Building, Growing, and Innovating

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Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business Fills a Need for Minority Entrepreneurs

The number of U.S. adults starting their own business rose in 2016, with 550,000 entrepreneurs launching a new company each month.

While all racial and ethnic groups experienced an increase in new entrepreneurs over the last two years — with 40 percent of new businesses launched by African American, Latino, Asian, or other non-white individuals — the rate is highest among Hispanics. The number of new businesses created by this group in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 1996, rising from 10 to 20.8 percent in 2015, according to the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity.

Minority entrepreneurs face many unique challenges when it comes to starting a business in addition to those experienced by all new business owners; these include less access to long-term financing, fewer entrepreneurial role models or minority mentors, and difficulty finding legal or accounting advisers who understand minority businesses. To assist these entrepreneurs, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College offers the education to help them overcome these challenges.

[Above: Minority Business Program participants during a class]

Developed in 1980, the Minority Business Program is the longest continuously offered academic program that focuses on minority businesses. “The 80s were a very different social and political environment from today, so the program was developed to enhance the knowledge of underutilized, underserved business owners,” explains Fred McKinney, managing director of the Minority Business Program at Tuck. “Very few minority business owners knew how to pursue and obtain substantial contracts with larger corporations or the government, so the first program focused on how to access information, better manage their businesses, and win contracts.”

Fred McKinney
Fred McKinney

McKinney says that a common gap in knowledge among minority entrepreneurs today is the ability to define the difference between a symptom of a struggling business and the cause of the problem.

“We often hear participants say they can’t grow their business because they can’t access capital, but that is a symptom of a problem,” he says. “The real problem is a lack of a well-defined business strategy that someone is willing to back financially. Our programs give them an opportunity to develop those strategies.”

The initial course offered at Tuck grew into a series of minority-focused classes that now make up the Minority Business Program. These classes are typically offered once or twice each year and cover a range of topics and skills critical to managing and growing a small business.

Building a High-Performing Minority Business
The Building a High-Performing Minority Business course consists of five full days of seminars and is geared toward company leaders who have at least three to five years of ownership or managerial experience and whose companies make a minimum of $300,000 annually in sales. Instructors cover topics such as strategic planning, accounting, finance, operations management, marketing, leadership, and communications.

“What makes this different from traditional executive education programs is that each participant focuses on his or her own business as opposed to case studies of other businesses,” says McKinney. “Entrepreneurs typically work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, running their business. They rarely have an opportunity to step back and take a strategic look at their company, but this program gives them that time.”

In addition to learning from Tuck faculty, participants gain insight from one another through class discussions and the informal sharing of best practices. “We had a Connecticut-based communications company owner and a Boston-based sports marketing company owner meet during the program and then work together when they returned to their businesses,” says McKinney.

He says that the conversation is usually lively because “entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to grow, promote, and expand their business.”

Students in the Minority Business Program in Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business
Students in the Minority Business Program in Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business

Growing the Minority Business to Scale
Another weeklong course, Growing the Minority Business is for business owners who have at least five to 10 years of ownership or managerial experience and whose companies have at least $400,000 in annual sales and are poised for continued growth. Five full days of seminars provide participants knowledge in a variety of areas related to managing growth: strategic implementation to achieve profitable growth, financial essentials that include business valuation and securing capital, acquisition strategies, leaner operations to reduce costs while maintaining quality, and strategic alliances to expand their customer base.

McKinney recommends that business owners attend the programs in order, from “building” to “growth,” to reap the most benefits.

“This course focuses on the skills needed to grow a business once it is established and successful, with a clear strategic plan in place,” he says.

Digital Excellence Program for Minority Entrepreneurs
The newest offering in Tuck’s Minority Business Program is the Digital Excellence Program. “This was developed in 2015 to address the growing use of technology and social media in the business environment,” explains McKinney.

This three-day course is tailored to minority and underrepresented entrepreneurs with three to five years of experience as an owner or manager of a business with $300,000 in annual sales. It features sessions on topics including constructing a digital strategy, marketing businesses online, and managing digital communities. In addition, the course includes intensive sessions on understanding analytics.

Whereas the other programs take place on Dartmouth’s campus, Google hosts the digital one. The spring 2015 class was held at the company’s office in Mountain View, Calif., and the fall 2016 class is being held at its Chicago office.

“Because Google hosts the course, we are able to hear from experts what they are developing for the future, as well as learn about technology available today,” says McKinney. “The instructors don’t just focus on Google products; they also introduce and demonstrate the use of all social media and business technology.”

In addition to these three programs, Dartmouth’s minority business offerings include custom programs delivered to corporations, government agencies, and industry associations. One such example is a program presented in partnership with engineering firm Burns & McDonnell for diverse businesses in the Kansas City area.

“Tuck faculty [members] go to the businesses that request a custom program and address topics identified by the organization,” says McKinney. “For example, the Kansas City program is hosted by an engineering firm, so many of the attendees are subcontractors, companies, or government agencies associated with construction. We then focus on information and examples specific to that industry.”

He points to program enrollment as evidence of a continuing need for minority-focused business education classes. Tuck’s Minority Business Program courses — which seat 50 to 60 people each — are always full and often have waiting lists.

“Since 1980, there have been 6,000 unique participants in all of the programs,” McKinney says, adding that this group has included ethnic and racial minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, and veterans.

In the future, he predicts, the number of academic institutions offering executive education focused on minority entrepreneurs will grow, but he says doing so is not easy. “It requires a commitment from the institution and the faculty,” he adds. “This is a demanding audience; entrepreneurs are mission-focused. But it is exciting to work with the people who are building businesses and creating jobs in populations that have been underrepresented and underserved.”●

Sheryl S. Jackson is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.