Making The Move from Consumer to Creator

February 10, 2011  |  

We are all quite aware of President Obama’s call for greater U.S. innovation and entrepreneurship as demonstrated in his recent State Of The Union Address.  And it was certainly not lost on the hip hop generation that President Obama’s “we do big things”, when referring to American ingenuity, was a direct sample from the everyday language used by urban millennials.

But while the President’s use of that term may be familiar, the steps to actually becoming one of these business innovators that Obama would so much like to see, may not be quite so accessible.  In fact, I get the feeling that much of Black GenY demographic is still shaking their heads in terms of figuring out just how the President expects today’s young people of color to  take the entrepreneurial bull by the horns, particularly when it comes to an area where there is so much potential opportunity: the digital industry.

While many writers and critics have chided young, digitally savvy Blacks for partaking too little in the “creator” realm rather than remaining quietly in  “consumer” role, I’m not sure it’s just that cut-and-dry.  In fact, I believe there are a number of potential innovators in this area who are poised to “do big things” provided they could get a bit of insight and move through some statistical hurdle jumping.

But no one ever seems to provide consistent dialogue and support in any meaningful, pedestrian way that could touch and economically empower tens of thousands of us. So let me break down a few elements, at least a bit.

If you look at the game as it currently stands, there are some really interesting dynamics to play with today.  First, we completely out-index in terms of mobile phone monthly expenditures, mobile phone feature usage, smartphone ownership and social media frequency over the mainstream.  Tech savvy, at least on the user-end, is all ours.

On the entrepreneurial end, the U.S. Census Bureau just released stats this week that show that from 2002 to 2007, the number of black-owned businesses actually increased by 60.5 percent to 1.9 million, more than triple the national rate of 18.0 percent.  These businesses are not just businesses in name; they’re making money too. Over the same period, receipts generated by black-owned businesses increased 55.1 percent to $137.5 billion.

But somehow there seems to be a disconnect, to date, about actually starting businesses in the digital arena.  For those who do/have tried to step out, stats show that it may not be that easy even with the technical prowess.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that private investment research firm CB Insights recently reported that only African-Americans represent only 1% of venture backed founders nationally (an absolutely horrible figure), and I’m just not sure how many youths of color have an Eduardo Saverin to their Mark Zuckerberg:  a peer with chips to fund and believe in your idea, a la “The Social Network” if you can’t go the venture route.

But we do know that hip hop is, at its core, entrepreneurial in nature; so this may lead to more significant movement in the years ahead.  The ability to take nothing and making something out of it has been demonstrated by Black people time in time again.  In fact, there is already the interesting though not terribly innovative on-line video business models cropping up. Low-cost in nature to launch, these businesses simply serve as YouTube filters, with the occasional exclusive video footage, that speaks to a younger, edgier demo.  There are a few other interesting digital business ventures bubbling up as well, but I think we’ve barely scratched the surface in regard to combining our culture, tech savvy and entrepreneurial paydays.

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