Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Who We Are

Historically Black colleges and university (HBCU) campuses are now heavily populated by students who were born between 1997 and 2012. Otherwise known as Gen Z.

Almost two-thirds of Gen Z have started, or intend to start, their own business, according to data from WP Engine and the Center for Generational Kinetics.

UNCF (United Negro College Fund) recognizes the trend—the future is now—and has created its own Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).

Since 2014, UNCF has supported students in their entrepreneurial endeavors through programming, scholarship and mentorships. These students come from a variety of backgrounds, but they share an interest in exploring how entrepreneurship can improve well-being for individuals, communities and society as a whole.

In 2022, UNCF expanded this work by launching CIE as a guide to and through the HBCU Entrepreneurial ecosystem. Its mission is to address social inequities through entrepreneurship by empowering Black and other creators with community and opportunity, from idea to impact.

CIE is designed to support students at HBCUs and other institutions to pursue and fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams.

“The center’s ongoing mission is to develop the next generation of talented BIPOC entrepreneurs and innovators to create impactful business and design solutions to address society’s greatest challenges,” said Larry Griffith, UNCF senior vice president, programs and student services.

“We are committed to creating opportunities for synergy and collaboration among Black and other students of color and educators, institutions and partners to establish and grow wealth and increase social impact within communities of color. As more college students and graduates of diverse backgrounds pursue interests in business ownership and entrepreneurship, the UNCF Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is designed to help facilitate their interests and achieve success in their economic and social impact endeavors,” said Griffith.

What We Do

As the only university-wide resource of its kind, we cultivate inclusive, interconnected campuses that empower entrepreneurial triumph for students of color across HBCUs and predominantly White institutions (PWIs).

  • Define the HBCU entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • Enhance synergy across HBCUs, UNCF and corporate partners
  • Tailor curriculum for cultural and contemporary relevance
  • Expand Ideas for entrepreneurship to future-forward opportunities
  • Build collaborative capacity to maximize resource use and application
  • Co-Design with students for impactful outcomes

Supporting Scholars from Idea to Impact

UNCF’s CIE partners with BIPOC students across the nation to support their human experience, prioritizing deep understanding of our community’s needs, behaviors and desires. We accept and meet students where they are, regardless of their motivation for pursuing entrepreneurship.

The center’s objectives are to build, grow, support and nurture partner ventures through a multi-prong approach of education, development, mentoring and financial support through scholarships, grants and business funding for innovators and entrepreneurs.

The center will:

  • Build a dynamic community of entrepreneurs and innovators
  • Administer business and social entrepreneurship and innovation-focused scholarship programs
  • Promote access to fellowships and internships
  • Define HBCU ecosystem to identify, inform and align partners for collaborative capacity building
  • Expand online community engagement through community-oriented activities and events
  • Train intrapreneurs, company managers who promote innovation, and develop curriculum
  • Foster development of businesses through the entrepreneurial venture studio model

The center is tapping into the wave of entrepreneurship and innovation that is sweeping HBCU campuses among students and recent graduates. New business formation has boomed since the pandemic.

Nearly half of Gen Z, about 48%, have numerous side hustles, compared to 34% of small business owners.

“We seek to change the story of entrepreneurship for years to come. Being able to wake up each day, knowing that you created something worthwhile for the next generation is a goal for CIE,” said Devon Corbin, director, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UNCF.

“We want to create a space that supports freedom of choice. A space to create, with no pressure of fully launching businesses. We also want to create a space to sustain, where creators can ideate their goals to fully launch ventures that will scale and grow,” said Corbin.

The UNCF Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is providing the necessary support to help student innovators and entrepreneurs, especially those students of color who may not have had exposure or resources, to achieve business success.