“We Want to be Part of Closing the Wealth Gap,” Rutgers Newark Chancellor Cantor Tells Online Attendees

“Rutgers Newark is committed to cultivating an inclusive next-generation talent pool, both in our students, and in our community. … We want to be part of closing the wealth gap, and we all know that the wealth gap is particularly striking in New Jersey. … So, investing in inclusive entrepreneurship is one way to really make a difference.”

With these words, Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, set the stage for a discussion entitled “Inclusive Entrepreneurship: How Rutgers is Empowering Black and Latino Entrepreneurs.” The event took place online on February 4.

Panelist Lyneir Richardson, executive director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED), at Rutgers Business School, discussed the many “capacity-building” programs aimed at Black and Latino students and community members. These programs provide skills, knowledge, tools and mentorship to get urban businesses to the next level.

Moderating the discussion was Pavita Howe, director of entrepreneurship partnerships at the Rutgers Corporate Engagement Center. The session was sponsored by the Rutgers University Alumni Association and Entrepreneurship Partnerships, the latter a new initiative created by the Corporate Engagement Center to help bring visibility to the entrepreneurial activity happening at Rutgers, and to make connections with the university for such purposes as research, talent recruitment, partnerships and access to expertise, including mentoring for entrepreneurs outside the university.

“We also provide resources and connections for faculty, alumni and student entrepreneurs who are interested in building and growing their business and are looking for support from their Rutgers community,” Howe stated.

Cantor added that one of the initiatives to empower Newark’s next generation focuses on encouraging local organizations to hire Newark residents: the Newark Anchor Collaborative, which connects 15 Newark-based companies, hospitals and educational institutions. These participants have committed to leveraging their philanthropic assets, organizational assets and business capabilities to driving inclusive local economic growth, creating more economic opportunity, building a healthier community, and generating a richer quality of life for all Newark residents.

NAC was based on research done by Kevin Lyons, associate professor of professional practice at Rutgers Business School, Cantor said. Rutgers has hired 572 workers from Newark at both its Newark Campus and Health Sciences campus in Newark since 2017, she said. Lyons has also mapped sourcing opportunities in the community for the large institutions in Newark, so that Newark institutions can find ways to support small local businesses and startups.

CUEED Fostering Entrepreneurship Diversity

CUEED started more than 10 years ago in order to foster more diversity among entrepreneurs. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve assisted over 500 entrepreneurs, with 70 percent of entrepreneurs of color and over 60 percent women,” Richardson stated.

He added, “I’m proud of the fact that over 40 percent of them now [each generates] more than $1 million in revenue.” A million dollars is a threshold of business viability and customer acceptance, Richardson noted. It indicates a company’s readiness to talk to bankers and investors. The Center’s goal is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs achieve a million dollars in annual revenue.

CUUED has opened its doors to Newark area entrepreneurs, he said. “We made space, equipment and resources available to entrepreneurs in the community. This is passion work,” Richardson said. “Rutgers is focused on helping entrepreneurs be more profitable. And the goal really is to help our community, local, state and our nation.”

He then pointed out that CUEED has sponsored all kinds of capacity-building programs for Black and Latino entrepreneurs, to help them get to the next level. They’ve learned “how to develop strategic plans, make connections to corporate partners, to really imagine how to be profitable and strategies for having good cash flow. That’s been the core of my work.”

One example is the CUEED-sponsored Black and Latino Tech initiative (BLT), a three-month-long “pre-accelerator” program for founders of color, to help them develop critical skills, build relationships and refine their business ideas. The ultimate goals of BLT are to assist Black and Latino founders with admission into accelerators or with attracting significant capital investment, and to develop a pipeline of established Black and Latino technology entrepreneurs as venture capital partners.

“An Unrelenting Cry for Access to Capital”

What became “crystal clear” even before the pandemic was the unrelenting cry for access to capital, Richardson stated. There was a need to “figure out how to get capital to grow their businesses.” So, Rutgers and CUUED began brainstorming how they could be a part of the solution to this problem.

As Cantor noted, there are systemic reasons why Black and Latino business owners can’t obtain wealth from friends and family, as their white counterparts can. This issue led to development of the Black and Latino Angel Investment Fund, which is backed by Rutgers.

“What some people might not know is that you [CUUED] are helping entrepreneurs of all kinds, whether they are mom-and-pop businesses, tech businesses or businesses that are more complex that require different kinds of guidance,” Howe told Richardson.

Richardson agreed, and said that he wanted Black and Latino entrepreneurs to know that once they are in the CUEED family, they can continue to be active, even after they’ve completed the pre-accelerator program. There will be consulting opportunities, lectures and webinars that can continue to help them build capacity. He added that CUEED has even counseled businesses on exits and exit strategies.

Other programs that have had impact on Black and Latino entrepreneurs include the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, at Rutgers Law School, whose director of development is Mukesh Patel. Rutgers not only teaches lawyers to be entrepreneurs, it helps community and student entrepreneurs with their legal issues.

Richardson noted that CUUED offers “best-in-class” programs, and that he’d like to see the organization raise an endowment that will help it empower entrepreneurs of color and strengthen communities by making that connection between entrepreneurship and economic development.

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