Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Akon Lighting Africa and the Potential of HBCUs In Africa’s Development

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” ~ African proverb


My travels to West African countries (Benin, Togo, & Ghana) in a study abroad program in 2006 were the highlight of my graduate education. However, the unfortunate aspect of the trip was that we, as students, weren’t provoked to consider our role in the global economy, specifically Africa. This would have been an opportune time in our intellectual development to challenge us to assess critically how we could become change agents as we encountered the host of social and structural issues of each country. For instance, in each country we visited, we witnessed many residents of the rural towns and villages using kerosene for lighting their homes and businesses. Unbeknown to us, approximately 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were living without electricity at the time. There are many opportunities present in rural Africa, and students should be at the center of entrepreneurial conversations, solutions, and building of partnerships.

As an educator, I am concerned that students, and Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) students in particular, are not having transformative conversations and experiences regarding entrepreneurship and using academic knowledge and resources to empower the African Diaspora. This conversation is necessary if we are truly interested in preparing our students to be at the forefront of global issues. HBCUs have the unique opportunity to develop students’ social and economic competencies to meet global needs that they may only be privileged to receive during the course of their higher education.

Many HBCUs have community-based programs such as study abroad programs, service-learning projects, and civic engagement activities that are focused on various African countries, which they do a good job of exposing students to African heritage, language, culture, dance, and ethnic cuisines. This knowledge and cultural exposure should only be the foundation to inculcating entrepreneurial and transformative thinking to students. To the contrary, most of these community-based programs simply focus on students’ exposure and consumption of “authentic” African culture without helping students to facilitate and develop entrepreneurial initiatives that would socially and economically enhance the place they are visiting. Instead, students leave Africa with masks, artwork, mud cloths, statues, and other cultural goods without understanding civic and global engagement that leads to sustainable solutions.


The most recent community initiative by a hip hop artist, Akon, made me re-evaluate the role HBCU administrators, alumni, students, and entrepreneurs. Akon is well known for his entrance in the hip hop music scene in 2004 with the release of his hit song “Locked Up.” However, Akon’s most impressive work is his current agenda to provide electricity to rural areas of Africa along with his partners Samba Bathily and Thione Niang under the Akon Lighting Africa Foundation. The Akon Lighting Africa Foundation has developed relationships with international banks to provide immediate electricity services to eleven African countries and counting by using available solar energy, which is a readily abundant resource in the continent. So where do HBCUs fit in such a community initiative?

This solar electricity initiative requires a host of skills, knowledge, and expertise in banking, community and global development, technical skills in installation, and knowledge of solar and clean energy. The aforementioned community-based programs offered at many HBCUs should consider developing partnerships with their alumni, community business leaders, and faculty to re-design these programs in order challenge students to design solutions that would benefit underdeveloped and economically marginalized communities. Not only would these communities benefit from such programs, but students would exit their institutional globally aware, marketable for employment, enhanced understanding of civic engagement, and a portfolio of work that demonstrates their skills and knowledge.

HBCUs also have the opportunity to capitalize off of such programming. One, action-oriented community programs would garner international attention and enhance the image of HBCUs worldwide, which would attract diverse students and faculty of the African Disapora. Two, this could attract potential donors like Nigerian billionaire Akilo Dangote and others to contribute to institutional endowments. Three, this is a great method for strengthening the relationship between alumni and their institution, socially and financially. Four, there would be an increase in faculty engaged in government-funded sponsored research. Five, HBCU administrators would have the opportunity to develop beneficial relationships with business leaders and entrepreneurs. And certainly not the last, HBCUs would achieve and extend their mission by truly changing the social and economic profile of the communities and students they serve providing an impetus for connecting the ecosystem of the African Diaspora.

HBCU Money™ Dozen 2/16 – 2/20


Did you miss HBCU Money™ Dozen via Twitter? No worry. We are now putting them on the site for you to visit at your leisure. We have made some changes here at HBCU Money™ Dozen. We are now solely focused on research and central bank articles from the previous week.


