America's Got Talent is a popular television show based upon the search for talented, creative people across America. The idea of a talent show isn't new, of course. We've seen a few before, like The Gong Show, Star Search and American Idol.
However, few would guess that Amateur Night at the Apollo is more than 77 years old and preceded all of those popular shows listed above. The Apollo also produced numerous household names, including introducing the world to a 15-year-old prodigy named Ella Fitzgerald.
So, it's surprising that while Black Americans recognized the need to invest in creativity in 1934, and produced a ground-breaking platform of showcasing innovative entertainment that's copied to this very day, we're now Moonwalking behind today's rocket-propelled pace of investing in economic innovations.
This is part two of my three-part series, 3 Ways to Save America's Black Boys. My three primary solutions are:
• Change their language
• Invest in their creativity
• Mentor them into the mainstream
Investing in America's Black Boys
There is no doubt that Black Boys have talent and creativity, despite the negative circumstances into which the vast majority are born. Yet, over the 77 years of the existence of The Apollo Theater, we have witnessed significant progress of representation and integration of Black Americans in the performance arts and sports arenas despite rampant racism and insular networks that pervade these industries.
The evidence is clear: We have invested in the artistic and athletic talents and creativity of Black boys, but failed to equally invest in their innovative capacity to contribute to society across industry sectors and produce high-growth enterprises through creative entrepreneurship. The focus of millions of Black boys today isn't on owning and operating sports and entertainment arenas, most merely want to be the performers under the spotlights.
In this 21st century fast-paced, knowledge-based, tech-driven global innovation economy, there's a much bigger platform of creative talent search that has been built, and the participation of Black Americans is so small the actual numbers are statistically nil. This new platform is comprised of risk capital investors (angels and venture capitalists) searching for the next big idea that captivates consumers, the next big marketplace disruption, the next new business model, and the next innovation in any industry.
Missing: Black Investment in Black Innovators
Last year, VCs and angels invested more than $52B ($30B and $22B respectively) in roughly 70,000 companies. This very serious process of searching for the next Mark Zuckerberg, and a startup or early stage company to ramp like Facebook, is repeated year after year within an innovation ecosystem that is foreign to most Black Americans.
Part of the solution to the problems Black boys face in America is for Black adults to stop limiting the massive potential of children to dreams of becoming celebrity entertainers and ball handlers. While those dreams are important and not to be diluted, we must also ensure Black boys (and girls) grow up with an innate understanding that this is a capitalist society and all industries operate upon the foundation of capitalism. We must prepare and equip Black boys to compete in the economic game. We must ensure Black children have a solid educational foundation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that bolsters their creative talents. That's our investment in their economic future.
When Black boys are able to compete in business and use their creative talents to introduce innovative concepts, products, services, and business models that disrupt industries, capture market share and generate jobs and wealth, they will join new generations of immigrants whose parents have long prepared them to compete in the U.S. and global marketplaces as entrepreneurs.
The best opportunity Black boys have to transition from pipe dreams to the realities of economic opportunities in an evolving global innovation economy is for Black Americans to start writing checks that invest in establishing infrastructures that develop entrepreneurial education and competence. The overwhelming amount of focus on government solutions must be balanced by acceptance of the responsibility by us to take immediate steps on our own to save our children. There is no political solution that will reverse the devastating trends destroying America's Black boys.
Black Innovation in the Black Church
I believe the church can play a lead role, given its direct connections and influence in the lives of Black American families. In collaboration with knowledgeable business leaders, an innovation ecosystem can emerge through a partnership between business and church leaders in the same way public-private partnerships (government and private companies) have sought to work together to invest in common economic outcomes by focusing on producing more entrepreneurs.
The bottom line is we, as in Black Americans, must invest in the same discovery process that occurs each day for White Americans. But time is running out.
The Pace of Innovation and Economic Competitiveness
The pace of innovation is increasing while we talk. For example, between 2007 and 2012, New York City alone spawned 486 funded digital startups. That translates into nine (9) funded digital startups per month. If we estimate a very high 5 percent of total startups pitched were funded monthly, that's 180 startups connected to investors every month. How many of those startup founders and investors are Black? Does this kind of entrepreneurial infrastructure, which generates activity that churns out a constant stream of new ideas and startup founders, exist within Black America?
Last year, more than 318,000 angel investors -- high net worth individuals investing their own money in startup and early stage companies -- wrote $22B in checks to support the creativity of more than 66,000 young companies, according to the Center for Venture Research. On average, that activity is the result of 5,500 startups being funded every month just by angel investors alone.
Just 4 percent of those angels are minorities. And that percentage plummets to statistically nil when searching for Black angels. Among startups, only a meager 7 percent of the entrepreneurs pitching to angels are minorities. The numbers of those founders who are Black isn't known. But 7 percent for all minorities is a small number, especially when fuel-injected small businesses account for nearly all net new job growth in America and Black Americans suffer from chronic high unemployment every year.
Within the industry of risk capital exists a sub-industry of social networking events, conferences, digital platforms and contests devoted solely to the process of bringing together high-growth entrepreneurs and risk capital investors. That activity is vibrant within thriving innovation ecosystems like Silicon Valley, Boston, New York and elsewhere. But attendance by Black people at such events anywhere in the country is statistically nil. The common complaint by Black entrepreneurs and investors who do attend is they simply do not see many other Black people at those events. How many of these events are funded and produced by Black people?
20th Century Mindset vs 21st Century Innovation Economy
The central economic theme promoted across Black America is: get an education to get a better job. But who is inculcating into the minds of our youth that they can use education to learn how to create businesses that produce jobs and wealth?
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) produce more than half of all Black teachers at America's public schools. It is important to ensure the HBCU landscape equips graduates with an understanding of how the 21st century global innovation economy works from an entrepreneurial perspective, because those leaders will influence and impact the thinking of Black children and teens. But they can't teach what they don't know.
It is also imperative that Black Americans shed risk-averse attitudes and get into the game of investing in educational processes and training that cultivate entrepreneurial risk-taking and economic creativity, which leads to innovation that spurs high-growth businesses. The education of Black adults on the global innovation economy is an essential step toward understanding why we must write the checks to invest in the establishment of infrastructures that cultivate the creativity of our talented Black boys. We cannot afford to keep waiting on someone else to address this pervasive problem within our communities while the pace of innovation races along with exponential leaps and bounds each year.
Waiting on government for a solution is like waiting on Superman; neither will rescue our Black boys. That's our job.