Rutgers GSE CMSI

Entrepreneurship at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Driving Student Success

Contact: Brandy Jones
Telephone: 848-932-0788

New Brunswick, N.J., May 5, 2020-- The Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) and The Whether, an award-winning mentorship-based social network and NMSDC Certified Minority Business Enterprise, are proud to announce the release of a collaborative report that explores entrepreneurship and spotlights how Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are distinctly positioned to support the development of entrepreneurship in Black communities.
The report entitled, “Encouraging Entrepreneurship at Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” explores the impact of The Whether’s Mary Ellen Pleasant Entrepreneurship (MEPE) Fellowship program launched in February 2019. The program, which included 25 Fellows across 17 partner HBCUs, sought to increase the number of entrepreneurs from HBCUs. The Fellows experienced and promoted the value of peer mentoring within their communities, and collaborated with HBCU alumni to facilitate career success. Specifically, each Fellow ran a virtual, career-advising business designed to help their peers obtain the skills needed to become successful entrepreneurs in their desired fields of interest. 
“HBCUs are well-known for their nurturing environments; these institutions have consistently excelled in mentoring and supporting students. This report highlights the importance of strengthening entrepreneurial skills for African American students through effective mentorship strategies,” shared Marybeth Gasman, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair, Distinguished Professor, and the Executive Director for the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
According to the report, Black-owned businesses account for 9.4% of the nation’s businesses. In an effort to address the disparities in Black business ownership, the MEPE program helped Fellows develop entrepreneurial skills with guidance from mentors and The Whether staff. MEPE Fellows also took on ambassadorial roles on campus as they encouraged their peers to take The Whether’s Clarity Assessment, a personality assessment that delivers insights to students to improve decision-making, strengthen relationships, and discover career paths. Armed with their own results from the assessment, MEPE Fellows were tasked with marketing this assessment to their campus community and employing business principles to maximize their campus reach.
“The current COVID-19-related health and economic crises illustrate the importance of timeless entrepreneurial skills such as problem solving, effective communication and resilience,” shared Chris Motley, Founder & CEO of The Whether. “The Fellowship provided an opportunity to teach emerging leaders these skills in a safe and nurturing environment while supporting others.”
The report, which focuses on the experiences of each of the Fellows in the MEPE program, provides readers with a better understanding of the program’s impact. Additionally, the report notes that mentorship is the number one driver of young, Black adults' access and visibility to opportunities because underrepresented students cannot aspire to be what they have not seen or experienced.
“One of my goals is to start a business in financial literacy...the program has helped me understand how to structure my business,” shared a former MEPE fellow.

The fellows’ start-up campaigns resulted in over 13,000 interactions between the Whether and students across the 17 participating HBCU campuses. The report concludes with insights on how similar organizations and institutions can use mentorship as a viable tool for promoting student success and advancing career growth. The report also spotlights each of the 25 HBCU Fellows of the program, and includes some of their motivations and career goals. 
The MEPE Fellowship is a part of a $775,000 Innovations in Career Advising grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and was created to teach entrepreneurship principles to students from HBCUs. The Fellowship included a 10-week virtual internship, which included the coaching of 25 MEPE Fellows from a network of 17 HBCU partners with a collective population of more than 50,000 students.

Meet a Few of the Fellows

  • Dorian Holmes is a junior majoring in computer science at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. On-campus, Dorian is an active leader including roles as president of the Aggies Cyber Defenders and an e-board member of the Association of Computational Machinery. He is also a member of the HBCU VC Class 2 Fellow cohort where he is gaining experience equipping entrepreneurs with tools to develop strong businesses.
  • Mya Jacobs is a second-generation college student. More specifically, she’s a Dean’s List, third-year sales and marketing major at the Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. She plans to one day oversee a network of her own successful business ventures and non-profit organizations focused on shaping the quality of human life.
  • Biruk Abate is a senior majoring in computer engineering at Jackson State University (JSU). Biruk worked with the Google Ignite CS team to introduce STEM programs to nearby high schools in Jackson, MS and led the JSU NASA Swarmathon, a team that participates in the NASA hosted robotics competition. His passion for entrepreneurship was sparked when he helped with a peer-reviewed pitch for a startup investment.

About the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions
The Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) brings together researchers and practitioners from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. CMSI’s goals include: elevating the educational contributions of MSIs; ensuring that they are a part of national conversations; bringing awareness to the vital role MSIs play in the nation’s economic development; increasing the rigorous scholarship of MSIs; connecting MSIs’ academic and administrative leadership to promote reform initiatives; and strengthening efforts to close educational achievement gaps among disadvantaged communities. The Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions is part of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity and Justice (Proctor Institute) at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. For further information about CMSI, please visit our website.
About The Whether
The Whether is a mentorship-based social network for diverse students and early career professionals designed to advance their development by leveraging the experience of others. Through innovative partnerships with non-profit organizations committed to Diversity & Inclusion, they make it easier for leading companies to find, hire and retain diverse talent through its group mentorship platform. Group mentorship with The Whether connects diverse employees at partner companies with students and early career professionals to answer questions about their company, career paths and opportunities. Employer branded content is targeted to the community based on interests, strengths and values. As a result, The Whether is able to provide highly relevant candidate recommendations. For further information about the Whether, please visit

This report is based on research funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020
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