Tyler Ford is looking forward to moving his tech startup out of his apartment and into a new incubator space in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Shaw University junior will be one of the historically black college’s first students to run a company out of its new Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center.
Set in a 2,000-square-foot storefront commercial space a short walking distance to the Shaw campus, the center is the result of a partnership between the university and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund — a community development financial institution designed to provide access to low-cost financial capital in distressed communities throughout the state.
The innovation center is intended to be a piece in the revitalization of Southeast Raleigh, a community where an estimated 67 percent of residents are African-American and one that has experienced high crime and poverty rates. It also represents the first major partnership with an HBCU in the state aimed at increasing minority student access to entrepreneurial resources.
A new paper from economists Raj Chetty and Emmanuel Saez recognizes the role HBCUs play in the U.S. in upward mobility. And Shaw’s not alone in creating ways to expand impact. In November, Coppin State University in Baltimore announced a joint effort with a nonprofit makerspace to strengthen black entrepreneurship there.
“We’re taking students during their undergraduate years and molding their habits as we work to build them into robust entrepreneurs,” says Tashni Dubroy, president of Shaw University. “We hope the center will serve as a launching point for students to see themselves as critical to improving their quality of life, and the quality of life of the community around them.”
She says the center will foster skills that translate into both entrepreneurship and working in the corporate world. Students and businesses throughout Southeast Raleigh will have access to many of the programs CSBDF currently provides, including technical assistance, funding resources, basic business training and more.
The center’s first floor will offer co-working and collaboration space. The second floor features dedicated space for private team meetings and offices for CSBDF staff. Day-to-day operations will be managed by former Code2040 entrepreneur-in-residence Talib Graves-Manns.
Awamary Khan, executive vice president and CFO/COO at CSBDF, says the space will serve student tech entrepreneurs like Ford along with “main street businesses.”
In addition to providing technical assistance and one-on-one coaching at the center, Khan says, CSBDF will continue to offer low-cost loans to business owners and students alike. Each year, the CDFI provides over $12 million in loans with interest rates ranging from 0 to 12 percent through a variety of loan funds targeting women, veterans and minorities. Unlike traditional bank lending, the fund evaluates potential borrowers holistically, looking beyond their credit scores for evidence they’re likely to succeed and drive job growth within the community.
“We’d like to see the Innovation Center be mirrored in other parts of the state with other HBCUs. We want to see this program grow and to see a curriculum built that would teach these classes internally and part of the standard undergraduate business programs,” Khan says. “We have big goals over the next three years to expand entrepreneurship and show students that it is an option.”
For additional capital outside of what CSBDF can provide, students will also get access to direct connections with grants and resources from the Innovation Center’s partners, which include Google and Citrix Innovation Center.
Ford’s business idea — a mobile app connecting residents to on-demand jobs within the restaurant and nightlife industry — has already landed seed funding from CSBDF. His internships with the N.C. General Assembly and the Obama administration have fueled a passion for bridging technology and economic opportunity for the city’s residents.
“The Innovation Center will be a game-changer for the Southeast Raleigh community. I see the difference when minority students are given access to resources that aren’t always available in our communities,” Ford says. “The center and the resources it is providing will continue to make this part of Raleigh competitive and show what can come out of [this community].”
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology and digital inclusion. Her work has been featured in Black Enterprise Magazine, Triple Pundit and Inhabitat.