St. Louis nonprofit kicks off effort to empower Black teens through entrepreneurship

Amid protests over racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, a growing movement has called for increased support of Black-owned businesses. However, Christal Rogers points out that, in many sectors, there are few Black-owned businesses to support.

Rogers is founder of a St. Louis-based organization called Brownpreneurs, which seeks to promote entrepreneurship in young African Americans. To her, entrepreneurship in Black communities is closely tied to the success of Black youth.

“I believe that entrepreneurship can help us both from a social and economic standpoint,” Rogers said.

To that end, Brownpreneuers is holding its inaugural Teen Summit. Each Thursday for the next three weeks, the organization will host an online educational program.

We spoke with Rogers about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, how race and gender have impacted her as a businesswoman and what her goals are for the inaugural summit.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Hear more: Rogers discusses Brownpreneurs on the Speaking Startup podcast

Missouri Business Alert: What is Brownpreneurs?

Christal Rogers: Brownpreneurs is a non-profit organization designed to teach African American students the principles of entrepreneurship. The first year has been very successful, so we’re really happy with what we’ve accomplished thus far.

MBA: You said it’s successful. What are you using to gauge that?

CR: Well we’ve gotten a lot of support from the community. We’ve gotten a lot of support from schools. We’ve also had a lot of students sign up for our first Teen Summit.

MBA: What is the Brownpreneurs Teen Summit?

CR: What that is, is a three-day intense seminar, basically, where we gather African American students from throughout the St. Louis area, and teach them the various principles of entrepreneurship. We teach them how to start a business, and not just how to start a business, but the things you should do prior to starting a business. A lot of people negate the research phase of entrepreneurship. So we try to teach at the summit every single thing that is important, again the fundamentals of running a business. And our goal is for them to be successful the very first time, and not like most people have done and have two, three, sometimes seven, failed businesses.

MBA: What inspired you to start Brownpreneurs?

CR: I started it because I’ve been an entrepreneur for roughly 16 years now, and in my for-profit company I teach business owners how to have a successful business, and I really wanted our students to learn the principles of entrepreneurship. I noticed a lot of times when I talked to students, because I do a lot of mentoring, they operate from the standpoint of business being a hustle or a gig, and it is definitely anything but. It is a structured organization that is based on scientific principles. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and it’s a bachelor of science because business ownership is a science. It has proven principles.

MBA: Do you wish that a service like Brownpreneurs had been around when you first starting a business?

CR: I absolutely do. I think kids should be encouraged to live ambitiously and to dream audaciously and to hope beyond limit, and not be told at a young age that the best they can do is a job. One of the first things I ask a student is, what do they want to be? I’ve had some people tell me that they want to work in medical research, and my response to them is that is absolutely great, but did you know you could also own the lab that does that research?

MBA: Why do you think it’s important to encourage entrepreneurship, especially among Black communities?

CR: I believe that entrepreneurship can help us both from a social and economic standpoint. So when I did the research for Brownpreneurs I came across a report from the census, it was done by a university professor out of Maryland, and she noticed that as entrepreneurship in the Black community rose, that crimes committed by Black youths dropped 29% nationwide. So entrepreneurship gives them purpose and identity. It is very significantly important.

MBA: Do you feel in your own experience as an entrepreneur that you’ve faced challenges from being a Black woman?

CR: I definitely think I have. We both know that gender bias is a real thing, as well as racial inequality. One thing that I’ve experienced personally is, people tend to underestimate you as a woman and also as a Black woman. I have a daughter who’s obviously an African American female, and I always tell her that in order to be successful in this world you have to be better than your caucasian counterpart, because if they measure you with her, more times than not she’s going to get the job. So you have to be exceptional; you can’t just be average.

MBA: Is that something that you talk about with Brownpreneurs?

CR: It is. One of the things that we teach our participants is that entrepreneurship is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. So we do a lot of encouragement, we do a lot of motivational speeches and talks, because we want to give them the mindset of an entrepreneur. Despite what they’ve seen on YouTube or on TV, you can’t start a business one day and the very next day be successful. It does not happen that way.

MBA: In the context of George Floyd and all the protests that have been going on, there’s been a refocusing on supporting Black-owned businesses. Do you think that has the potential to make Brownpreneurs more successful?

CR: That is definitely my hope. Within the Black Lives Matter movement there is a lot of talk about shopping Black, and I’m all for that, that sounds really good, but the truth is we don’t have a lot of options for various industries. For instance, in St. Louis I cannot tell you of one African American-owned grocery store, I cannot tell you of one African American-owned bank. So as we pursue this endeavor to shop Black and look at racial equality, we need to look within the industries and actually make that a possibility, if not for our generation for the generation that’s coming behind us.


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