I came across the SMAART Incubator during one of my routine search sessions where I scour the internet for outstanding Black-owned businesses. I knew right away that their vision was one I couldn't afford to keep to myself...so I scheduled a call with the founding team immediately. When the day came, I waited patiently on the line as Jay-Z's "OJ" played in the background. It sounds weird, but before the beat dropped I was actually pretty nervous. HOV reassured me that I was right where I needed to be. It didn't take long for Khufere Qhamata - one of the 6 founders - to hop on. The other 5 were out serving the community somehow, I'm sure. We got through introductions and then the fun began. Read on to learn more about how the SMAART Incubator is making strides in the Black community.
Meet the crew.
The SMAART Incubator team consists of six founders: Khufere Qhamata, Dr. George Korede, Lloyd Ford, Lance Soders, Kyle Blue, and Shern Peters. Along with a 2-person advisory committee and a full team of 20 woke and wonderful minds, this crew is on a mission to teach Black entrepreneurs how to build a business the right way.
How it all began.
Khufere Qhamata spent the first 5 years of his career in startup consulting. During this time, he learned the ins and outs of launching and scaling a business. He quickly realized something was missing: "You can always count on one hand how many black people are on the team." What's up with that?
Khufere re-joined the NAACP with the goal of educating himself on the current state of Black business culture. In 2017, he hired a team of young activists to help make Black-owned businesses smarter, faster, and more competitive. Less than one year after that, the SMAART Incubator has built an ecosystem of 300 entrepreneurs in the Houston area. "I want to train our community to a startup mindset instead of a small business mindset."
Startups vs. small businesses
According to Khufere, "startups are expected to grow and do lots of business fast, usually within 90 days. In contrast small businesses struggle to break even in year one and don't have to live up the expectation of being a multi-million company within three years." Small businesses often miss investment opportunities due to the absence of an investible business model. Part of developing a startup mindset - and gaining access to substantial funding - is mastering the art of startup economics.
What is startup economics?
The premise of startup economics is to equip entrepreneurs with the resources they need to achieve sustainable success. "With a startup, you either succeed fast or fail fast." The SMAART Incubator believes in a model that begins with seed money from an entrepreneur's immediate circle, and then graduates to pitching to angel investors. "Angel investors are a great resource for scaling your business because they are willing to invest money for a decent return...and they tend to have a lot of it." The final step is to pitch to venture capitalists, who tend to look for very unique business models. "They want you to grow fast so they can make money and move on to their next project quickly."
The SMAART Incubator has held a total of 13 pitch sessions over the last year through their SMAART Pitch program. Young Black entrepreneurs can apply on their website to attend the event, pitch their business model and network with experienced businessmen and businesswomen.
On May 31st, in partnership with Academy M, they launched Millennia. "It's a platform for Black business owners to study the many facets of entrepreneurship," Khufere explains. The program is able to serve over 3,000 students at once, with classes that last a maximum of 4 weeks each.
In a few short years the SMAART Incubator has created a community that will not only support Black-owned businesses, but push Black entrepreneurs to reach their full potential. With affordable resources and access to a team that is truly dedicated to the growth of Black businesses, Houston's Black entrepreneurial community has no reason not to succeed. We can't wait to see the legends that emerge from this phenomenal program.