Black Fellowship Students Headed From HBCUs to VC Boardrooms

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Fisk University in Nashville; Florida A&M University in Tallahassee; and Prairie View A & M University in Prairie View, TX, about 55 miles outside of Houston. Most winners were business or engineering majors, though one, Baffour Osei, is a physics major from Ghana. Osei’s teammates from Fisk are Khrys Hatch, Jasmin Johnson, and Lamarr Nash. The Florida A&M students are De’Havia Stewart and Jameel Brannon. Prairie View is sending the biggest team: Nia Scott, Jordan King, Briana Davis, Micah Hall, and Lloyd Reid.

“It felt like such a shame that I couldn’t accept everyone,” Mujhid says. That regret prompted her to allow all the applicants to register for Venture Capital 101, which had originally been intended only for the fellowship winners. Then she heard feedback from professional colleagues who said that many people need some basic education about venture capital financing.

“I said, OK, we’ll just make this open to everyone,” she says. The course may now funnel in some extra financial support for University students are encouraged to take the course at no charge; others are asked to “pay what you can.” is currently funded through support from individuals. Mujhid is donating her time at the organization’s office in a co-working space in downtown San Francisco, and draws on the help of many volunteers. The program has a fundraising event coming up on Oct. 11.

Encouraged by her experiences with the Venture Capital 101 course, Mujhid is envisioning a larger online educational component to democratize knowledge that could help aspiring VCs and entrepreneurs who can’t glean that information from their own social circles. “I would love to produce two courses a year,” she says.

For the past few weeks, Mujhid has been taking the fellowship students through the first part of their training via video calls and a Slack channel. They’re reading Foundry Group co-founder Brad Feld’s book Venture Deals, and learning to participate in online “daily standups” like software development teams do—-checking in every day to share their progress and work plans, as well as to ask for help when they need it.

Some of the students’ professors have signed on to work with them informally on their fellowship missions, and Mujhid hopes to enlist HBCUs themselves as formal partners in the future. The program could be incorporated into university coursework to spread the idea that careers in entrepreneurship and investing are possible for black students, she says.

Mujhid expects that the fellowship students’ school year of study, network-building, and participation in the actual process of startup financing will boost their chances at a job with a startup or larger tech company. Their accomplishments should also put them in the pipeline for an internship at a venture capital firm, and help any of them who want to be entrepreneurs to learn what investors are looking for.

Mujhid sees as part of a growing infrastructure of stepping stones for black entrepreneurs, and a network that intersects with other networks.

Nichols belongs to an international network of about 500 VCs who completed the Kauffman Fellows program, where one of the main goals is to increase diversity in the venture financing industry. He sees the fellowship as a leg up for students from historically black colleges and universities at an earlier stage of their careers.

“A program like this helps to level the playing field a little bit,” Nichols says. “You do know investors who can speak up on your behalf; you’ve done a little work in this field. They don’t have to teach you from the ground up.”

Photo credit: Hadiyah Mujhid.  The photo depicts five student interns Mujhid met with in San Francisco in the summer of 2016 as she spread the word about the Venture Capital Fellowship. They are Isaiah Grisby, Kristen Shipley, Shantell Williams, Alston Clark, and Courtney Chennault.

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