Minority Business Development Agency
Henry Childs II is the national director of the Minority Business Development Agency. His main focus is to widen the MBDA’s influence on minority-owned businesses and global markets. To support this endeavor, the MBDA has established the Opportunity Zone Summits, Enterprising Women of Color Initiative, and most recently, The InVision Tour.
What type of mindset should a person have as they go into the world of business?
When you get into the business world, you have to realize that it changes every day.You have to take big risks. The traditional rules that come from books or seminars are not going to work for minority entrepreneurs, I know they didn’t work for me. Three rules have worked for me in my career. Rule number one is you have
to be fearless, I did not become successful by playing it safe. You have to see your dream and you have to go after it. Rule number two, you have to be fast. Change happens at lightning speed in the global economy every single day. The key is pushing your idea into the market as soon as possible, and upgrade your software every year. The last rule is that you have to be focused. The main thing that sets successful people apart from those who struggle is their focus. That’s something that our young people of color have to understand. We are used to hustling and doing things on the side because we have been forced to, but if you want to build a million-dollar company, you have to be focused.
Within your time, thus far, as the National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), what are some recurring barriers or disadvantages that you noticed is plaguing young creators of color?
The two biggest things are access to capital and the lack of mentors. It’s expected that entrepreneurs go to friends and family before seeking outside funding, but the problem is that a lot of people of color do not have generational wealth within their families. People of color disproportionately receive a lack of funding, especially black women. Women, particularly black women, are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, but according to a Project DIANE study, startups led by black women have only raised less than 1% of the $424 billion in total tech funding. That’s an issue that has to be addressed, we have to get capital to our young people. I travel all across the country and I always hear the same thing from young people of color, it’s just a lack of mentors. You chase the dream that you see, and you only actualize what you can visualize. If you’re growing up only seeing athletes, entertainers or people hustling on the streets as models of success, it is very hard for you to see that the way out of your neighborhood is through business. So I think some of the images that we have in our beautiful culture must be filled with more successful black
and brown business people. We have to honor exceptional black and brown entrepreneurs, these are the people who are building million and billion-dollar businesses.
Can you explain what the main objective of the InVision Tour is?
The purpose was to increase the number of minorities in tech transfer. MBDA traveled all across the country to raise awareness about how people of color can use federal labs to achieve their dreams and become the next million-dollar or billion-dollar company. We believe that you have to ingrain these thoughts into people’s minds that this is possible, and we have this humongous resource of federal labs that have become untapped. That’s what the Minority Business Development Agency is all about, we’re the only federal agency whose sole mission is to help minorities grow and compete globally. So we think that this is just one more resource that we can get to our young entrepreneurs of color.
How effective has the InVision Tour been to the careers of individuals who have made use of it?
This is our first year and I am excited to say that it has been a huge success. A lot of our people have already applied for small business innovation research grants, that’s huge. We have one company that is in negotiations for a cooperative research and development agreement. Also, several of our companies have been licensed with NASA and NSA technologies to develop new products. Ultimately, I think the greatest thing that the InVision Tour has done is to shine a spotlight on the untapped resource of federal labs, and connected people of color with opportunities.
What obstacles have you endured throughout your journey as a businessman? How did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacle I had when I was younger was just really understanding how to accomplish what I wanted to do. There isn’t a roadmap to success when you’re growing up as a young black man in America. A lot of times, if you don’t end up in jail or fall under any other plights of being black, you’re content. Having a steady job and a good family, not having to worry about violence, you’re successful. We aren’t shown how to thrive instead of just survive. I didn’t have an ownership mentality, I didn’t know what being an owner meant. The biggest hurdle now once you’ve become established, is finding people to trust so that you can build your team. To compete with major corporations, it’s going to take people who have mastered different industries to come together. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, so you have to have people in your wolfpack.
What are some of your proudest achievements during your career?
I’ve been very fortunate in my life, I’ve accomplished a few things. I’m an attorney, I was an elected official, and I’m fortunate enough to be the National Director to the Minority Business Development Agency. Henry Childs at his core, however, is a person who believes in mission. My goal in life is to basically be a philosophist, I want to make a huge impact on people’s lives. I’ve had many opportunities to do for myself, but I think what I’m most proud of is the fact that I’ve stayed focused and have helped people around me. It bothers me to see images of black and brown people suffering. I decided to learn everything I could about business so that I could build a roadmap for minorities and help our community grow, then we can truly achieve personal freedom.
I read that there are over 300 federally funded laboratories and research centers in this country that offer assistance to creators at no charge. With these resources available, do you think they are utilized as much as they could be? Why or why not?
No, I don’t think that they are being utilized. I think that is the main reason that MBDA came up with the InVision Tour. The federal government could do a better job of advertising its resources. The government spends about $150 billion on research every year, and yet most people in minority communities haven’t heard of the labs. For those who have heard, a lot of them don’t think they will get funding so they don’t apply. There needs to be more of an effort from people on the federal and private sectors to get the word out about these labs.
This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Urban Magazine.