In the first post, Entrepreneuring While Black: Here’s Our Situation, I indicated that while entrepreneurial startup activity is on the rise, Black entrepreneurs still face barriers their white counterparts do not. To that end, I want to continue the series offering fact-based recommendations and guidance in the hopes of making gainful advances that have measurable impact in the area of Black entrepreneurship. One such area is awareness: elevating the exposure of Blacks to Entrepreneurship as a viable career path, including access and exposure to supporting professional development programs, and advanced opportunities to market and sell products/services successfully. The objective is 1) for Blacks to increase their consideration of a career in entrepreneurship; and 2) consumers to increase their consideration and consumption of Black venture-based products/services.
Increase Exposure to Entrepreneurship
“If you ask 10 people on the street to name five entrepreneurs, 99 percent of them are going to name five white men. The more that other minorities and women see successful entrepreneurs, (they think) I can do this, too.” Alicia Robb
Black entrepreneurs lack access to tools, resources and funding required to ensure their businesses can thrive. Before they even get to the point where these considerations hold them back, though, they face other hurdles. While having a foundation that allows Black entrepreneurs to develop a strong network of connections that will provide them with the knowledge of how to operate a successful business is a critical step, oftentimes Black entrepreneurs lack the foundational skills required to build and utilize a business network.
In my first post, I mentioned how I benefited from my participation in INROADS, a non-profit organization founded to fix the lack of ethnic diversity in corporate America. INROADS afforded me a great opportunity to intern at a notable company bolstered with professional development workshops and mentors. Along with working with individual INROADs advisors, my senior vice president served as my mentor introducing me to the sage of Peter Drucker (I strongly recommend reading“The Effective Executive”) and providing me with business guidance that I carry with me to this day.
Yet, many Black entrepreneurs do not have access to similar networks and mentors. That’s a huge obstacle they must overcome. Mentors can help expand one’s network, increase access to resources, and share lessons from their experiences. Additionally, with this foundation in place, can entrepreneurs concentrate on the hard work of building a business.
Many of the fastest growing and most successful companies have access to executives at top companies such as Google and Facebook, who without coincidence serve as board members, advisors or initial investors to these startups. These top execs have strong ties to top schools such as Stanford, Wharton, or Harvard.
So, I propose establishing an apprenticeship for entrepreneurs, which would enable interested individuals the opportunity to intern at a startup and develop a professional network of mentors. I would also recommend further bolstering this on-the-job training with workshops around launching and operating their businesses like “How to Write a Business Model”, “Delivering a Pitch”, “Venture Capital 101” as examples. The goal in this effort would only not be just to increase the number of viable Black entrepreneurs but to create a strong support network through which people actively try to empower each other through connections, education and potentially capital. By complementing academic education with practical training should result in a more well-rounded entrepreneur improving their likelihood of success.
One could argue that I’m basically describing a business incubator and accelerator, organizations that seek to increase the chance of survival for new start-ups. These entities seek to nurture young firms when they are most vulnerable, providing space, networking opportunities, seed funding and startup services. Additionally, these entities supply resources, R&D assistance and risk capital through a network of external providers. So, what’s missing?
While the number of incubators and accelerators focused on minority entrepreneurs has increased, there are a limited number of incubators and accelerators supporting Black entrepreneurship and many more are needed. Additionally, there’s limited exposure on available opportunities by these entities. Therefore, business incubators and accelerators should take joint action to cast their net far more widely and engage larger populations of Black entrepreneurs into these programs, educating and informing them about the existing opportunities.
Yet, increasing exposure to incubators and accelerators alone is not the panacea. Black entrepreneurs should also look to local organizations including the Chamber of Commerce to be made aware of existing support mechanisms — programs, competitions, grants and activities developed to help them start and grow their own businesses.
“Most people think Black business can’t provide high-quality services and products. This is not true across the board. Many businesses do provide quality products.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 37, no. 5, 2007
Shifting perceptions and increasing the awareness of Black venture-based products and services could have a sizable impact on Black entrepreneurs. Smart and strategic marketing grabs and keeps customers.
Black entrepreneurs should develop ways to leverage social capital by building new social networks and gaining access to existing ones: Chamber of Commerce to capture and share business information while showcasing these ventures; and local governments and financial institutions to engage and inform Black entrepreneurs of available programs.
We should not use the Rooney Rule, a National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview a minimum number of ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs, as our model to showcase and evaluate Black entrepreneur products and services. Instead, we should expect these organizations to employ the same methods that are used to showcase other venture’s products/services.
Additionally, Black ventures should employ the latest and greatest marketing standards employed by leading online providers to showcase their product/service offerings.
I am not looking to bias the selection/purchase process nor insinuate that other races simply come in as saviors to bolster Black ventures. Rather, I am looking for prospective clients/businesses to give the products and services offered by these ventures serious and careful consideration using the same criteria as they would any other product/service offered by another provider.
Measure Performance and Progress
As Peter Drucker says, “You can’t manage and do things right in your business if you’re not measuring it.” I recommend employing the following metrics to monitor and measure performance:
- Number of Black entrepreneurs:YoY comparison enables us to view increased entrance of Blacks as entrepreneurs.
- Consideration of Black venture-led products/services: How many products/services are considered in the purchasing decisions? How often? We can dig further to establish typical factors considered in the consideration and selection process for further analysis/training.
- Readiness of Black entrepreneurs: This will be very subjective, incorporating feedback from customers and the entrepreneurs themselves on the overall readiness of entrepreneurs to support the customer’s end requirements. It will better allow us to identify gaps and key areas customers deem critical.
- Customer Awareness of Viable Black venture-led products/services: YoY comparison enables us to view increased market awareness by customers. Delineation by demographics helps us further identify where we are doing well and areas for improvement.
The objective of this follow-up post was to offer fact-based recommendations and guidance regarding the need to increase opportunities for increased awareness. In doing so, several opportunities present themselves. First, improving the exposure of Blacks to entrepreneurship by supporting professional development programs. Secondly, enhancing the opportunity for Black entrepreneurs to market and sell their products/services successfully.
This increased exposure should lead to 1) heightened consideration of entrepreneurship by Blacks; and 2) additional consumption of Black venture-based products/services by consumers.
About the author
Ronald (Ron) Berry is a senior-level executive with global experience and success in B2B and B2C digital commerce in a variety of industries and businesses. If you have any further questions or would like to provide additional insights, please contact him at ron@EastanConsulting.com.