HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- August is National Black Business Month, a time to recognize Black-owned businesses across the country.
This week, more than 1,000 Black entrepreneurs from around the world are in Houston for the Power Networking Conference, an event aimed to celebrate, empower, and equip them with the resources to succeed.
Dr. George Fraser, who is the conference's host, announced the creation of the Black Business Legacy Hall of Fame Museum and Metaverse. Organizers hope to make it a place where the public can honor achievements, recognize resilience, and highlight the valuable impact of Black-owned businesses.
During a Thursday press conference at Hilton Americas, Fraser shared an observation he made after delivering dozens of speeches at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) every year. He said most Black graduates he speaks to typically only know big names in sports and entertainment.
"They don't have a clue who these giants and superstars in the world of business development are, making a way out of no way and starting with nothing," said Fraser. "There's aspirational goals that exist for sports and entertainment whether it's the Hall of Fame or the Grammys, Academy Awards, you name it. But there is no aspirational goal for business excellence, business extraordinaires. So why not have that?"
When asked about why Black entrepreneurship should be celebrated, Fraser discussed historical inequities that have snowballed through centuries of systemic racism, resulting in issues such as the lack of generational wealth and discrimination in bank loans.
"The most important thing that we must do in the 21st century is to learn, earn, and return. We have a lot of us learning and a lot of us earning. But not enough of us returning," he said.
Data from LendingTree shows there are 3,586 Black-owned businesses out of 108,772 total businesses in Houston. That's only 3.3% when Black Americans make up 17.2% of Houston's population.
According to Bloomberg, eight out of 10 Black-owned businesses fail within their first 18 months of operation.
Those disappointing statistics are something BrightMind Consulting Group CEO Jevon Wooden is hoping to change through his work as a Houston-based business coach and strategy consultant.
"We do a lot of pro bono work for organizations or Black businesses looking to grow and scale. We'll work with them for free until they get up to a certain revenue dollar amount. We also invest in at-risk youth, where we do business labs. But I don't do this just during Black Business Week or Month. We look to do that year-round because this is important to me," said Wooden.
Wooden didn't initially picture himself as an entrepreneur, as no one in his family had ever run their own business before. But after spending 12 years in the U.S. Army, he realized his passion lied elsewhere and it unexpectedly steered him into becoming his own boss.
"I was on my third tour in Afghanistan and I realized I needed something else. Tech was great. That's what I did in the military. But I didn't feel like it served the greater purpose of helping others," said Wooden.
Wooden decided to pursue a career in something his friends and family always told him he was good at: motivational speaking and pushing others to dig deep to achieve their goals. He made his first venture into entrepreneurship as a life coach and focused on addressing mental health for Black men.
But his journey as a business owner didn't come without its own challenges and adversities. Using the experience he's gained along the way, his company now focuses on sharing that knowledge with other entrepreneurs to help them improve their performance and profits.
"I had to start below zero, because I had to climb out of poverty. I really wanted to focus on closing that racial gap when it comes to business. Many of us are first generation and figuring it out is the hardest thing. When you're the first, you don't know who to go to. You don't know what resources are out there," said Wooden.
Wooden is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in business administration at the University of Houston. He and his fiancée, who is also an entrepreneur, hope to pave an upward path so their children have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
"I believe the entrepreneurial mindset is one of resilience and great problem-solving. I always say that I like to be a product of my effort, not my environment. I want to instill that into my children and say, 'Hey, it's up to you. You need to be a leader,'" said Wooden.
The Black Business Legacy Hall of Fame Museum and Metaverse will open to the public virtually first through the Metaverse. The physical location is scheduled to be completed by 2030 in Atlanta, Georgia.