This year may be the “Year of the Urban Innovator.” In 2011, many creative Black American entrepreneurs joined millions of risk-taking innovators racing into the startup frontier with dreams of developing their passions into the next big marketplace disruption.
Yet, Black Americans face some unique economic challenges that, ironically, could compel their competitive spirits in the new year.
Here are five bold predictions I believe will change the economic landscape for Black and urban America in 2012, contributing to an overall economic benefit for the nation.
Education equals access:
The vast majority of Black Americans do not attend college. The majority of those who do, do not graduate. The debt that college students carry compounds the burden. That presents a problem when a college education is marketed as the best method of access to opportunity in a capitalist society. In 2012, I predict STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) will become a major focus of investment in K-12. Instead of STEM being perceived as niche channels for “smart” or “gifted” students, it will become a necessary integral hub around which project-based learning helps all students understand methods of applying classroom curricula to solve real world problems. STEM education in K-12 will help develop life-long learning skills that students can apply to a myriad of educational platforms that expand opportunities, regardless of education credentials.
Entrepreneurship offers opportunity:
The Kauffman Foundation proclaims nearly all net new jobs in America since 1980 are the result of companies five years old and younger. These high-growth startups are the nation’s economic engine and the best opportunity for economically disconnected Black and urban Americans to compete. They are fueled by family, friends and risk capital investments from angel investors and venture capital. I predict in 2012 entrepreneurship will explode as the key to economic success in America’s 21st century “innovation economy.” Black and urban America will rush into the new innovation frontier. From elementary school through higher education, students will learn key entrepreneurial principals around which they can wrap knowledge of core curricula (English, math, science, history, etc.) along with their personal creativity and passions to introduce innovative ideas that offer productive solutions to community problems.
Investment reaps reward:
In 2012, I predict investing in urban innovation will become a familiar mantra. Black and Hispanic Americans have suffered the highest unemployment and deepest depression era-like economic paradigm throughout 2011 despite optimism over the overall jobless rate dipping. The gap between median wealth of white and Black American families is 20 times … and growing wider.
Another growing disparity is the constant stream of angel investments flowing into new companies to spur innovation and job growth. More than $3.5 billion was targeted toward startup companies by angel investors alone in the first half of 2011. Few of those investors were Black. And few of those startup companies were led by Black founders. Congress is seeking to lower the bar for angel investing and open the door for startup founders to raise capital via crowdfunding. In 2012, I predict crowdfunding will grow, along with interest in investing in urban innovators.
Initiating an economic movement:
In 2012, I predict Black and urban America will be inspired by a man who is destined to become a household name, Johnathan Holifield. Long before America heard the name Barack Obama, Johnathan Holifield was tilling the ground of technology in the Midwest, developing technology based learning centers, advising governors and mayors on the growing “innovation economy” (then called the “new economy”) and educating the Urban League leadership with a vision that was decades ahead of the in-house paradigm.
George Fraser, a well-known advocate of building wealth in Black America, paid homage to Holifield when he heard him speak at Rutgers Business School last Nov. 16.
Fraser characterized Holifield’s 45-minute speech as a “Harvard-level presentation.” Holifield is a co-founder of The America21 Project, a national nonprofit dedicated to changing the economic narrative in Black and urban America and being a catalyst for an economic movement that will connect economically disconnected sectors of America with the fast-paced innovation economy.
Exponential economic impact:
In 2012, I predict Black journalists and media will become the storytellers of an economic movement in Black and urban America. Black journalists will turn their attention to gaining a better understanding of the innovation economy and its job growth and wealth generating processes. As more of Black and urban America understand the economic power inherent within Black America to invest in urban innovators, create jobs and expand the overall economy while reaping internal rewards, there will be a resurgence of productivity. That revenue generated by high-growth Black-owned businesses will move the needle of Black America’s contribution to the nation’s GDP above the 1 percent mark, which will be a historic impact.
Mike Green is an award-winning journalist and blogger for The Huffington Post.