By William A. Foster, IV
The more an idea is developed, the more concise becomes its expression; the more a tree is pruned, the better is the fruit. — Alfred Bougeart
What if Sergey Brin and Larry page, founders of Google, went to Hillman? Would Google still have been created? Yes. Would they still become billionaires? Probably not. The two men combined are worth an estimated $37.4 billion. Their combined fortunes are greater than Harvard’s endowment, almost 30 times the size of all HBCU endowments, and over 90 times the size of all HBCU research expenditures combined. The last being vital because it was the very thing that allowed the two men, PhD research students at Stanford, to create the search engine that is now a verb. Instead, it could be argued they would end up creating a great new search engine and selling it for pennies on the dollar to Microsoft. Ensuring of course that whichever one (ended up being Dwayne) and wanted to work for said company would have secured themselves employment. Notice, I said very distinctly employment and not ownership.
It is in one of the final episodes of the legendary show “A Different World” Ron Johnson or Ron, the loveable sidekick and best friend of Dwayne Wayne, and ironically the one who has the most entrepreneurial spirit of all the characters on the show comes up with a video game concept that helps children learn. It is no coincidence that him growing up with a father who owned a car dealership inspires his constant risk taking, so the entrepreneurial bug pops up constantly throughout his time at Hillman. One of the more classic Ronpreneurial moments is when he and Mr. Gaines, who ran The Pit at the student center, purchase a nightclub together. An all too typical expression of African-American entrepreneurship and one that has little to no substantive impact. Dwayne Wayne on the other hand is the math genius who seems destined to “succeed” by programming amazing products for the likes of Kenishewa. In fact, in the episode this is exactly what happens as Dwayne takes Ron’s concept and uses his programming skills to bring the game to life. Dwayne tells Ron about bringing the concept to fruition and in the excitement Ron excitedly says “this could be the start of Wayne & Johnson”. For all of Dwayne Wayne’s brains his entrepreneurial IQ never got past zero. He never hesitated to cash in for the short-term payday, subsequently putting his friendship with Ron in jeopardy for not acknowledging it was his idea, and never once thought about the long-term wealth and institutional impact their own company could have. The brains of these two men would have been the perfect balance that business relationships often need. Ron’s ability to create ideas, generate sales, and risk taking balanced with Dwayne’s ability to bring ideas to life, analytical strategy, and risk aversion would have made for an absolutely powerful business combo. Now, instead of this being the launching of a software company Dwayne Wayne runs with Ron’s concept develops it and simply sells it to Kenishewa and secures a job. Ownership? None. Paycheck? Sure. Bigger picture? Missed.
What could have been? One could ultimately imagine a very successful software company (See Google, Baby Einstein, Electronic Arts, or Microsoft) being born out of the Wayne & Johnson partnership. Years down the line Wayne & Johnson would be giving internships and employment opportunities for Hillman students and donating hundreds of millions back to Hillman for a new research facility, new stadium, higher faculty salaries, and scholarships to reduce Hillman student debt loads. Oh did I mention Wayne & Johnson becomes so successful that they end up acquiring Kenishewa?
No matter a student’s academic department at their HBCU there should be an entrepreneurship class specifically designed for their major and/or department that teaches them how to turn their major into a business that they can take back to our communities and build. From mathematics, engineers, psychology, and beyond every single major should be able to understand how to transform their entity into a business that they own and/or co-own. They should also be able know how to cross-pollinate with other majors. Biology major meets engineering major? What do they create? Behold a bioengineering firm. Mathematics meets sociology? I have no idea but the fact that the conversation is being had leads me to believe the brilliance in our students would come up with an answer and more important a company. We should not be producing labor but ownership as well from our institutions. Our HBCUs too often promote their “successful” students being those who go off and work for large European American companies (making their companies stronger and wealthier) while the masses of their students wait exorbitant amounts of time searching for employment hoping to become an affirmative action quota. It is ownership which will bring down our unemployment rate which is always double the national average, it will help close the wealth gap, provide the wealth to influence the political system in our favor instead of always begging for favor, and pump much-needed infrastructure capital back into our HBCUs and communities so we can compete. We know that when America catches a cold we catch pneumonia. If the latest AP report shows that 50% of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed what do you think that number is for HBCU recent graduates? It is time for us to do for self as we know our ancestors did in places like Tulsa, Rosewood, and countless other African-American towns across this country. We can compete but we have to compete to be more than just labor. I’ve always said and continue to say capitalism doesn’t reward hard work. It rewards the ownership of hard workers.