To his point, MIT entrepreneurs have a high success rate, and over 30,000 companies founded by MIT alumni are active, employing 4.6 million people and producing annual revenues of $1.9 trillion, or roughly equivalent to the 10th-largest economy in the world.
“The biggest problem facing entrepreneurs, in general, is funding,” Johnson says. “Research published in May 2020 by the Kauffman Foundation states that for aspiring entrepreneurs ‘92% reported that funds to start the business was challenging and close to the same share, 86%, reported that funds to grow the business was challenging.’ Likewise, the data indicates seasoned entrepreneurs consider funding a major hurdle. The same research tells us that this problem is even more severe for diverse entrepreneurs.”
Johnson, a problem-solver whose entrepreneurial spirit pushes him to always think bigger, pulled his resources and dove head-first into figuring out a better way to connect entrepreneurs of color with funders, ranging from grantors to investors. The solution is KINETIC, an online platform that brings together entrepreneurs, funders, and other related stakeholders to engage with one another. The team is currently building the software application’s first version. The platform is open to all entrepreneurs but most beneficial to entrepreneurs of color.
“Solving this problem is important because it is so widespread and capital often makes the difference between success and failure in business,” Johnson says.
He emphasizes the value of economic strength coming from within our communities, not philanthropy or pacification funds.
“If we focus outward, we will find ourselves having the same conversations about little economic progress when the general excitement around Black, LatinX, and other entrepreneurs of color subsides,” he says. “It’s complicated, and I don’t intend to simplify the matter. I am encouraged by the democratization of investing, the increase in the number of diverse venture funds, and so forth. But if in seven to 10 years—when investment time horizons expire—we see little economic progress and the needle hasn’t moved significantly, we will have missed a great opportunity.”
KINETIC has received immediate support from key businesspersons, with the following distinguished individuals serving as advisory board members:
- Ambassador Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; U.S. congressman; and civil rights activist
- John Thompson, chairman of Microsoft
- Bill Aulet, managing director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship; professor of the practice, MIT Sloan School of Management
- Hakeem “Chamillionaire” Seriki, CEO, Convoz; investor; and former entrepreneur in residence at Upfront Ventures
Aulet says he supports KINETIC for several reasons, one being that he believes entrepreneurship is a catalyst to greater economic justice.
“When we first started talking about KINETIC, Chamillionaire rightly pointed out that providing an entrepreneurship education at MIT wasn’t really helping the bigger problem. That wasn’t where the pain was,” he says. “We need to export our expertise, processes, and platform like a Marshall Plan of the 21st century to communities if we want to make a meaningful dent. We accept this challenge and understand it will come to naught if there is no funding available comparable to other, more advantaged groups that allows this underestimated community to build scalable businesses. That is where the expertise of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and KINETIC converge so beautifully.”