HBCU-Based Center for Black Entrepreneurship Gains Another Multi-Million Dollar Corporate Commitment


  • Cisco is giving more than $4 million in grants and specialized technical services to Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman for the development of the Center for Black Entrepreneurship.
  • Part of the funding will go to endowed faculty positions at the two colleges and the establishment of graduate-level programming at Clark Atlanta.
  • This academic year, the CBE will launch a new entrepreneurship minor program and an online certificate.

This week, Cisco made a multi-million dollar commitment to the HBCU-based Center for Black Entrepreneurship (CBE), the latest major corporation to support the center. The CBE is also expanding its work to include future graduate programming at Clark Atlanta University, further cementing its commitment to the Atlanta University Center.

“The CBE is really seeking to eliminate the barriers that Black entrepreneurs are facing to proximity with professional investors and business leaders by leveraging education, mentorship, connections to capital and opportunity,” Samantha Tweedy, president of the Black Economic Alliance Foundation, told The Plug.

The CBE was launched in February 2021 as a partnership between Morehouse College, Spelman College and the Black Economic Alliance (BEA) Foundation, a non-profit that works for economic mobility and wealth creation for Black people. It started with $10 million in seed funding from Bank of America and Mastercard gave $5 million to the project in September 2021.

Cisco is now adding to those initial investments by giving more than $4 million in grants and specialized technical services to Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman for the development of the CBE. The company is also giving $1 million to the BEA Entrepreneurs Fund, an investment fund that has a portion dedicated to startups created by graduates of the CBE.

In total, the CBE has raised over $25 million to support its efforts, with additional funding announcements coming soon. 

“With gratitude to our funding partners, we are currently exceeding our fundraising expectations and are well on track to meet our five-year goal,” Tweedy said.

Developing new academic programs

Over the past year and a half since its inception, the CBE has been working to create a curriculum to teach students how to do a set of things: create a business, launch a startup, evolve and translate a business concept, scale innovations into commercially viable products and connect with potential investors including VC and other funding sources.

This work is coming to fruition in a minor program that will launch at Morehouse and Spelman this 2022-2023 academic year.

“We are seeking to build an ecosystem of awareness, opportunity and investment,” Tweedy said. “Part of this ecosystem is engaging successful entrepreneurs and leaders from venture capital, private equity, tech, finance and other industries who will serve as adjunct faculty, guest lecturers and mentors.”

The new Cisco grant will also support the expansion of this curriculum. Most of the money from the company — $3 million — will be used for endowed faculty positions at the two colleges and the establishment of graduate-level programming at Clark Atlanta. The specific details of what that programming will look like are still being developed, Tweedy said.

“This new endeavor aligns with Clark Atlanta University’s legacy of higher education leadership by extending access to aspiring entrepreneurs who have already completed their bachelor’s degrees and are seeking to deepen their business knowledge and proficiencies,” George T. French, president of Clark Atlanta, said in a statement.

The CBE will also be launching an online certificate program this academic year for founders not just at the Atlanta University Center but around the world.

“The certificate program is intended to build on all of the curricular aspects of the [minor] program so that we are able to provide the kind of upskilling and additional credentialing to entrepreneurs, ultimately, across the globe,” Tweedy explained.

Entrepreneurship landscape across HBCUs

The CBE is not the only entrepreneurship center to launch at an HBCU in the past year. 

In October 2021, Howard University announced a $16.8 million, five-year grant from the PNC Foundation, the main philanthropic arm of PNC Bank, to create the Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship, which also includes regional hubs at three other HBCUs — including Clark Atlanta.

In July 2021, Clark Atlanta University, Spelman and Morehouse announced a $1.5 million, five-year initiative with Blackstone Launchpad to expand students’ access to mentors, funding and entrepreneurship-based internships. Morehouse is also home to the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, which provides access to entrepreneurship training and capital to students and the public across the metro Atlanta area.

Last year, Bowie State University opened its Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community, where students have access to entrepreneurship workshops, skill development and like-minded peers.

Additionally, the Propel Center, the Apple-backed HBCU innovation hub, will be physically located at the Atlanta University Center and provide, among other things, entrepreneurship programming to HBCU students.

Tweedy said the CBE has been in close contact with programs in the early ideation and launch phase to ensure that what the CBE was bringing to the market added value.

“The unique element of the Center for Black Entrepreneurship that we think will be incredibly robust in the years to come is the development of this intentional ecosystem connecting the students on the Spelman, Morehouse and AUC campuses to the business community and investment community,” Tweedy said. “We’re excited to see what that brings in this academic year and to learn from it as we go.”

Mirtha Donastorg

Mirtha Donastorg is a corps member with Report for America and The Plug's HBCU Innovation Editor and Senior Reporter, exploring start-up initiatives and innovations coming from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as the way students are shaping the future of tech. She previously worked as an associate producer and a researcher for CNN.
Contact: mirtha@tpinsights.com