Innovation at HBCUs
How HBCUs are developing tech’s next generation
African-Americans are not new to tech, despite what Silicon Valley’s diversity numbers might suggest. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) have been churning out engineers and inventors since their inceptions. In fact, according to a 2013 National Science Foundation report, 20% of all bachelor’s degrees in engineering are earned by HBCU grads.
What has changed is the language and pace of the tech world. And startup culture is a big reason why. To keep up, one must understand that. To understand that, one must experience it. It is no wonder then that we are seeing HBCUs moving to immerse their students in the world of incubators and accelerators to prep them to excel on the shifting playing field that is today’s tech industry.
Here’s how they’re doing it.
Flipping the Funnel
Morehouse College is addressing the lack of diverse leadership in the tech and startup worlds through its Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center (MCEC). The center provides business development support to entrepreneurs, including: training certifications; connections to potential partners, investors and mentors; startup info and support; technical assistance and education and outreach. Its Certificate in Investing In Startups & Early Stage Companies (Angel Investing), is first for an HBCU. AT&T is one of the several companies that participate in MCEC’s Mentor-Protégé Program, which pairs minority-owned small business with large corporations for guidance and support on winning large-scale contracts.
Black Founders partners with HBCUs including members of the Atlanta University Center, Morgan State and Howard to produce HBCUHacks, weekend hackathons that challenge students to design and build software and mobile apps. Coaches recruited from the tech world guide students through the process so even those new to the tech field can participate. Already, several major tech brands have sponsored HBCUHacks weekends, signifying that they too see value in developing a pipeline of African-American tech talent.
When Clearly Innovative’s founder and CEO Aaron Saunders’s planned Luma Lab opens on the campus of Howard University this fall, Bisons will have firsthand exposure to a startup ecosystem. Luma, a new-technology and innovation incubator, will offer co-working space, tech and business training, networking events and access to potential investors and partners. Howard will act as the incubator’s landlord, providing Luma Lab with a home on the 2300 block of Georgia Ave. NW.. Saunders and team are currently raising funds for lab operations and programming, which will be open to Howard students, faculty and staff along with the greater community.
Fostering Student Collaboration
At Florida A&M University (FAMU), incoming freshmen interested in biology, chemistry, computer and information sciences, mathematics, physics and a variety of engineering disciplines are encouraged to apply for a spot in the STEM Living-Learning Community (LLC) located in FAMU’s West Village. The STEM LLC is one of five student-housing options designed to encourage like-minded students to work together. Other benefits include academic partnerships, service-learning opportunities and in-hall educational sessions. Space is limited so to be considered students must submit essays detailing their passion for science and technology and post-graduation plans.