Diversifying Options

How today's campuses are paving the way for minority entrepreneurship
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the June 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If colleges are at the forefront of entrepreneurial innovation, they are also the places where minority entrepreneurship is getting some serious attention. Aimed at tackling the issues faced by today's minority entrepreneurial students, these programs are starting to crop up at universities across the nation. "It's really grown out of a need to present entrepreneurship [from] a more diverse perspective," says Stephen Spinelli, vice provost for entrepreneurship at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts.

Babson College, for one, has teamed up with Ford Motor Co. and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to create a curriculum and seminar series that educates black entrepreneurial students on how to start businesses. Spinelli noticed black business leaders lacked representation in the case studies taught at Babson, so he and his colleagues began creating a case-study library featuring successful black entrepreneurs.

Since late 2004, the school has incorporated the case studies along with seminars dealing with minority-business issues into its entrepreneurship classes. Entrepreneurial speakers are especially inspirational. "The [entrepreneurs'] frankness has been nearly overwhelming; they don't hide their experiences," says Spinelli. "[They've] overcome some barriers that a number of students didn't recognize existed." And once they complete a full case-study library, he hopes to get the program into more colleges and universities. For details, check out www.babson.edu/eship.

Because most universities have yet to implement similar programs, it's often the students themselves who are making inroads toward minority-business initiatives. At the LaBelle Entrepreneurial Center at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, student Ja'Van Johnson has teamed up with Charles Fitzpatrick, an entrepreneurship professor and director of the center, to plan the second annual Minority Institute for Entrepreneurs workshop and lecture series. The event, designed to help minority students deal with the challenges of starting a business, is tentatively scheduled for fall 2005 and will be open to students nationwide. Johnson, who expects to graduate this year with a degree in entrepreneurship, says, "We want to show people there's opportunity out there." Visit www.cba.cmich.edu/lec for more information.

That same passion for helping minority students inspired Paris Wallace, an alumnus of Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, to start The Pre-Business Group through his alma mater four years ago. He felt there was a need for this type of group, since minority students and students from different socioeconomic groups often have trouble creating a strong network of business contacts by graduation. Held at Amherst during interterm (the six weeks between fall and spring semesters), the seminar introduces minority students to the business world through lectures and networking trips to major investment-banking houses, and is open to students nationwide. For more information, go to www.prebusinessgroup.org.

"It's a way for people who don't have opportunity to create it," says Wallace, who has a full-time job but manages the group in his free time. "Letting people know that there are more options out there--if they have the contacts, if they have the networks, they can be successful."

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