White House Promotes Entrepreneurship Focus for HBCUs and MSIs

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by Charles Dervarics

With employment still lagging in many U.S. regions, the White House brought together minority-serving colleges and top small business experts on Monday to explore the role of historically Black colleges and MSIs in supporting entrepreneurship among current and future students.

“These are institutions that have a great opportunity to prepare a new generation of entrepreneurs and, in the process, to leave no community behind,” said Marie Johns, deputy administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) at the White House Forum on Entrepreneurship for HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions.

Historically Black colleges are a key site for small business outreach, she said, as these campuses house at least 17 small business centers.

“We want to help institutions ensure they have the infrastructure to get more young people to think about entrepreneurship as a legitimate and important career choice as any of the more traditional careers,” Johns said. “There is latent entrepreneurial talent out there.”

One leader on the subject is Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, which hosted an event in Charlotte in November as part of SBA’s Young Entrepreneur Series, she said. Johnson C. Smith’s entrepreneurship center and think tank has led to the development of dozens of new businesses, from salons to marketing companies.

Another HBCU active in entrepreneurship is Rust College in Mississippi, which has established a strong small business education curriculum, said Cassius Butts, Region 4 administrator for SBA. He also praised Shaw University in North Carolina for an entrepreneurship education program focused on financial industries.

Thanks in part to alumnus Deborah Thomas, Alabama State University is another HBCU with an annual conference on entrepreneurship. Thomas, who founded Data Solutions and Technology, Inc., told White House attendees that the university’s annual meeting is “fostering creativity and opportunity” on a topic – small business ownership – that is increasingly important to students of color.

The White House meeting included panel presentations from Obama administration officials and leaders from the African-American and Hispanic communities. Other presenters at the meeting included Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College; Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chamber; and Luis Borunda, president of Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education.

Entrepreneurship education is part of the Obama administration’s ‘cradle-to-career’ education agenda that stretches from early childhood education to college access and completion, said Debra Saunders-White, deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs and former vice president of technology at Hampton University.

Such education programs also support the president’s 2020 goal for the U.S. to lead the world in college graduates. “The demand for an educated workforce will accelerate in 2012 and beyond,” Saunders-White said, and small businesses will account for much of the job growth over the next decade.

But role models are just as important as entrepreneurship education programs to attract students of color to small business careers, according to dt ogilvie, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Rutgers University.

At Rutgers, students of color had only ogilvie as a role model until the university made a strong effort to recruit more minority business faculty, she said at the forum.

By hiring more faculty of color, however, Rutgers built greater interest among students of color in the concept of developing and owning a small business.

The SBA also outlined a series of resources for young entrepreneurs. The agency’s website includes mobile applications on issues important to young entrepreneurs, while information about environmentally-friendly business opportunities is available at http://green.sba.gov. In addition, the agency is partnering with the National Urban League on a series of small business forums across the nation aimed at urban youth and young adults.

For more information, visit the SBA’s web site at www.sba.gov.

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