The Business School For Budding Black Entrepreneurs Who Want To Escape The Corporate Plantation
The average cost of an MBA degree can range from $60,000 to $100,000, depending on the school you attend. On top of the cost of undergrad, not many can afford that.
Knowing this, economist Dr. Boyce Watkins and his brother Lawrence Watkins created the The Black Business School (BBS) an online educational platform featuring courses taught by vetted and experienced instructors, in 2015. Students can take courses that will help them directly with their businesses or startups. Courses include topics like “Black Money 103: How to Start a Strong Black Brand” and “Cryptocurrency Investing 101″ and the cost ranges from $39 a month to $300. A bundle of 30 courses will run you close to $3,000.
What makes the Black Business School different is that the founders try to make sure the classes are culturally relevant to African Americans. and a large majority of the instructors are Black. “We also focus our attention on the subject areas where Black people can make their money without having many institutional gatekeepers,” Dr. Watkins told us. “These areas of focus are small business, entrepreneurship, securities investing, real estate investing, marketing and sales, personal finance, data and technology, and leadership and personal development.”
The school’s philosophy seems to be working. Currently, the school has more than 56,000 students who have either registered for our free or paid courses on the platform. Here, the Watkins brothers school MadameNoire on the Black Business School.
MadameNoire (MN): How and why did you come up with the idea for the Black Business School?
Dr. Boyce Watkins (BW): The Black Business School is my brainchild. I was an Assistant Professor of Finance at Syracuse University for 12 years. There, I noticed the lack of diversity among the faculty and the students and felt depressed that I could not teach the Black community, which has been so instrumental in my development as a person.
As one of 12 African-American students in his business school at Cornell, Lawrence had a similar experience of sometimes feeling alone in his classes. He felt very fortunate to have had an excellent education. However, what about all of the other Black students who were interested in business, but did not have the same opportunities as me? Would they have to be left out in the cold? Furthermore, much of the knowledge that Lawrence learned in school was about how to manage other people’s money and resources and not build it for yourself. This is a problem since the majority of American institutions weren’t built for Black people. While a white business school student can graduate from business school and fit right into the traditional corporate culture, most Black students don’t have the same experience adjusting.
When I was denied tenure from Syracuse, I thought the timing was right to launch a venture of my own. In September 2015, Lawrence and I launched The Black Business School to help African Americans obtain a culturally relevant, yet practical education in all things wealth building at a price they can afford.
MN: How did you fund the startup?
BW: The BBS was funded from previous ventures founded by myself and Lawrence. Many entrepreneurs think that attracting venture capital funding is the only way to grow a successful enterprise. We are proof that it doesn’t have to be that way. Bootstrapping has provided us the flexibility to build up The BBS in our own vision. This has been very rewarding.
MN: How does it work?
Lawrence Watkins (LW): For those who want to be financially independent, we have a variety of courses to help you get there. Our courses focus on tracks of wealth building that do not need a “corporate sponsor” to accomplish your financial freedom. This includes entrepreneurship, stock market investing, real estate investing, marketing and sales, and personal finance tracks. You can visit our website and try many of our core programs for free for one month.
MN: Why are you targeting African Americans?
LW: We are targeting African Americans who want to escape the corporate plantation and become financially free.
MN: What makes Black Business School different?
BW: We believe the following benefits separate us from a traditional college: a) Cultural Relevance–Unless a person attended an HBCU or was in the Africana Studies department of a predominately white institution, they probably have had very little interaction with Black instructors, especially in business. We solve this problem as the large majority of our instructors are Black; b) Practical Education–A fundamental fallacy of college education for Black people is that the universities teach you how to work for someone else, but not yourself. Therefore, we need to deploy a different strategy to gain wealth as a community. Our courses focus on the subjects that are practically applicable to teach our students how to make money now; c) Low Cost–Traditional college is putting a lot of students in debt. We price our programs at a rate to where most students can pay out of pocket instead of taking out $100,000 in student loans. We are very proud of this fact.
MN: Why the “Black” business school?
LW: We think that many Black people try to hide their blackness often in order to fit in with mainstream society. Doing this was not on our agenda and we wanted to make it clear who our primary customer base is. Being Black is something that our community should be proud of and it starts with the organizations that represent us, like the Black Business School.
MN: Do you feel anyone could benefit from business courses?
BW: Yes, I think that everyone can benefit from the courses that we teach in the BBS. However, we are unapologetic in letting others know the audience that we serve.
MN: What do you feel is the biggest mistake some Black-owned businesses make?
BW: A big mistake that a lot of Black-owned businesses make is not setting high enough expectations in what they can achieve. Often, we have an inferiority complex regarding how good our businesses can be. We need to get over that and compete at the highest levels. Furthermore, we can no longer expect that our people will do business with us just because we are Black. Excellence is what we should be striving for.
MN: Some Black businesses hide the fact they are Black owned. Is this good or bad for business?
LW: In 2018, authenticity sells and it is important for our community to be authentic in who we are. I’m not saying that other businesses need to make “Black” the centerpiece of their company like we do ours, but it shouldn’t be a bad thing if your Blackness is known to the rest of the world. In the end, this is a personal decision. However, is the cost of inauthenticity worth the additional money that you may gain from hiding a core part of your identity?
MN: Why do you feel Black consumers still do not seek out Black-owned businesses in greater numbers?
LW: Sometimes it can be hard to find the best Black businesses in a local area due to lack of marketing. Other times, it may be the general Black consumer’s mindset of Black businesses being inferior to those of other races. Overall, it comes down to a lack of prioritization of Blackness and an optimization of convenience.
MN: What are your goals for 2018?
BW: Our biggest goal is to open two Black financial empowerment centers in Philadelphia and Chicago respectively. We’ve done well in the online space, but our research has shown that our people want to take their education one step further through physical locations. Our vision is to make our physical locations a centerpiece of Black community revitalization.
MN: What advice would you give anyone wanting to start a business?
BW: We would say two things: educate yourself and just get started. Often, the skills learned in corporate don’t translate well to the entrepreneurial environment, so there will be a lot of on the job training. It’s good to combine this practical training with knowledge through courses, interviews, mentors, and books to succeed in business.