Black Enterprise spoke with John Hope Bryant to learn more about his efforts to promote entrepreneurship and financial literacy in communities of color. His initiative, named HOPE Business in a Box Academies, aims to achieve this goal by nurturing the talents of young people through role modeling and formal instruction.
BE: What is the HOPE Business in a Box Academy?
BYRANT: We have designed something with the customer in mind—the customer is the child. When kids are dropping out of your schools at a 30% to 70% rate, something is wrong with the business, not the kids. So my conclusion is that we have just simply failed to connect education and aspiration. What many people really want is economic opportunity. So what we’ve done is connect economic opportunity with education.
There are three components to the HOPE Business in a Box Academy curriculum: a course in financial literacy, self-esteem building, and a primer course in entrepreneurship. Whether you want to become an entrepreneur or not is irrelevant. Being an entrepreneur helps you run a family, your life, and helps you to be innovative and creative. Entrepreneurship fosters a solutions-based mindset. It creates leaders.
We give the students 25 business ideas they can start for $500 or less. After the students pick an idea, they’re required to write a short-form business plan. Then we put each of them in front of their peers on a stage in their school’s auditorium, and we do a pitch event. It’s like Shark Tank for kids. The kids are judged by local business leaders. We don’t use stars like Jay Z. There’s nothing wrong with Jay Z, but we like to invite people such as the local CPA, the local small business owner, and the local dentist. We want to make smart sexy. These people are not entertainers, but they’re easily pulling down six-figure salaries. They may even have a million dollar net worth, but these kids don’t know that.
The kids get two minutes to pitch their business. If they win, they get an award of up to $500 to fund their business idea. Part of the award is a tablet PC with Internet connection that has all the business tools on it to run a small business. They’re also assigned a business role model.
The kids cannot get their entire reward money unless they open a bank account. We have about 40 million unbanked people in this country—most of them people of color—and that’s a problem. If you don’t understand the language of money, and you don’t have a bank account, you’re an economic slave.
Gallup will measure the back-end experience of every U.S. public school that we put this in for free for 100 years. They will measure hope, well-being, engagement, financial literacy, and economic energy per school and report the results so we can measure success and failure.
BE: Does anyone check up on the kids to see if their businesses thrived or failed?
BRYANT: We appoint one fellow for every four schools who tracks performance and reports results to us and to our investors. I believe we are going to see students graduate from this program and have such success that they become like the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, John Rogers, or Reginald Lewis. We have lots of talent in our community, but it has to be nurtured. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’re going to see some superstars come out of the HOPE Business in a Box Academy.