Developing the ‘New Minority Entrepreneur’

With a huge focus and effort on highlighting the success of minorities in technology and innovation during South by Southwest (SXSW) 2013, we must continue to ask the question, “Why are there so few African American and Latino entrepreneurs?”

A Kaufmann Foundation and Young Invincibles poll found that 65% of Latinos and 64% of Blacks ages 18 — 34 desired to start a business, compared to 45% of whites, and the number of minority entrepreneurs continues to remain low.

The “Cultivating the New Minority Entrepreneur” panelists–co-founder of IncubateNYC Marcus Mayo; Laura Weidman Powers, co-founder and executive director of Code 2040; John Butler, Ph.D. , chair of University of Texas IC2 Incubator, and founder and CEO of Pipeline Fellowship Natalia Oberti Noguera–discussed the changing Gen Y minority entrepreneurship paradigm, as well as ways the community can help cultivate this sector of entrepreneurs.

Programs such as CNN’s Black in America 4, which focused on African-American tech entrepreneurs seeking to hit it big, continue to show that the subject of race in technology, as it pertains to startups, continues to be a hot button topic. “From the Etsy to Foursquare, founders have focused on how they want the world to look. That’s the beauty of entrepreneurship,” said Mayo, who runs an incubation program alongside his business partner Brian Shields. Over the past year, the duo has worked on assisting minorities from all occupations. The goal is to make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone, regardless of race or background.  “From the stay-at-home mom to the marketing executive, as long as you have a good idea, IncubateNYC can help you focus it into a valuable product,” added Mayo.

One of the key takeaways from the panel: Venture capital firms are often looking for people that look like them, and have the same ideas; often times that does not align with the background of minority entrepreneurs. “Minority entrepreneurs is not a new phenomenon, there have always been the small business entrepreneurs in our community.  Therefore, we need to recognize that entrepreneurship is not new to our community,” Mayo said. “However, the focus is on the lack of high-scalable businesses started by minorities.  That is where you see the tremendous drop off in numbers.”

Mayo believes we need to change our view of success and risk, noting that our support systems–our parents, friends, and the like–have to understand that the Gen Y professional can sacrifice the high-paying job or advanced professional degree for a stab at entrepreneurship.

While minorities are often deterred from taking the risk of starting a business, this must change. “What’s special about Generation Y minorities is that the motivation for starting a business is associated with a desire to express themselves through their entrepreneurial endeavors,” said Butler.

Mayo pointed out that the problem could be resolved if programs and community efforts were made to help raise the visibility of minority entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to youth entering into technology and STEM fields.

“Being an entrepreneur is one of the best ways to change the world,” said Powers during the end of the panel. With programs like IncubateNYC and Butler’s IC2 Incubator, hopefully we will see more minorities working to change the world, one startup at a time.

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