Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tech Program Trains Next Generation of Minority Entrepreneurs

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tech Program Trains Next Generation of Minority Entrepreneurs

Article excerpt

For two weeks every summer at a small college in West Virginia's northern panhandle, classes start at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. But the work doesn't stop there.

Broken into 10 teams, students in the seven-year-old Emerging Minority Business Leaders program continue working into the night, checking through patents of new technologies, arguing over best approaches, anticipating pratfalls and finally putting together competing business plans. One team wins.

"It was pretty intense, but it inspired me to start a business that was technology focused," says SherRhonda Gibbs, who was on a winning team and completed the EMBL course in 2005. Gibbs, now finishing her doctorate in entrepreneurship at Jackson State University in Mississippi, has her own biomedical startup in Baltimore.

That's music to the ears of Tyrone C. Taylor, the director for Washington relations for the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation. The foundation, along with the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency, runs the $600,000-a-year EMBL program. It is important work, he says, "because the truth is that diversity in high tech isn't where states would like to see it." The program draws about 50 highly qualified, mostly minority students each year from throughout the country.

EMBL, however, may be about to go through some changes. The usual summer program at West Liberty State College runs June 10-21. But to keep it going past then, the tech foundation may have to raise some extra funds independently, Taylor says.

One reason is that the Minority Business Development Agency is reassessing how it funds programs. The agency, Taylor says, evaluates the program on contracts they produce, while the EMBUs goal is to launch new generations of entrepreneurs.

Bridget Gonzales, chief of the Office of Legislative, Education and Intergovernmental Affairs at the MBDA, says no funds are in jeopardy at the moment. Her group has been in discussion with Taylor about upgrading the program. "They want to foster the technology transfer aspect among minority businesses since that's been the weakest part of the program," she says. One goal is to make students aware of what technologies the federal government already has that they can develop. "Over the years, this program has been evolving," she says.

It won't be the first time EMBL has been asked to weather a period of change. Initially, the program involved two months of classroom work. …

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