This week, the UNCF Summit for Black Higher Education was held in Atlanta. Over the years, the summit has provided a space for hundreds of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and PBI (Predominantly Black Institutions) leaders, practitioners, advocates, stakeholders, or anyone who is interested in learning more about higher education. With many of the participants coming in with hopes of supporting HBCUs through building a black network, one in particular stood out as a pioneer in his own right with a solution to bridge the racial wealth gap.

Marlon Evans is the CEO of NexCubed, a global accelerator that invests in startups during the seed stage, providing early-stage capital, corporate relationships, access to a global ecosystem, and most importantly, a four-month acceleration program. Evans has always had diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of his investment ethos. However, a few years ago, in 2020, Evan desired to find a way to create an even bigger impact on HBCUs.

“When we decided to really figure out how we can add an even bigger impact on the top of the funnel, like opportunities that are just getting started, we said, why don’t we open source our acceleration curriculum and provide it at no cost to HBCU students and alums, and so it started off really just as a pilot project within NexCubed” Evans told The Atlanta Voice.

He proceeded with the project, focusing on HBCU students and alumni who were creating their own startups centered around developing technology-enabled solutions that close the wealth gap, ranging from increasing access to healthcare, education, and financial services. Thus, the HBCU Founders Initiative (HBCUFI) was born, and once it had taken on a life of its own outside of NexCube, the initiative soon partnered with UNCF to support the HBCU entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“So we started in 2020, running programming at HBCUs focused on helping students and recent alums, if they had an idea for a business, really helping them understand how they take that idea and turn it into an opportunity where they could get funding and support to help them scale their business,” Evans said.

To date, over 750 students and alumni from over 80 HBCUs have participated in the initiative. This partnership has expanded to create an 8-week Fall and Spring Pre-Accelerator program at 12 HBCUs across the country. These even include Atlanta-based schools such as Morehouse College and Spelman College, along with many others throughout the country, and HBCUFI is looking to expand to even more like-minded institutions. The program goes over topics such as validating the idea, building a prototype, customer discovery, marketing and branding, legal operations, and fundraising. By the end of the program, participants will take part in a pitch competition where they will have the opportunity to receive non-dilutive program awards in support of a minimum viable product (MVP) development.

As an investor, Evans encapsulates the meaning of the old Bible verse from Luke 11: 10-13, “If you give a man a fish, he will be hungry tomorrow. If you teach a man to fish, he will be richer forever.” Evans, in this case, has created a program that teaches HBCU founders how to create long-term sustainability while providing funding. Leveraging advisors who have started companies and who have been corporate executives, Evans said that they “work with each of the teams, both in small cohort groups of five to eight and then one on one.”

“And so those individuals are really the ones who are helping the students understand how to apply that curriculum to their businesses,” said Evans.

What makes HBCUFI different is that it exclusively focuses on HBCU founders. According to Evans, the initiative is a message to other investors, “serving as kind of a catalyst to other investors to say, hey, there’s enough deal flow coming out of HBCUs that you really should be taking a second look, you know, in the same way that investors will go to MIT and Stanford and look for opportunities. We want them going to North Carolina and to Howard with that same type of interest and intensity around.”

Programs and foundations like the one Marlon Evans has manifested are vital to the HBCU community and even beyond to the Black diaspora. These initiatives pave the way to closing the racial wealth gap by providing opportunities to previously overlooked founders. Similar to Evans, there are many leaders from the black community, especially from HBCUs, who have determinedly worked to achieve positions that allow them the opportunity to further uplift their community. Many of these leaders attended the UNCF summit to collaborate, share ideas and projects, and possibly gain sponsorship, with the intention of creating a black intellectual ecosystem.