Prospective Entrepreneurs Undergo Boot Camp Training at Howard University

Entrepreneurship students compete to answer questions during the CERRC Boot Camp at Howard. PHOTO: Katherine Gilyard/Trice Edney News Wire

By Hamil Harris

( – A line of prospective business leaders had only 30 seconds to make their best “elevator pitch.”

“How can you tell someone in 30 seconds or even 60 seconds or less who you are and what you do?” quizzed D. Yvonne Rivers of the American Dream Business Institute, the drill sergeant for the exercise. ‘How will they remember you?”

The CERRC Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, themed “This is How We Do It! The Nuts and Bolts of Business Ownership,” was sponsored by the Cathy Hughes School of Communications (SOC) at Howard University.

“The recent Boot Camp was a phenomenal experience for students, panelists, and everyone involved in hearing directly the successes and lessons learned from a number of successful entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Gracie Lawson-Borders, dean of the SOC.

CERRC (Communications Entrepreneurship Research and Resource Center), nearly 10 years old, offers resources to support prospective entrepreneurs from all genres, but especially encourages those in communications careers to own businesses.

“The School is committed to keeping the work of the CERRC program viable, visible, and focused on supporting students,” Lawson-Borders continues. “The fruits of our efforts are shown in the ongoing support the School receives.”

The boot camp, an annual event of the CERRC program, took place in a building that was once a Wonder Bread factory filled with laborers. The newly renovated IN3 Inclusive Innovation Incubator at 2301 Georgia Ave. in NW DC, has for the past two years served as the site for the CERRC boot camp. Among other services, the Incubator – a partnership between DC Government and Howard – dedicates office, meeting and event space to growing companies and budding entrepreneurs.

The event featured successful business leaders in order to show the students and general public that they can in fact achieve their dreams of ownership. In addition to pitching their businesses, speakers presented on various aspects of business success.

North Carolina business owners Charles Hands and Marcus Howard of Engage Millennials discussed the essentials of selecting the best business partners.

“If people simply talk the talk and don’t walk the walk they are wasting your time or draining you emotionally,” said Hands. He described the productive people he looks for as “Level 3’s,” because Level 1 people are those who only talk and Level 2 associates want to do well but lack the adequate skills to do the job.

Hands, who is a lawyer, and Howard, a doctoral candidate at N.C. State University, pushed participants to be their best. Their sentiments were mirrored by other business leaders who offered their own anecdotes and models for success.

SOC alum, Shelia Eldridge, president/CEO of Miles Ahead Entertainment, the keynote speaker for the boot camp, offered three keys for a person to be successful in business: “Do not chase the money, chase your passion; Research and find a niche,” and lastly remember that “You have a partner in the government.”

Carl Brown, director of the DC Small Business Development Center (SBDC), was also among the speakers, inviting the audience to take advantage of the SBDC programs, located in the Howard University School of Business.

April Richardson, a lawyer and owner of DC Sweet Potato Cake, told people during the forum that they can engage in multiple careers. “I am always looking to maximize everything that I do,” she said, noting that the reason she became a lawyer was because “the law touches everything.”

Most outstanding during the event was that the participants obviously believed in each other and were willing to support each other. As she offered a prayer over the lunch and networking reception that followed, Hazel Trice Edney, who teaches the CERRC class, gave thanks for having an event where people poured into each other for the purpose of building businesses.

Tiffany Balmer, owner of, said “The biggest takeaway from the conference is that being an entrepreneur is not cute, it’s not glamorous, it’s a lot of hard work and you have to love it because it costs a lot – not just financially – but personally, you will not be able to go to all of the social activities that your friends go to but it’s worth it, if indeed this is your passion.”

Other speakers at the annual boot camp were Ron Busby, president/CEO of the U. S. Black Chamber Inc.; SOC alum Ashley Nicole Johnson of A&J PR/Consulting; Howard Jean of the Black Male Entrepreneurship Institute; and Tremain Davis of Davis Solutions Group, who focused on the “value proposition” of a business, which, in a nutshell, means what a business offers that people want enough to pay for.

Dean Lawson-Borders said the CERRC program is not only successful because of volunteers who contribute their time and talents to the students, but it has received generous financial contributions from business and community leaders.

The students of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, which is named for the national radio and television mogul, also an SOC alum, will now have an opportunity to compete with their business plans.

“We will receive a $5,000 Dorothy Brunson award to support the first place award in our business plan competition…at the PRT (President’s Roundtable) award dinner in Baltimore,” Lawson-Borders said. She said $2,500 has been contributed from Eldridge for the second place award, and Edney of Trice Edney Communications and News Wire will sponsor the $1,000 third place award.

“Overall, the ‘This is How We Do it! The Nuts and Bolts of Business Ownership’ entrepreneur expo provided me with self-confidence in opening my eventual business and provided me with tips and notions to follow in order to have a successful business,” wrote DeAndra Powell, a graduating senior, in an essay reflecting on the boot camp. “You should always take a risk with something you consider your dream even though you feel you might fail. In the end, it is all about having a sharp elevator pitch, knowing what your intended audience wants to receive with your business and having a solution to their problems.”

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