Our communities need strong advocates who will advance their interests and increase their presence in all areas of media and telecommunications. One of the reasons I wanted to pursue a career in communications was to ensure that more minorities and women could have opportunities to own radio and television stations. Raised in a culturally diverse environment, before I knew about audience share or an FCC Form 323, I was keenly aware that minority communities needed a voice. Today, opportunities for minorities and women exist on the nation’s airwaves and through broadband, where there are new opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop content and applications that influence people to get online.
That is why I was really excited that the MMTC staff, in conjunction with the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs (NAMDE), developed the Next Generation Media & Telecom Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, which debuted on July 18 at MMTC’s 10th Annual Access to Capital and Telecommunications Policy Conference.
Breaking into the Business
Despite the low levels of minority media ownership, opportunities for entrepreneurship still exist in traditional media and in new digital media platforms. Unfortunately, similar to past generations, multicultural entrepreneurs do not always have the business networks and tools at their disposal to be as successful as mainstream businesses. Minorities and women, who are often underrepresented in FCC regulated industries and in digital technology adoption, need information on how they can effectively prepare themselves to take advantage of 21st century opportunities.
These and many other issues were tackled during the Boot Camp, which focused on early-stage entrepreneurs. The program featured presentations from six professionals in media, who discussed the most critical steps of creating a successful business, including everything from honing a vision of ownership to maintaining a growing business once a venture is off the ground.
Developing a Vision
Many would-be entrepreneurs need guidance on how to get from merely thinking of an idea to developing a solid business plan. Bruce Lincoln, founder and chief design scientist at Urban Cyberspace Company, spoke on how to move from having an idea to developing a concrete business plan. As entrepreneurs begin to put that vision into action, he suggested they find someone else to be the CEO of the venture. Early-stage entrepreneurs often need practical guidance to get their inner vision to become concrete reality.
Once the plan is on paper, the first step to implementation is something that Diane Warren, founder of BOUNCEology, called “Building Your Kitchen Cabinet.” As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Warren stressed that those looking to start a business need to have trusted advisors and a solid team in place before approaching potential investors, as a first chance may be the only chance to approach some lenders.
Building a Brand
Even after a practical business plan and the executive team are in place, an entrepreneur needs to develop their brand, or image. With access to social media, a large part of branding strategy is how an entrepreneur can use social networking to develop their image. Clayton Banks, co-founder of Ember Media, suggested that consistent engagement is necessary. This could be anything from tweeting multiple times a day using a tool like HootSuite to something as simple as updating a Facebook profile photo.
Time is Money
Boot Camp presenters emphasized that effective time management and flexibility are essential to the success of early-stage entrepreneurs, particularly when working with investors.
“Time is your only inventory. Don’t waste it,” stated York Eggleston, IV, CEO of Semantic Labs and co-founder of NAMDE, discussing how to prepare digital entrepreneurs to seek funding. Eggleston and M. Tony Thomas, a partner at SYNCOM Venture Partners, spoke on finance models that work for early-stage entrepreneurs. Thomas emphasized that under their funding model, SYNCOM is actively engaged with the ventures they finance, often in daily contact, a level of involvement that early-stage entrepreneurs need to learn to expect.
Success: Thriving – Not Just Surviving
Early-stage entrepreneurs need more than survival tools – they need to thrive. After they’ve received funding and opened their doors, they need to be ready to adjust to the realities of running a going concern. By the time the business plan is completed and set into action, it’s obsolete, said Zemira Jones, president and CEO of All American Management Group, Inc., and partner at Brown Jones Media, LLC. Entrepreneurs must constantly revisit their business plan and adapt to changing environments.
There’s no better example of this than the growth of new media and the reaction from traditional media. Many entrepreneurs are taking content online instead of going the traditional route with radio, television, or cable. “Digital media is a catalyst for change, and it is imperative that traditional and new media entrepreneurs understand that convergence impacts all businesses,” said Erin Horne Montgomery, executive director of NAMDE.
Nowhere is convergence more evident than Radio One, led by Cathy Hughes, an African American woman entrepreneur who started her media empire with one station in Washington, DC, over 30 years ago. Today, with over 50 stations nationwide, Radio One has ventured online with Interactive One and started a cable network, TV One, to complement its radio business. With the steady rise in broadband adoption, particularly for minority communities, the Internet offers an excellent platform for new entrepreneurs to develop content and applications.
Embracing the Future of Opportunities in Communications
MMTC and NAMDE are proud to have offered early-stage entrepreneurs some critical insight and resources necessary for success through the Boot Camp. It was an exciting endeavor and a labor of love for all involved. If you missed it, presentations from all six speakers will soon be available for you to view anytime at mmtconline.org.
Joycelyn F. James, Esq. is a graduate of the Institute for Communications Law Studies at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law. She currently serves as the Cathy Hughes Fellow for the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, where she works on matters that focus on the advancement of minority and women’s entrepreneurship in the nation’s media and telecommunications industries.