Harvard Business Professor Leads Effort to Highlight Successes of African American Entrepreneurs

This spring, students in Harvard Business School are learning about the successes of African American business owners through a new course focused exclusively on entrepreneurship in the black community.

Taught by Steven Rogers, a former lampshade-manufacturing executive, the course — “Black Business Leaders and Entrepreneurship” — includes case studies of African American business leaders. According to Rogers, less than 1 percent of the 10,000 case studies previously used by Harvard Business School highlight African Americans, despite the fact that businesses owned by this population account for 9 percent of all U.S. firms.

Inspired by this lack of diversity in case studies, the 1985 Harvard Business School alumnus began developing his own. Rogers has since written 14 studies that feature African American executives in a variety of industries, whom he calls “the hidden figures who have been ignored.” Those he selected — individuals from his own professional networks — were chosen for both their business acumen and for using their success to aid their local communities.

In addition to discussing successful African American business leaders — like Valerie Daniels-Carter, who owns a portfolio of 120-plus restaurants — via case studies, students get the opportunity to learn about these entrepreneurs’ successes firsthand, as they visit the class either in person or via Skype. The course also educates about unions, the labor movement, and private equity, as well as how to remain profitable while helping the community.

Forty-five students signed up for the first iteration of the class this spring, for which Rogers only expected 25. Although the course is open to individuals of any race or ethnicity — Rogers said the class is “not about race, per se” — all enrolled students are black.

“This is bigger than just the black students,” Rogers told The Washington Post. “Our non-black students need to see black brilliance as well, to counter the narrative out there that the only things [African Americans] can do is to entertain and play sports.”

Beyond offering a one-time class, Rogers said he would like his case studies to be woven into the business school’s core curriculum, with a hope that eventually there will no longer be a need for his course. But his case studies stand to have even more impact beyond the gates of Harvard, as other business schools purchase the business school’s case studies. In fact, Rogers already has plans to meet with a business school dean in Washington, D.C., to discuss replicating the class.