Black Economic Empowerment:
Pilot Entrepreneurship Program Aims to Train Black Business Owners for Success
By Hazel Trice Edney
Cathy Hughes went from sleeping on the floor of her radio station, as a struggling single mother, to the ownership of the largest Black-owned broadcast company in the U.S. and the first publicly traded company owned by an African American woman.
The late Ebony/Jet Publisher John H. Johnson, whose father was a sawmill worker and mother a cook, rose to become the first Black man to be listed among Forbes’ wealthiest Americans.
These entrepreneurs are often used examples of the thousands of African-Americans, who, through courage, ingenuity and tenacity have succeeded in every level of business ownership in America. And financial experts say entrepreneurship is yet growing among African Americans across the U. S. despite the still frail 2015 economy.
The University of Phoenix School of Business aims to fuel that growth by backing a new entrepreneurial education and training program with a $500,000 grant. The pilot program, in partnership with the U. S. Black Chambers, Inc., (USBC), is set to begin Jan. 1, 2016. It targets African American small business owners, including USBC members, in various cities across the U. S.
In a joint statement, the program is described as “a three-course, 15-week credit-bearing program that includes online classroom instruction taught by School of Business faculty, and takes students through courses including personal cash flow, market analyses and financial performance.” The release says, “Students will create their business plans using this customizable program to develop a business model, strategy, financial forecasts, competition benchmarks and implementation and performance tracking.”
The USBC-University of Phoenix program comes amidst a growing trend of Black entrepreneurship across the U. S. In its most recent reporting on business ownership, the U. S. Census says the “number of Black-owned businesses increased at triple the national rate” between 2002 and 2007. More recently, in June this year, Forbes reported that the number of businesses owned by African American women has grown 322 percent since 1997, “making Black females the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.”, according to a study commissioned by American Express Open.
Also, Black Enterprise recently reported an increase in entrepreneurship programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The magazine said the growth in entrepreneurship coincides with innovative ways to deal with pessimistic job outlooks for youth and a still flailing economy and unemployment rates when it comes to African Americans. Though Black unemployment rates recently dipped below double digits, it remains twice that of Whites. Black unemployment rates for youth ages 16-24 also exceeds 28 percent, twice that of White youth.
Targeting those who appear to be at the greatest economic disadvantage is apparently driving the new program, according to a release.
“University of Phoenix is pleased to partner with USBC to provide African American small business owners and entrepreneurs an exclusive program integrating teachings from business courses with insights from local market experts who understand the economy in their communities,” said Byron Jones, chief financial officer, University of Phoenix. “The U.S. Black Chambers Business program allows participants to experience some of the most challenging exercises business owners undergo with the training, support and counsel they need from seasoned professionals with demonstrated success in owning and managing a business.”
The University of Phoenix is widely known for its degree programs for working adults. Working with the USBC and the 250,000 small businesses that it serves appears a natural fit. The new program also deals with the key issue in sustaining Black-owned businesses. That’s access to capital.
“Gaining access to capital continues to be a major hurdle for African American small business owners, and properly navigating that process is often the difference between success and failure,” said USBC President/CEO Ron Busby, Sr. “We are excited to collaborate with University of Phoenix on this educational program to help provide needed resources to support Black entrepreneurs, and believe it is an excellent example of local leaders and educators working together to improve the lives of our citizens and communities.”
In that regard, despite the growth in Black-owned businesses, the Wall Street Journal reported last year that there had been a steep drop in loans to Black-owned business by the Small Business Administration. The percentage had dropped from 8.2 percent in 2008 to 2.3 percent in 2013, a decline that the paper described as “unusually steep compared with other minorities.”
Entrepreneurship experts who applaud the new program are also quick to point out that amidst recent crisis, African Americans are simply rediscovering and reviving their historic ingenuity. “Black entrepreneurship has been significant ever since we arrived in this country, we’ve always been entrepreneurs even before we got here,” says Jim Clingman, author, founder of Blackonomics.com, and founder of the Entrepreneurship High School in Cincinnati. “It was very significant during the enslavement period and thereafter when Black enclaves were built and owned by Black people. And then in the sixties, of course, we began to abandon those businesses in favor of businesses other than our own. And now 60 years later, we’re back to starting more businesses and growing those businesses and seeing the value once again of entrepreneurship.”
According to a release, the rigorous USBC-University of Phoenix program includes an in-person micro workshop with USBC experts on “topics such as accounting and finance, marketing, operations and customer service”. The goal is “successful completion of the three program courses” which will lead to a feasibility plan ready to submit to a bank or microloan partner. The program is also worth nine hours of college credit toward a certificate at University of Phoenix.
“University of Phoenix is committed to discovering and developing the next generation of African American business leaders, so the program with USBC small business owners is a natural fit,” said Ruth Veloria, executive dean, University of Phoenix School of Business. “Knowledge and training drive success. That’s why our certificate courses, such as those in the USBC program, will provide participants relevant skills that can positively and quickly impact their businesses.”