Forty years ago the Nixon Administration created the Opportunity Funding Cooperation, an organization designed to help close the economic disparity gap between White and Blacks in America.
While the Black community has improved its economic conditions since the OFC’s founding, significant disparities in education, land holdings, employment and business earnings still exist.
Students, business leaders, and scholars worked to sustain the mission of closing this gap by convening over the weekend in Atlanta for the organization’s 10th annual Business Plan Competition.
The competition “prepares our students and helps them become entrepreneurs in future business ventures,” said OFC President Sharon Pratt, former mayor of Washington, D.C.
During the business plan challenge, teams from historically Black colleges and universities presented business plans to a panel of judges and competed for monetary awards.
Pratt, who joined the OFC board five years ago as a judge, said the business plan challenge is important because it is an “affirmation of students’ own talent” and because it gives students access to the cooperate business and banking community.
Fayetteville State University won first place in this year’s challenge, earning $15,000. The university won the event in 2005, 2007 and 2008, making it the only school to win multiple first-place distinctions since the competition began in 2000.
In addition to receiving a monetary award, one member from the Fayetteville State team will attend the annual Global Moot Corp Competition at the University of Texas at Austin next month. According to Ret. Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg, outgoing chairman of the OFC, the OFC Business Venture program is modeled after the Moot Corp competition.
Fayetteville State was among the 21 HBCUs participating in this year’s challenge. Each team presented in front of six judges during a 15-minute period. Following the presentation, judges had 15 minutes to ask each team a set of questions.
For the final round, judges select six teams that are subsequently ranked as finalists.
Gregg said OFC will continuously work to help HBCUs and the Black community understand that entrepreneurship is a viable career goal.
“It’s an attractive option. Even those students who won’t go on to own businesses will be better prepared to have a better career in business and even government,” Gregg said. “The fundamentals of business will serve them well wherever in life.”
William Clement, incoming chair and former vice chair of OFC and president and CEO Atlanta Life Financial Group, said judges looked at two major key determinants in an outstanding team’s proposal: scalability and if the proposed business venture is bankable. Enthusiasm, passion and knowledge are also important, he said.
He said Fayetteville State has done a great job at coming up with business ventures that cross academic disciplines. These ventures usually involve creating a product that requires the input of students with a background in science, technology, engineering and/or math.
Clement said the Black community is behind in social entrepreneurship and used alumni donation rates at HBCUs and Ivy Leagues as an example.
Clement said at Harvard University an alumni giving back $1 million is nothing major, but at an HBCU it’s a big deal. He said an increase in social entrepreneurship among HBCU alumni would make such donations more commonplace and expected.
Ideally, more successful HBCU graduates would give back in stock value or through the creation of endowed chair positions, Clement said.
“In order for us as a community to move forward, there’s has to be a focus on creating wealth,” Clement said.
The business venture competition also helps carry the overall mission of OFC, which encompasses helping HBCUs develop a comprehensive entrepreneurship curriculum that would be relevant to preparing young Black students entering the work force.
Clement said when the business venture program began only a few HBCUs business programs, including MBA programs at Howard and Hampton universities, offered entrepreneurship as a major or concentration.
Today, an increasing number of HBCU MBA programs offer entrepreneurship courses, Clement said.
Dr. Mohammad Bhuiyan, founding director of the OFC Venture Challenge and ex-officio of the Advisory Council for OFC Venture Challenge Program, is responsible for raising a bulk of the funds, which are also used to fund the room and board, airfare and other fees for all OFC competition attendees.
In addition to holding its business competition, the OFC also held an annual HBCU faculty/dean development program where business school administrators convened to help strengthen programs and its National Policy Forum on Minority Entrepreneurship Education. The forum serves to get government, nonprofit, academic, corporate businesses and other sectors involved in minority entrepreneurship ventures.
This year’s speakers included Ambassador Andrew Young; US Army General William Ward; Sam Duncan, chair, CEO and president of Office Max, Inc, and Brian Cornell, president and CEO of Sam Club. Past speakers include Magic Johnson, Robert J. Johnson, formerly of Black Entertainment Television and Xernona Clayton of the Trumpet Awards Foundation.
This year’s winners in addition to Fayetteville State University:
Second Place: Southern University, $5,000
Third Place: University of the West Indies, $3,000
Fourth Place: Tennessee State University, $2,000
Fifth Place: North Carolina Central University, $1,000
Sixth Place: Jackson State University, $1,000