The On-Demand Economy: Entrepreneurship or Exploitation? l CIOonline http://trib.al/7url4LE

New research suggests new rules for nanosized ensemble behavior l Argonne http://1.usa.gov/1MygGXJ

Just 70,000 years ago this star buzzed right past our solar system l New Scientist http://ow.ly/JmdLu

Citizen scientists dive into particle physics and astrophysics research l Symmetry http://ow.ly/Jmelr

Spy agencies hacked SIM card maker’s encryption l Computerworld http://ow.ly/Jmew0

How a university’s data center overhaul makes a green impact l Network World http://bit.ly/1Dv2fAV

Federal Reserve, Central Banks, & Financial Departments

Can Tunisia become a hub for entrepreneurs? l World Bank http://wrld.bg/Jl1EL

Which are the top cities for real estate investment? l World Economic Forum http://wef.ch/1ydCOfk

What size firm has created most jobs in the recovery? l St. Louis Fed http://bit.ly/1DwJwFa

5 lessons on microfinance from women in Latin America l World Economic Forum http://wef.ch/1A8RTEh

What causes changes in consumer sentiment, or “animal spirits,” that drive the business cycle? l SF Fed http://bit.ly/1ySuj9R

Since 1990, the share of household budgets going to education hasn’t risen much, if at all l St. Louis Fed http://bit.ly/1zE8ta3

Thank you as always for joining us on Saturday for HBCU Money™ Dozen. The 12 most important research and finance articles of the week.

Four HBCU Cities Among List Of Best Startup Cities In America

“No disrespect to San Francisco or Brooklyn, but we wanted to identify the next wave of cities building an ecosystem to turn innovators into entrepreneurs.” – Poplar Mechanics Editors

It is no secret that if HBCU citizens are going to close the wealth gap for their families and institutions, then it will happen through enterprise. Fifteen of the twenty wealthiest people in the world on Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index have their sources of wealth noted as self-made. A term that many would argue could have a broad interpretation. For instance Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon with a net worth of $33.1 billion, received a $300 000 loan from his father to launch his company. A reality that is unimaginable by well over 95 percent of HBCU citizens and their families. According to Statista (graph below), of the 9.63 million households in America that are millionaires, excluding their homes, only 8 percent are African American or 770 400. With approximately 15.5 million African American households that means the chance you have of having parents who can write you a $300 000 check is approximately 5 percent at best. 

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However, having familial money is not everything when it comes to startups today. It helps a lot definitely, but there are other variables that are vital as well. What is the ecosystem for business like in your city? Is there a cluster of entrepreneurs? The old adage that iron sharpens iron would be very poignantly applied here. Part of Silicon Valley’s success is because of the number of ideas flying around nonstop. The hardest thing to find in Silicon Valley is someone who is not an entrepreneur, but a recent article in Popular Mechanics suggest that there are a budding number of hot spots across the country for startups. A term that should not just be confused with technology companies, although it has become almost synonymous with them and Silicon Valley.

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The first is St. Louis, Missouri which ranked number one overall in the article, home of Harris-Stowe State University. Recent reports have Harris-Stowe just above 1 700 students. The city has been struggling to revive its population (graph above) over the past 45 years, with an almost 50 percent decline in population this new startup boom could be just what it needs. So how is the city turning itself around? By returning to its entrepreneurial roots and reinventing itself or as Popular Mechanic editors put it, “St. Louis is a place where people come to make things—always has been. It was founded by enterprising fur traders and thrived on the wealth of railroad barons and beer moguls.” After the Great Recession that saw the city’s flagship company Anheuser-Busch sale itself off, the city took a step back and reinvented itself, “From 2011 to 2013 the ecosystem supporting entrepreneurs more than doubled in size with the launch of eight makerspaces (shops with tools like 3D printers and laser cutters), accelerators (early-stage investors and mentors), and coworking spaces (a shared office for startups, with low rent)”. The city and St. Louis Chamber of Commerce is really getting behind the movement, backing such startup hubs as T-Rex, which revitalized an 80 000 square feet 1898 building that gives startups a place to put down their initial roots. One of T-Rex’s tenants that Popular Mechanics highlights is from a local university, “Betaversity, the brainchild of biology student Blake Marggraff, 22, and two of his associates. The company’s main product is the BetaBox Mobile Prototyping Lab, a work space with 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, and more—all cleverly wedged into a shipping container.” It appears that the Gateway Arch is shining itself up for its second act.

Number five on Popular Mechanics list of best startup cities in America was Baltimore, Maryland. It is home to three HBCUs. Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and Sojourner-Douglass College all call Baltimore home. The institutions between them are home to almost 12 000 students. According to Popular Mechanics, “One thing that helps all startups in Baltimore—a low cost of doing business, including reasonable rents.” A low cost of business is vital, especially for African American entrepreneurs who are not likely coming from deep family pockets or may lack access to capital via investor networks or bank loans. Under Armour, which was launched in Baltimore three years after graduation by former college football player Kevin Plank. It has grown to become one of Nike’s thorns in less than twenty years and has made Plank a multi-billionaire. It has also allowed him to become one of his colleges biggest donors and boosters. The city has also produced two notable HBCU owned media companies. One, Carter Media Enterprises founded by Morgan State University alumnus Jarrett Carter, Sr., owns HBCU Digest and has been at the vanguard of a new generation of HBCUpreneurs. The city’s Emerging Technology Centers also has been vital according to Popular Mechanics, “In 15 years the business incubator and accelerator has aided more than 350 companies that have attracted $1.6 billion in investments.” In other words, Baltimore is booming.

