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African American entrepreneurship was the topic of a recent summit sponsored by the Small Business Association (SBA), the US Department of Education and the White House. As JohnathanHolifield, the co-founder of The America 21 Project and a participant at the summit acknowledges, “We need to create a thrust to complement existing entrepreneurship and small business leadership to ensure that African Americans as well as Latinos and others are connected to the innovation economy.”

According to the Washington Informer, the forum was moderated by Marie Johns, SBA’s Deputy Administrator.

“Our job at the SBA – which boasts 17 development centers on HBCU campuses across the country – is to ensure that innovative ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit can be harnessed, and then transformed into successful businesses,” she said at the forum.

HBCU representatives were central voices to the forum, including Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux as a panelist. Malveaux, who believes that African Americans were the original entrepreneurs in this country, revealed that Bennett College has been assisting with entrepreneurship over the past four years, with the construction of several of its new buildings. The construction of four of the campus’ buildings was a $21 million project in Greensboro, NC that meant economic opportunities for the area’s residents.

“One of the things that I insisted [on], was that the major contractor made sure 50 percent of the [sub-contractors] were people of color. . . [and] that’s the role we [currently] play” in creating black-owned and operated businesses,” he said.

Rutgers University has focused energies on a “Lemonade Day” in Newark, New Jersey. The project is aimed at helping children from kindergarten to age 12 understand entrepreneurship through developing a lemonade stand.

Meanwhile in Charlotte, NC, Ron Stodgill, the director of the Small Business Incubator/Think Tank on Johnson C. Smith’s campus, relays the group’s initiatives to reach businesses in their local area. Although the group is making strides, Stodgill acknowledges that the growth won’t happen overnight.

To that end, Holifield points out one of the black community’s greatest business weaknesses.

“We have in our communities and in our HBCUs, good programs and good support systems,” he said. “but we lack emphasis on explosive-growth for the kinds of companies that are responsible for the disproportionately high amount of jobs [created].”

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