Encouraging Entrepreneurship: Nex Cubed’s HBCU Founder’s Program
Enrollment at HBCUs has skyrocketed since 2016, in part due to what has been dubbed the Missouri Effect. Spurred on by unrest at the University of Missouri, many campuses across the US saw protests as students of color, Black students particularly, rose in demonstration against racial inequity at higher education institutions. Many students sought HBCUs as an alternative as the signs of systemic injustice grew more salient within and beyond the classroom. Yet many HBCUs continue to be underfunded and overlooked as viable centers for innovation and entrepreneurship.
According to a recent analysis of integrated postsecondary education data, employing the national dataset of college outcomes, about a third of Black students in the US earn degrees in either a STEM or business-related discipline. The increased interest in STEM and business fields by Black students, coupled with their renewed enthusiasm for attending HBCUs, suggests that if tech is to fix its inclusion problem, it must prioritize empowering entrepreneurship in HBCUs.
Biggest Challenges Facing HBCUs
In recent years, once-flourishing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been rocked by a number of setbacks. The number of HBCUs has decreased from 121 in the 1930s, to just 101 today. The recent pandemic has been a testing time for many colleges and universities, but especially so for the more financially fragile universities. The Department of Education’s latest list of colleges and universities at risk of closure included 10 HBCUs – that is nearly 10% of the HBCUs in operation today are at risk of closure. Fortunately, the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy, together with the recent protests against systemic racism sparked by the senseless murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, have reified the urgency of committing to racial equity.
The twin events have specifically raised questions about which higher education institutions get funding, which don’t, and why that is. Funding is one of the greater challenges that plague HBCUs. HBCUs, both public and private, have not enjoyed the same investments other universities continue to secure from the federal government or other philanthropic organizations. Public HBCUs continue to receive a fraction of the average endowments that predominantly White higher education institutions receive from their respective states. As a function of the limited funding and investment in many HBCUs, infrastructure has suffered. Underfunded, many HBCUs lack the technological infrastructure to prioritize digital training.
Another challenge facing budding entrepreneurs at HBCUs is a lack of access to the deep-pocketed investors that are likely to help bring their business ideas to fruition. Silicon Valley investors, a large proportion of whom have Ivy League schools for alma matters, mainly target the same predominantly White institutions they attended.
Building Business Ecosystems
Underfunding and a lack of resources at HBCUs can severely quell entrepreneurial mindsets amongst students, yet they suggest a problem to which startup accelerators might be a solution. Accelerators provide intensive business and technical support and guidance, connecting budding entrepreneurs with relevant mentors in the field. They help provide visibility to investors via pitch competitions and personal introductions. It seems, therefore, that partnerships between HBCUs and accelerators are crucial to moving the needle on equity and representation in tech and entrepreneurship.
Ultimately targeting HBCUs can disrupt the lack of diversity and inclusion in tech by creating pathways to success for budding entrepreneurs and techies. By encouraging entrepreneurship at HBCUs, accelerators have the potential to open doors to further job and wealth-building opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs. Moreover, this opens the way to more diverse VC decision-makers, enabling the cycle to continue.
Empowering Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Nex Cubed is an example of an accelerator at the forefront of the movement for inclusive business ecosystems. Powered by the conviction that diversity is “both the right thing to do and good for business,” Nex Cubed recently launched its HBCU Founder’s Program. Designed in collaboration with HBCUs, the accelerator is engaging students and recent alumni at HBCUs who have an interest in building businesses in the Digital Health, FinTech, PropTech, and EdTech sectors.
The 8-week virtual program commences this fall with a series of workshops and panel discussions with industry experts. Students will be led through ideation sessions and will gain access to mentors from relevant industries. Those with promising ideas will then be invited to join the two-month Summer Acceleration Program and will receive $10,000 to cover the cost of participating in the program as well as the cost of technical resources to develop an MVP. At the culmination of the summer program, students will have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors.
The winners will subsequently be invited to join a more intensive 4-month accelerator program which comes with an initial capital investment in their business, as well as continued advisory support through the Nex Cubed entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Nex Cubed is an investor and innovation partner that empowers startups, investors, corporates, academia, and governments to bring new technologies to market, helps rising companies scale, and provides paths to liquidity – the power of three.
In terms of how Nex Cubed does this, Program Manager of the HBCU Founder’s Program, Jade Lockard states: “Through our global innovation platform that includes Sway Ventures (VC) and Material Capital Partners (private equity), we innovate, invest in, accelerate, and scale frontier tech companies. We accomplish this by developing Centers of Excellence (COE) around key verticals that are ripe for innovation. Each COE consists of best in class entrepreneurs, investment partners, industry experts, and government leaders.”
“Since inception, diversity and inclusion have been woven into the cultural fabric of Nex Cubed,” said Nex Cubed CEO, Marlon Evans. “While over 50% of our portfolio of 75 companies are led by female and minority founders, in order for us to have the impact that we’re looking to make. We knew that we could do more and we realized that we needed to start earlier in the process by working with students and recent alumni who might otherwise not have access to Silicon Valley and to funding.”
Technology and innovation are shaping our future, and it is essential that we approach the next era of technology with an inclusive perspective. Aside from tackling disparities in opportunities, accelerators are key to ensuring that as we build the systems that shape our future world, we are doing so in a manner that includes and serves everyone.
Learn more about Nex Cubed’s HBCU Founder’s Program here.