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UNCF Expands Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship 

Gaby M. Rojas

Entrepreneurship and innovation are the ways forward to growing wealth in the Black and other communities of color and to advance the progress of the nation.

With that focus, UNCF (United Negro College Fund), the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization, expanded its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) to support students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other institutions to pursue and fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams.

“The center’s ongoing mission is to develop the next generation of talented BIPOC entrepreneurs and innovators to create impactful business and design solutions to address society’s greatest challenges,” says Larry Griffith, UNCF senior vice president, programs, and student services.

“We are committed to creating opportunities for synergy and collaboration among Black and other students of color and educators, institutions, and partners to establish and grow wealth and increase social impact within communities of color. As more college students and graduates of diverse backgrounds pursue interests in business ownership and entrepreneurship, the UNCF Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is designed to help facilitate their interests and achieve success in their economic and social impact endeavors,” said Griffith.

A social entrepreneur is a person who explores business opportunities that have a positive impact on their community and society in general. Social entrepreneurship will be an important part of the work of the center. It’s the process by which individuals, startups and entrepreneurs develop and fund solutions that directly address social issues.

The center’s objectives are to build, grow, support and nurture partner ventures through a multi-prong approach of education, development, mentoring and financial support through scholarships, grants and business funding for innovators and entrepreneurs.

The center will:

  • Build a dynamic community of entrepreneurs and innovators.
  • Administer business and social entrepreneurship and innovation-focused scholarship programs.
  • Promote access to fellowships and internships.
  • Define HBCU ecosystem to identify, inform and align partners for collaborative capacity building.
  • Expand online community engagement through community-oriented activities and events.
  • Train intrapreneurs, company managers who promote innovation, and develop curriculum.
  • Foster development of businesses through the entrepreneurial venture studio model.

The center is tapping into the wave of entrepreneurship and innovation that is sweeping HBCU campuses among students and recent graduates, who fall in the category of Gen Z, comprising people born between 1996 and 2010. This generation’s identity has been molded by the digital age, climate anxiety, a shifting financial landscape, greater awareness of social equity and personal identity and the impact of COVID-19. Gen Z is currently the second-youngest generation, with millennials before and Generation Alpha after.

According to Forbes magazine, “Over 10 percent of Gen Z students recently polled have expressed interest in starting or developing their own business in the next six months. This generation brings creativity and a fresh perspective to the table—a table that now has open seats for those embracing this new world of work. This doesn’t always mean college or even trade school. What once seemed like the only path now has been divided up into many. They’re keen on making money to support themselves and entrepreneurship is a way to do that.”

“It’s also clear that Gen-Z is eager to carve a work path outside of the only historical option: a corporate 9-5. Instead, they want balance, fulfillment and to be extremely passionate about the work behind their paychecks. One way they are considering taking charge of that passion is by starting their own business,” according to Forbes.

“We seek to change the story of entrepreneurship for years to come. Being able to wake up each day, knowing that you created something worthwhile for the next generation is a goal for CIE,” says Devon Corbin, director, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UNCF.

“We want to create a space that supports freedom of choice. A space to create, with no pressure of fully launching businesses. We also want to create a space to sustain, where creators can ideate their goals to fully launch ventures that will scale and grow,” says Corbin.

The UNCF Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is tapping into the trend and providing the necessary support to help student innovators, especially those students of color who may not have had exposure or resources, to achieve business success. To learn more about UNCF’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, contact cie@uncf.org.

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