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Howard’s entrepreneurs are in it for more than just the money

Being a student entrepreneur at Howard is more than revenue generated. It’s about the purpose, the message and the impact.

(Photo courtesy of Dejah’s Depictions)

Although the main components of running a business may be generating consistent revenue, operating efficiently, and making a profit, there has always been an intrinsic value to why businesses were born and continue to run: service to others.

For Dejah Jones-Moore, a junior political science major and strategic, legal, and management communications minor from Indianapolis, Indiana, it began with a realization that she could be a catalyst for change through her photography business, Dejah’s Depictions.

Through winning competitions, receiving prestigious awards on a national scale, and gaining valuable work experience, she realized that photography and art could be much more than just a hobby. Having done professional work for the Indiana Athletic Association, the NBA, and various concert venues, she is no stranger to the high-profile space.

“A lot of times, as a woman, especially a Black woman, when I’m in these professional spaces and I look around the room, I’m the only one,” Jones-Moore says. She found that she could make a difference in her community by showcasing her talent and showing the world that people from underrepresented communities are more than what is assumed.

According to a McKinsey & Company report, the number of Black businesses in operation increased by 38% in 2021. Increased entrepreneurial activity at HBCUs will be a key factor in seeing this statistic increase. Continued support at Howard and other institutions will play an important part in uplifting the Black community as a whole.      

“It’s way more than just doing it for a check or doing it because I have to. I use it as a form of advocacy for women and for the Black community… to try and highlight the good that we do,” Jones-Moore said. 

For Maxwell Curry, a senior marketing major from Chicago, and Tollie Elliot, a senior health science major from Washington, D.C., service takes shape in the form of meeting clients in need wherever and whenever. The two students launched Bison Builds, a move-in and fix-it services company, in April of this year. The business consists of moving people in and out of living arrangements or storage as well as home furnishing.  

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What had originally been small acts of kindness by helping out friends and family turned into an idea to expand into a fully operational business, aiding the Howard community and residents throughout the DMV. The inspiration behind this business began with the mission to help others.

“There’s a really nice aspect of it… in helping serve at least the Howard community,” Curry said. Being local during the mid-to-late summer period when students begin to move back into campus gives the business activity and exposure to new families coming through. “You see that they are really happy and appreciative of it. So you know we appreciate doing that,” Tollie said.

Christian Bernard, a junior business management major from Potomac, Maryland uses his business to impact the community by spreading his message to uplift people. The phrase “Worth It” can be found across sweaters, pants, and t-shirts of his clothing brand Boogs Apparel.

Christian Bernard, creator of Boogs Apparel, is pictured wearing his “Worth It” t-shirt and shorts. (Photo courtesy of @boogsapparel)

Bernard has frequently hosted photo shoots and pop-ups to spread the brand, but what’s most important is the message it conveys. Compared to when he first created Boogs Apparel during the pandemic, the business has seen tremendous growth. It is perhaps a testament to the quality of the product, but it can certainly be a testament to the purpose as well.

“Everyone has things that are different but worth it to them,” Bernard said. “It’s all positive, and my main goal with Boogs Apparel is just to spread positivity to as many corners of the world as possible, and that’s what I want to do with Howard.” 

The entrepreneurial spirit among Howard students truly encapsulates the reason why it is known as the Mecca. Student business leaders in all spaces within our community work towards the same effort of providing our own market that suits the needs of social impacts not only our student body but potentially others around the world. However, this is nothing new here at the university.

Dr. Erin Horne McKinney, the inaugural national executive director for the Howard University & PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship says, “Being an entrepreneur is very much what being a Bison is all about. We know how to hustle. We know how to work hard and I’ve seen that first hand.” 

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McKinney has founded or served on the board of several companies and organizations that play a significant role in developing young entrepreneurs within the community. These organizations, such as Zimbali Networks, Black Female Founders, and Pipeline Angels provide them with the resources, funding, education, and advocacy that help their projects come to fruition.

History has repeatedly shown that there is an inherent drive within underrepresented communities to innovate. Institutions like Howard, along with many others, showcase these examples of the indomitable spirit of making change to serve a better purpose.

Dr. Johnny Graham, marketing professor, Associate Director of and Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for the Howard University PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship, said, in reference to students entering these programs,  “There is just a certain genius, a certain brilliance, a certain hunger, a certain proactiveness about generating their own business ideas.”

“Howard, in particular,  presents a unique opportunity to help [you] reach your entrepreneurial dreams in real-time and have a system of support that cares about your personal development,” Graham said. 

Students have access to the small business development center, which offers free counseling to entrepreneurs, or the Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) which offers intellectual property assistance. Not only are entrepreneurship courses available in the School of Business, but within the College of Fine Arts, School of Communications, and School of Engineering as well.

Capital raising has always been a critical issue within the discussion of Black-owned businesses in general. According to McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm, Black businesses received just 0.7% of start-up capital in 2020 within the United States. Available resources at Howard, such as the various competitions and external funding from corporations, attempt to help Black student entrepreneurs with this dilemma.   

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The HU Empower Competition is a premier entrepreneurship pitch competition for Howard University students where finalists for this competition will have the opportunity to present their impactful business ideas to representatives from PNC, the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce, and Howard. 

Since its inception in 2018, the competition has awarded over $150,000 in cash prizes and resources to Howard’s most brilliant innovators and creative thinkers. The most recent first-place winner for the social impact category was Howard alumna Nagea Kirkley. As a recent graduate with a bachelor of arts in international affairs and community development, she was awarded $7,500 for her pitch for Kirkley’s Community Grocery Store.

The event is associated with a program sponsored by HubSpot, a CRM platform that develops and markets software for various business-related services. In this program, students take a course called “Marketing for Startups” where they receive lessons on marketing tools, feasibility, and go-to-market strategy. Mentorship from experienced Black entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and investors is provided to student participants as well. 

When looking back over the program application data, Graham noticed one major common denominator: young leaders wanting to make a difference through their ideas. “I think that’s the culture of Howard. To be social engineers and care about community solutions.” 

Copy edited by Whitney Meritus

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