HBCUs and the cities they are in must and should take similar steps to creating incubators within their town. Baltimore HBCUs really have an opportunity to make a splash with 12 000 students if they created a joint incubator. Schools like Texas A&M have even gone so far as to start a program called Startup Aggieland, which  per their website, “student startup offices and co-working spaces for student collaboration, as well as free business resources, professional training and networking events.” The university does not take any equity in these businesses or their intellectual property, but by offering them the space they know if any of them are successful there is a strong chance that these students will become high-quality or transformative donors. Something all HBCUs desperately need. It also gives these students work experience before graduations, which is becoming even more of an issue for many graduates entering the work force.

These incubators and ecosystems must also take advantage of geographic and academic strengths. HBCUs in the DMV should be focused on government and defense related entrepreneurship or more specifically in Baltimore, the STEM research being conducted at America’s largest research institutions, John Hopkins. Nosy around and see what research they are developing that may have commercial application. Or if your HBCU is an 1890 school, focus on agricultural businesses. Gulf coast HBCUs should definitely be looking at aquaculture given its recent boom. Again, we have to push this as not only important, but absolutely strategically vital to our long-term survival and success.

From big cities to small towns, HBCUs should be engaged with their civic counterparts to see how they can create opportunities for their students to engage the role of owner, founder, and entrepreneur. It is vital that we create a stronger HBCU private sector that can grow enough companies and actually provide wealth creation, more immediate employment for graduates, and opportunities to start their own companies. It is also crucial that alumni play a role in this as well. Either through creating an endowment that can give the school monetary funds to award to students who engage in on-campus HBCUpreneurship or if they are HBCUpreneurs themselves providing time to mentor budding HBCUpreneurs at their alma mater. Capital is ultimately the KEY component that can unlock a lot of HBCU startup potential. Without it, these are just fancy cars parked in the driveway with no gas. We beat this horse constantly, but this is where the advent of the HBCU Credit Union would be extremely vital in HBCU startups accessing capital.

At this points we have three options: innovate, stay on life support, or die.

The other two HBCU cities on the list: 

Detroit, Michigan, home of Lewis College of Business, ranked number thirteen on the list. An HBCU and city badly in need of a makeover.

Austin, Texas, home of Huston-Tillotson College, ranked number fourteen on the list. An HBCU that sits in the looming shadow of the state’s largest public institution. Dell is based there and Twitter made its public debut at the SXSW Interactive festival that is held annually there.


HBCU Money™ B-School: How To Start An Airline


How many HBCU owned airlines are there in America? Zero. How many African American owned airlines are there in America? Zero. In Africa, the story is quite different with a number of airlines popping up over the past five years in the ownership hands of native Africans. So it appears we have some catching up to do with our brethren in the motherland. Given HBCUs are often flush with engineering talent, one HBCU owned airline alone could create massive job opportunities. Jet Blue employs almost 14 000 people and is one of the smallest low fare regional airlines, while one of the bigger regional players Southwest Airlines employs almost 50 000.

However, starting an airline is not for the faint of heart and maybe one of the hardest entrepreneurial challenges one can take on. Boeing’s airline startup page says, “Few businesses have as many variables and challenges as airlines. They are capital-intensive. Competition is fierce. Airlines are fossil fuel dependent and often at the mercy of fuel price volatility. Operations are labor intensive and subject to government control and political influence. And a lot depends on the weather.” However, if you are up to the challenge of finding a niche in the space, then you are on your way to creating a multi-billion company since the industry average of value is $2.7 billion (below) according to Yahoo Finance.

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So visit Startup Boeing’s website here and as the Nat King Cole song says and quoted in the Tuskegee Airmen movie of 1995, “Straighten up and fly right.”

The HBCUpreneur Corner™ – Spelman College’s Morgan France-Johnson & Aesthetically Spoken; Lux Creative

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Name: Morgan France-Johnson

Alma Mater: Spelman College C’07

Business Name & Description: Aesthetically Spoken, LLC is a greeting card line that caters to the LGBTQ community; Lux Creative, LLC is a graphic design company that specializes in branding development and marketing materials.

