In my many years of working with and launching Silicon Valley startups, I can honestly say my skin color has had no noticeable impact on my opportunities for success. This may surprise some, but the reality is that great ideas are the ultimate equalizers. And in the startup world, green—not brown, black, or white—is the only color that matters.
Think about it–if Mark Zuckerberg had been an African American, do you think prospective Facebook investors would have said, “Nah, I’m not going to invest in that. I don’t like the color of his skin”?
Entrepreneurship is a natural part of African American culture. We are intrinsically competitive by nature, pushing the boundaries of every major sport in this country and noted for our innovation of popular music and fashion.
Still, we can do better—much better—to foster entrepreneurship for future generations, particularly in technology. How can we ensure that future Mark Zuckerbergs look like us?
1. Talk Business at the Dinner Table
When I was growing up, my family never discussed business or finances at the dinner table—and my dad was an accountant! It’s still that way in many African American households. But, you know what? Other cultures do it, and my most successful peers all do this, as well. They’re not ashamed or embarrassed to bring up work related topics or household finances with their families. By doing so, their children learn, at a very early age, what it means to be financially responsible and what it takes to run a business and a household.
2. Stress STEM
Too often in the African American community, we discount studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in favor of subjects such as psychology, sociology, or African American studies. When I entered college, I wanted to major in philosophy. My father set me straight. If he was going to help pay for my college, I needed to major in something I could get a job in after graduating, hence, my double-major in philosophy and computer science.
3. De-emphasize Sports
Each year, there are just over 400 roster spots in the NBA and 1,600 in the NFL. How many young people have a shot of going pro? The answer: 0.001%. Why then, do we perpetuate the fallacy that pro sports are the only “way out” towards financial success? Instead of stressing sports, we should be pushing debate club and chess club—the extracurricular activities that most all my friends in Silicon Valley participated in during high school.
4. Embrace Technology
Every Christmas and birthday, my wish list was the same: I wanted the latest computer, video game console, or electronics. My mother could never understand this, or why I spent so much time playing video games, or tinkering with electronics, but she was supportive. And, as it turns out, she was supporting the right things. Video games, for instance, are great for training your logical and mathematical mind and realizing the rewards and repercussions of risk-taking.
5. Invest in the Arts
Too many of our schools are failing us by funding sports (see point No. 3) at the expense of the arts. But the arts—music, drama, painting, drawing, dance—have a significant benefit beyond creative expression. Studies show a deep correlation between music and mathematics. Kids exposed to music at an early age tend to excel at math at a later age, and kids who participate in the arts tend to be far more creative and independent; key traits of almost all entrepreneurs.