EOT Incubates Business Ideas and Creator Culture
By KJ Ward | Photos Courtesy of EOT
Is the start-up scene in the US turning a corner when it comes to Black entrepreneurs? According to analysis by Crunchbase, VCs invested $1.8 billion in Black founders in just the first half of 2021. By all measures, 2020 was a unique year, and the $1 billion that went to Black founders that year was less than the $1.4 billion that was raised in 2019 – certainly due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. But 2021 was more than a bounce-back from the previous year. By mid-2021, a pace of investment in Black businesses was reached that would put 2021 on track toward a four-fold increase over 2020.
A racial reckoning that was reborn in mid-2020 gave renewed attention to the violence that Black people suffer at the hands of the state and gave rise to a new DEI industrial complex in the workplace. It also seems to have sparked a brand-new commitment from the venture capital community to proactively invest in Black entrepreneurs. In an interview with Inc., Mac Conwell recalled commitments by a wave of investors to fund Black start-ups following the murder of George Floyd. These pledges helped Conwell launch RareBreed Ventures just a few months later in September 2020. Despite this recent sharp rise in funding, however, only 1.2 percent of all VC funding goes to Black startups.
What also took flight in the summer of 2020 was a unique program that looked a bit farther back into the entrepreneurship pipeline and took on the challenge of cultivating the entrepreneurial inclinations of Black and brown high school students. BEQ Magazine “40 Leaders Under 40” awardee Daniel P. Calderon and Jack Salomone started Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (EOT) in 2019, but 2020 saw the launch of the organization’s interactive curriculum and its inaugural cohort of “Youthpreneurs” from across the United States and Caribbean. The nonprofit organization identifies the structural barriers that limit the entrepreneurial aspirations of Black and brown youth and seeks to remove those barriers through mentoring and education.
The story of America is full of African American inventors. Dozens of Black inventors across 19th and 20th century America have held patents in everything from consumer goods to chemistry to industrial engineering. It is also the case that the success of many Black-owned businesses and economically thriving Black communities, on the other hand, have been cut short by angry mobs and complicit governments who saw Black success as an existential threat to white communities. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw several successful Black towns razed to the ground and many of their residents killed. It is, perhaps, no wonder that the focus of many families raising Black and brown children in the 100 years since has been on “getting a good job at a good company and working your way up.”
Daniel P. Calderon reflected on how – growing up as “a kid with a lot of ideas” – he was seen by his family as more insolent than creative. That is, by everyone except his grandfather. “My grandfather called me ‘Inventor’ because I used to always sketch out diagrams,” Calderon told BEQ Magazine. “I remember when I was younger, I made a sneaker that was a roller skate. I’m not saying I invented those, but you know,” he laughed. “The creativity of young minds is just so phenomenal.” And it is the work of Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow to foster that creativity and help young people see and develop the business potential of that creativity.
But increasing what is possible in the way of Black and brown entrepreneurship is more than a matter of the morality of justice or equality. In an interview with the Institute for Gender and the Economy, Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton recasts greater access as a matter of organizational strategy and smart business sense. She talks about women, people of color, and LGBTQ people in the start-up scene being not just underrepresented, but underestimated.
“We’re not talking about something philanthropic… We’re not looking for you to change your personality,” she says about investors. In overlooking LGBTQ entrepreneurs and other “underestimated” founders, Hamilton says that investors are missing out on smart business opportunities. “If you don’t look here, you’re a bad investor.”
Another exciting element of Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow is that its work doesn’t stop at entrepreneurship education or the ideas lab. At this very moment – building on their “Plan. Build. Grow.” model – Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow is developing a fund that will invest in the businesses of its “at-promise founders” (intentionally replacing the deficit orientation of the “at-risk” moniker). In an interview with BEQ, Calderon said, “[Youthpreneurs] are going to be put in front of real VC folks and real finance people to pitch their ideas. The fund that we’re going to be raising will invest in these businesses.”
With commitments from LGBTQ investors like Arlan Hamilton and the clarity of purpose of innovators like Daniel P. Calderon, the day when Black and brown young people are just as likely as their white peers to go from business idea to commercial plan to scalable start-up might be just around the corner.
HOW TO ENGAGE EOT
With the help of a powerful community of do-gooders, Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (EOT) provides free entrepreneurship education to Black and Brown youth each year. As we gear up to launch our 2022 programming for elementary, high school, and early college students, we’re seeking to raise $200,000 toward our Youthpreneur Fund so we can financially support youth-owned businesses and community projects within our Youthpreneur Incubator program.
Do you know a brilliant young entrepreneur we can support? Visit entrepreneursoftomorrow.org for more information on EOT’s Youthpreneur Incubator.
By donating to Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow, you are helping to provide capital, technological resources, high-level mentorship and networking experiences for the next wave of leaders, and early childhood financial literacy education for the future generation. We couldn’t deliver our dynamic curriculum without your support, and we thank you for being a part of the EOT family.
KJ Ward is a freedom fighter with a love of language and an appreciation of the power of the written word. Earlier in his career he worked as a case manager for the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services and as the director of Boston GLASS, a supportive services and advocacy program for LGBTQ youth. KJ also worked for several years as a communications specialist for McKinsey & Company in Germany.
Today, KJ partners with a small group of clients in service of their communications strategy and organizational development needs. He is a proud and active member of both the board of directors of Gender Spectrum and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and from time to time he publishes his own writing. KJ is also a registered yoga teacher, committed to bringing this practice of individual and community liberation to those whose access to it has been limited.
KJ earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Harvard University.