Durham's history and future are based, in part, on the entrepreneurial spirit of its diverse community. This Black History Month, we celebrate the legacy of Durham's Black Wall Street and tip our hat to the innovators who are making Durham one the best places in America to start a business.
We teamed up with American Underground to bring you a series of profiles of African-American entrepreneurs in Durham who are changing the business landscape. Meet Ed Boyd, a Durham native and founder of iNvictus Office Center.
1. What is iNvictus Office Center?
At iNvictus Office Center we're a co-working space. We have a mentor-based minority entrepreneurship curriculum where we work with minority entrepreneurs, providing technical support, networking [opportunities], and funding to help their businesses succeed.
2. Why is a mentor-based program for minority entrepreneurs important?
In an era where venture capital funding is at an all-time high, angel investments are at an all-time high, we look at the numbers and the numbers are staggering on how that money doesn't [reach] minorities. Less than 9 percent of those funds actually reach female-owned companies, and less than 3 percent of funds reach African American-owned companies.
Everyone understands how important entrepreneurship in America is. But at the same time, it's difficult. Eighty-seven percent of new companies in America fail within two years. Of minority numbers, it's even more staggering - [the majority of] businesses open and close within 8 to 10 months.
Obviously there's something going on - a reason for the disparity. There hasn't been enough of a targeted focus on ensuring that women and minority-owned companies have the chance to succeed.
We don't do a lot of handholding, but we're able to point companies in the right direction and walk with them. We can do the ancillary work.
3. You're a serial entrepreneur - you've founded barber shops, restaurants, child care facilities, and more. At what point did you realize that there was a need in the community for a mentor-based program for minority entrepreneurs?
It started organically. Myself and few other business partners would have younger entrepreneurs come to us and we'd work with them over the years. It wasn't until I heard a story on NPR on the actual numbers of [minorities in] entrepreneurship that we thought that there might be a need for a place like iNvictus.
When I first heard the story I called my business partners and said, "Either [NPR's] numbers are off, or we're successful at something that not a lot of people are successful in." I actually contacted the reporter and chased down the raw data, which was correct. [My business partners and I] met in Washington, D.C. and went through the nuts and bolts. We began to work on a curriculum based on what we were already doing, that's how we got started. Five years later, 263 companies or so later, we have a success rate of just under 90 percent.
We understand that success isn't [about] the networks and technical support as much as the fact that it's mentor-based. It's almost like having a business consultant at your disposal. Because of our work ethic, we demand a high performance. We want to make sure the person we're working with has the right mindset. We don't work with just anyone who comes through the door. We don't have to believe in the business, we have to believe in the entrepreneur. We have to know that person will fight, climb, do whatever it takes.
4. Why should everyone in the community be invested in making sure entrepreneurship is equitable?
The beauty of diversity is bringing different voices and perspectives to the table. But we've got to look to another word, because I think diversity is being co-opted. I talk with Jesica Averhart at American Underground and she pointed out that we should look toward the word inclusiveness. If you're pushing for diversity, you can make it broad enough so it becomes, "Well, if we can't find someone with a disability, then we just can't." But you can't co-opt inclusiveness. You can't exclude a sector and then try to explain why they're excluded.
Our work is two-fold. We work with minorities in entrepreneurship and we also work with majority culture-owned companies to help them locate minority-owned companies to work with. There's this long-running excuse by many of them that they would work with more diverse companies but they don't know of any.
The end game to solving the diversity issue is not to hire a diversity coordinator. The end game is to actually make your company more diverse. Hiring a diversity coordinator can be one of the early stages of ensuring that there's diversity in the company, but too often companies hire a diversity coordinator and it's hands off after that. I will say that most companies seem to have the right person in that position, they just don't have the power that position needs. That's a difficult situation.
5. You discuss entrepreneurship in terms of community redevelopment. How does iNvictus promote that end goal?
There are three requirements upon us agreeing to work with [an entrepreneur]. Each entrepreneur has to be dedicated to transforming previously underserved communities. You can do so in one of three ways: you can actually put a location of your company in one of these communities; you can hire people from within these communities; or you can provide technical support or funds to organizations that work within these communities. It's the pay-it-forward model.
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