December 13, 2013
By By Glenn Burkins
Henry Rock, founder and director of City Startup Labs, say more young black males should be groomed to launch and run their own businesses. On Jan. 17, he and the Urban League of Central Carolinas will launch an “entrepreneurs academy.”
When last we spoke with Henry Rock, the New York transplant was looking to start an “entrepreneurs academy” in conjunction with the Urban League of Central Carolinas. Since then, he has gotten some financial backing.
The goal of the program is to provide entrepreneurial training to young men of color. Rock said he believes that entrepreneurship is one way to begin tackling some the social and economic issues that beset our communities.
With funding now in hand and the program set to launch, Rock said he still needs volunteers willing to serve as coaches and “accountability partners” for the young men.”
Below is a Q&A based on our latest chat.
Q. What’s happened since the last time we talked?
The main thing that happened is we received some funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, which was huge. Actually, they reached out to us…and felt that the program had enough merit for them to want to fund it. As a result of that, I was then able to receive some additional funding from the Knight Foundation. We will be launching January 17.
Q. Where are you in term of selecting students?
We’re at the point right now where we just have a few slots available, so we’ve pretty much reached our goal of 25 students. There are still a few opportunities available, but those are waning pretty quickly.
Q. But you still need coaches. Correct?
The coaches that we’re looking for, I would call “accountability partners.” They are people who don’t necessarily have to have a professional or business background; they don’t have to be entrepreneurs. They are not going to be mentoring the students in that phase of their education. It’s really more about making sure that they live up to their commitment to do the work, to attend class, to navigate though whatever issues they may have to live up to those commitments. ….Our coaching orientation and training is taking place Friday, December 13th and Saturday, December, 14th at the Urban League.
Q. What kind of person are you looking for to be accountability partners?
First and foremost, they have to be coachable themselves, and that’s one of the things we’ll be covering in training and orientation. Above and beyond that, they have to be really committee to following though with what their responsibilities are going to be in terms of guiding the students they’re going to be working with through this 15-week program. We’ll support them throughout the program so that the coaches aren’t just dangling out there by themselves trying to work through this process alone. It’s really about, are you open to learning and are you open to sharing and helping folks stay on course? The big thing, though, is that it’s kinda mandatory that they be at the training session, because that’s where we really set the tone for the rest of the program.
Q. What’s the profile of your typical student?
It’s really a number of different profiles. First and foremost, they’re young, men of color, (ages) 18 to 34. We’re addressing young men in this case because, as you well know, a lot of our young men are falling though the slats or getting attention for a lot of the wrong reasons. I firmly believe that these young guys can be change agents and role models and, as I envision them, a new class of entrepreneurs. We have some that are just out of high school and some that are I college, others that are working in pretty interesting positions, some that don’t have a business idea, some that are actually operating businesses and trying to get them off the ground. Some have backgrounds having been involved with the system and some that don’t even know what the inside of a jail looks like. But the thing that is consistent with all of them is that they see this as a tremendous opportunity. Many have shared that this is something they have been looking for. Pretty much all have expressed a desire or commitment to want to do something for the community as well. So it’s been really gratifying in that regard.
Q. Is it your goal that each young man will leave the program with a sustainable business?
The goal is for them to be in a position to realize success, however they imagine that. But beyond that, we really want these guys to have enough of the fundaments so that they exercise what’s been called a “lean start-up model.” That means that they are able to get out into the market and test their ideas to see what the market tells them about the viability of those ideas.
Q. What does success look like for you?
One, success looks like us having a better than 50 percent retention rate. Also, success looks like businesses that are in the market, generating revenues and really employing folks, and doing that over a period of time
Q. And what happens after this first year?
This is just the pilot, so our intention, obviously, is to install this as an ongoing program, doing this twice a year and then looking at expanding it to other markets beyond Charlotte.