According to a 2005 Princeton study, “Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets,” young white high school graduates were nearly twice as likely to receive positive responses from employers as equally qualified black job seekers. Even without criminal records, black applicants had low rates of positive responses – about the same as the response rate for white applicants with criminal records.
This is where entrepreneurship comes in. For example, a report done by the Justice Policy Institute states that, “…recidivism is higher for those persons who are unable to obtain employment after leaving prison and imposes a high cost on society; and yet employment opportunities are especially limited for ex-convicts. Thus self-employment would be a viable alternative for ex-offenders, at least for those with above average entrepreneurial aptitude…” Someone like a Lawrence Carpenter.
The City Startup Labs approach is to conduct an Entrepreneur’s Academy, offering accelerated instruction to inner-city young men (usually 18 to 24 years old) who aspire to start and operate their own businesses. Students progress through a set of modules, including a core curriculum provided by the Kauffman Foundation. Among other things, this curriculum builds a working knowledge of the fundamentals of planning and managing a business.
Once students have prepared and pitched their business ideas, this program gives them a platform to incubate their ventures. Students are supported throughout the process with coaches, tutors, mentors, and sponsors. A pilot Entrepreneur’s Academy program is launching this May in Charlotte, N.C., in collaboration with the local Urban League.
The high-tech, high-growth model of Silicon Valley and Alley has so engrained the popular notion of what it means to be an entrepreneur, that it’s hard to imagine young, inner-city, black men playing a vital role in America’s entrepreneurial activity and innovation.