrepreneurs successfully capitalize on today’s hot spots like digital technology, social media and data science and create companies with valuations that will rival Google or LinkedIn? To borrow Ferrier’s maxim, it will take innovation, incubation and initiation.
Next week in Power Moves: “5 Steps to Create Your Profitable Tech Start-up”