From Oakland to Milwaukee, Molding Black Youths Into Entrepreneurs

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“Second Impressions.” … The idea was around restorative justice. The biggest hurdle once [inmates] come out of incarceration is finding a job to keep them from reverting back to the lifestyle that got them there. … Right now there are government initiatives and agencies that structure small-scale training, but there is no app directed to them where they can find employers who specifically align themselves and say they would hire people that have previous records.

X: What was your biggest takeaway from the weekend?

DJ: If you give [youths] the opportunity, and you do have to handhold them through the project initially, but after the courses people have been through [with Hidden Genius Project], they’re self-sufficient. They were coding their own apps, doing a business model canvas.

Locally here we’ve been throwing around the idea of is [the Hidden Genius Project’s goal] possible, and what is the model? They’re proving it out there. … As multiple cities look to replicate that model, I think tremendous things are going to happen for low-opportunity [individuals]. We don’t really see prominent [African-Americans] in Silicon Valley that are front and center. They’re trying … to transform that narrative and say it’s OK to be in this sector of individuals.

X: What’s the next step for implementing a program like Hidden Genius Project in Milwaukee?

DJ: We’re in the preliminary stages of starting up a fellowship program and then just doing preliminary outreach initiatives to see is it needed here. Maybe recruit five to 10 students and start up that model. If talks progress with Hidden Genius, more than likely we’ll come in with that brand.

The idea is to secure capital for the initial fellowship program by probably May, then recruit those individuals for that summer fellowship.

X: What effect do you think Startup Weekend Oakland will have on participants?

DJ: I hope it allows [the students] to grow into serial entrepreneurs/explorers. When you look at the minority demographic, we’ve seen a plethora of philanthropic dollars given to the community. It’s never been an issue of money. When we look nationwide, the systemic problems haven’t changed. Allowing those individuals in those situations to solve their own problems, I think, is key to revitalizing this next generation. Dig ourselves not only out of the recession we’re in, but allowing those cultures that are left behind to grow with it.

X: Is entrepreneurship uniquely suited to accomplish that?

DJ: I think entrepreneurship is uniquely suited because it’s one of the few ways toward generational wealth. … When I look at just the modern IPO, that exit alone creates hundreds of millionaires. Looking at scale like that, if we’re truly going to transform the world, still with manufacturing we’re creating jobs with manufacturing salaries. If you have 20 co-founders, and they start something great, it’s 20 people exiting with a significant return. That can truly transform a lot of things. That opportunity has not been available for minorities.

X: What surprised you most about Startup Weekend Oakland?

DJ: The key thing they said that shocked me was one of the judging criteria for Startup Weekend has always been revenue model. From a social perspective, probably 90 percent of the ideas presented [at Startup Weekend Oakland] had no initial revenue model. What they did out west was they had social impact replace the revenue model. If we’re talking about 1 million inmates, what is the value-add from getting 5 percent of those people jobs? [Reducing recidivism is] a value proposition. For a taxpayer, that’s a value-add. As those models progress and become more pervasive, you’re going to start seeing a lot of social entrepreneurs lean toward that route.

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Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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