Black America’s $100M Investment Experiment

Those concerned with the plight of Black America – and can write a check for $10K, or even $100 – this is an opportunity for you to create job growth, generate wealth and radically alter the investment culture in Black America.

Bold prediction? Read on.

Zuckerberg’s Bet on Black

When Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to Newark, NJ public schools, he felt compelled to do something radical to alter the downward trajectory of academic achievement and open new doors of opportunity for students locked into a dismal economic future. Data show that math proficiency is an accurate predictor of the lifetime earnings capability of eighth-graders … even fourth-graders. Zuckerberg’s $100 million investment in a failing education system targeting primarily Black students was a bold bet. Although the Facebook founder’s contribution is the largest, it isn’t the first investment in the Newark schools and community organizations by a concerned citizen. Oprah Winfrey has been there, done that.

Will Zuckerberg’s bet pay off?

What Mark instinctively recognized from his privileged perch was the absolute necessity of a quality education that provides a pipeline of qualified job seekers and innovative job creators who contribute to the economic growth of the nation and its global economic competitiveness. To date, the education pipelines from Black America connecting to a knowledge-based, tech-driven innovation economy are narrow, cracked and constricted in some places and non-existent in others. The result is a decline in the flow through those pipelines, which currently produces a trickle of professionals qualified to actively engage in America’s rapid-growth industries that largely depend upon STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math).

Can $100 or even $10K make a difference?

STEM Education Pipeline

For many Black students, the necessary family, community and cultural support essential to pump them through the education pipeline isn’t there. For many others, numerous cracks in the pipeline itself cause them to fall out. And still, for far too many who heroically make it through the secondary stages, the pipeline abruptly ends and dumps them into a society for which they are ill-prepared to survive, much less thrive. Only a few Black students continue in the pipeline through its higher education elevations … and fewer still will emerge from its highest point.

The result is fewer qualified Black job seekers in STEM fields – the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy. Within that set of qualified job seekers is the subset of rare high-growth entrepreneurs. These innovators – pursuing high-risk ventures projecting 10 times to 20 times return on investments within five years – are responsible for all of the net new job growth in the nation since 1980. Sadly, contributions to the subset of high-growth entrepreneurship from Black America are anemic. And thus, job growth in Black America is choking.

Sports Lesson

How have Black Americans overcome significant challenges in pro sports to become over-represented in those closed systems yet failed to make equivalent progress in technology sectors?

For many decades the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball leagues engaged in discriminatory practices that excluded Black Americans. Blacks battled for reforms resulting in full participation in the leagues, progressing over time to eventually becoming team owners.

In contrast to the pro sports leagues -Silicon Valley technology companies won’t have to worry about Black intellectuals waging war to play on their teams, much less own teams that compete against them. At the current pace of STEM education in K-12 systems with high populations of Black students, most will not be prepared to compete in high tech markets in the foreseeable future.

So what about Zuckerberg’s bet?

Pondering New Paradigms

What if Zuckerberg had taken a page out of President John F. Kennedy’s playbook? Instead of challenging students to build a path to the moon, what if he had offered $100 million as a reward for achievement?

What if Zuckerberg had challenged innovative Black entrepreneurs across the nation, rather than students, to compete for 1,000 cash prizes of $100K each?

What if the Zuckerberg Prize became synonymous with the Pulitzer Prize, except each year 1,000 Black Innovators received the prize?

What if just 10 percent of those 1,000 Black Innovators each year reached star status? Or, as they are referred to in the startup world … gazelles.

Imagine 100 high-growth startup companies with Black founders in year one. Add another 100 in year two. By year three a cultural shift may occur in the mindset of Black parents, students and the education sector. High-tech entrepreneurship may become a key component in the range of options families and students consider in 2015. And in a knowledge-based, tech-driven society, the value of science, technology, engineering and math education may be bolstered by numerous success stories and investments being made in Black innovators in the high-growth technology fields.

Black Innovation Fund: Investing in Black America

The Zuckerberg Prize wouldn’t stand alone. The marketing of the Prize would be used to encourage high net worth Black Americans to start local and regional prizes in the names of local and regional individuals and families. Black Funders groups would form to invest in Black Founders.

What difference would a $10K check make?

Imagine Black professional athletes, entertainers, musicians and high net worth individuals writing $10K checks to the Black Innovation Fund. This fund could be used to foster and nurture an entrepreneurial ecosystem that produces exponential job growth and wealth in Black America. The fund would invest in Black innovators. The success of those companies would grow the fund to be able to invest in more Black innovators.

Imagine if 10,000 high net worth Black Americans wrote a $10K check to the Black Innovation Fund. That would equal Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark schools. But instead of placing the bet on the front end of K-12 education, we would place it on the back end to encourage and support Black innovation and job growth in America’s 21st century Innovation Economy while inspiring further investment in education and motivating students to achieve.

Of course, everyone can’t write a $10K check. But one million of us can write a $100 check. It all adds up the same.

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