What year did you found your company? Aesthetically Spoken, LLC – January 2012; Lux Creative, LLC – November 2012

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? It’s hard for me to list just one moment, as the entrepreneurial journey is one of the most exhilarating roller coasters I have ever been on! However, if I were forced to pick just one exciting moment for Lux Creative, it would be when I secured a business deal with an international brand while living in Dubai, UAE. This accomplishment affirmed that I am as good as I know and believe I am.

Exciting moments for Aesthetically Spoken are centered around the positive feedback I receive from other members of the LGBTQ community whenever they are able to share the perfect heartfelt greeting. As my overarching purpose is to positively impact lives, knowing that people truly appreciate what I do is very exciting for me.

Fear, like excitement, pokes its head up every once in a while. The most fearful moments always occur before my team and I made our most pivotal changes. The common reminder that fear projects lies in the basic concept of Newton’s Law of Relativity: For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. At times, we have found that increased vision is met with low visibility, growth with set backs, and opportunity with void. However, the converse is also true— opposition is met with formidability, loss precedes gain and most importantly fear is met with faith!

What made you want to start your own company? Since I could remember I wanted to “start something.” I distinctly remember at the age of 6, watching a news story with my mother about homelessness in Baltimore and afterwards saying, “Mommy, I’m going to ask God to bless me with money so I can build a place for all of the homeless people to live.”

At 6, I knew my purpose. I didn’t know what that was called back then, but I knew I was going to change the world with my ideas. Spelman cultivated my seed and honed the skills that I would need to make my mark on the world.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? Honestly, all of my Spelman Sisters. As a native of Baltimore, I had very few experiences with African-Americans with such diverse perspectives and experiences; they gave me glasses to see a world I never knew existed. I’m forever grateful to Spelman and the women I call “Sister.”

How do you handle complex problems? I spend 20% of my effort on the problem. What’s the real issue here? What other areas does this problem affect? And so on. Then I spend 80% of my effort on the solution. I call mentors, read books, search the web, call my attorney. I do what’s necessary to ensure I’ve neutralized the problem and do my best to prevent any recurrences.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? This journey isn’t for the faint hearted, expect opposition. Stay vigilant and build your personal networks wisely as you’ll need a support system outside of business to ease the disappointments that will occur along the way.

You are the first HBCUpreneur we have had that is operating not one, but two companies at the same time. As an HBCUpreneur operating multiple companies at the same time and those considering it; what can you tell us about the experience, challenges, and advantages of being a multi-CEO? Balancing the complexities of “normal” life while owning and operating one business is difficult. Two businesses requires an intense level of focus, having great teams in place, and having a good support system. I’m reminded of the Shonda Rhimes Stanford graduation speech in which she stated: when you are in charge of multiple entities, home/multiple businesses, you will have to sacrifice. Everything can’t have your attention 100% of the time. You will mess up. You will make mistakes. But it’s all worth it.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? As a freshman at Spelman, I attended a seminar that prompted me to change my major from Child Development to Economics. That one seminar ultimately changed my entire life. I believe that HBCUs can spur innovation and entrepreneurship by hosting meaningful events that spark creativity while simultaneously educating and supporting individuals who are considering entrepreneurship.

Given the LGBTQ community has an estimated $830 billion in buying power; what are some of the blooming opportunities you believe are on the horizon to HBCUpreneurs looking to provide goods or services to the LGBTQ community in particular? I believe that it is the responsibility of those in the LGBTQ community to assess the market for needs and meet them. Aesthetically Spoken, a card line created specifically for the LGBTQ community was born simply out of need. I found myself in need of a Valentine’s Day greeting card fitting for my same sex significant other. Heteronormative pronouns and insinuations were not fitting; and, as a graphic designer, the inspiration to create an LGBTQ greeting card company derived from this disheartening deficit.

How do you deal with rejection? (chuckle) I keep moving. The year I graduated from Spelman, I joined a network marketing company. (Pre-Paid Legal. Now, Legal Shield) Network marketing is FULL of rejection. We were taught to not take it personally. Once you realize you can take a no and keep moving. You can do anything.

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? Down time?!?! What’s that? I really enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, friends, and family. I enjoy the outdoors, traveling, being active, yet I also enjoy staying in and reading a good book. You’re liable to catch me enjoying life in a variety of ways.


What was your most memorable HBCU memory? Again, there are so many. Most memorable would have to go to standing on the grass on the Spelman Oval, holding the hands of my other Spelman Sisters and speaking my name to the Universe like so many other Spelman Women before me. It was a spiritual experience. That’s when I knew I had made the right choice.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Don’t quit.