New Jersey Urban News: Could you please explain The Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s (IFEL) background and objectives? What prompted its formation?
Jill Johnson: It was an outgrowth of my parents’ experiences as business owners. They had a newspaper publishing company called City News Publishing Company in New Jersey for about 20 years. They lived the day-to-day experience with the issues that small business owners face. I grew up seeing and hearing that. Then when I graduated from college, I started my career in the financial analyst program at Goldman Sachs in Mergers and Acquisitions. I was able to see a very different side of the entrepreneurial landscape where people have access to lots of capital, and I saw people who were able to generate significant wealth through entrepreneurship. It occurred to me that I did not see many women entrepreneurs and businesses owned by people of color experiencing that type of wealth creation. In 2002, right towards the end of my parents’ winding down their business, my father and I came together to start the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership. It’s a resource that can be very hands-on and high touch to support entrepreneurs through their journey, primarily focusing on entrepreneurs who have been historically excluded from access to the knowledge, networks, and capital that have made entrepreneurial success even possible.
New Jersey Urban News: Based on what you said about the wealth gap, why is providing resources and access to wealth creation so crucial to you on a personal level and specifically for the Black community?
Jill Johnson: There’s a significant wealth gap in the Black community. We need to find ways to build more wealth, and investing in private companies is one way to do that. People often invite others to be involved in different deals based on who they know and who they think has the financial capacity. It’s a very closed circle, and Black people are often not invited into that world to participate. We’re not trying to push people to invest or force them to invest or anything like that, and we are simply trying to create awareness. We’re trying to make sure that Black people are not continuing to miss out on building wealth. It’s important to me personally because it needs to change. I’ve been hearing about this issue of assets to capital for far too long. It started over my lifetime with my parents’ business and some of their peers. There’s no reason that in 2022 when capital is so plentiful, especially in the United States,. We should not be having this conversation [for] Black entrepreneurs and WOC entrepreneurs about access to capital.
New Jersey Urban News: What prompted its formation in terms of the Women of Color Connecting Virtual Summit (WOCCON)? I know you sponsored it. Could you please go into more detail about its mission, initiatives, and purpose?
Jill Johnson: The summit was a way of bringing people together to actually facilitate relationships and connections. It targets the people who would put themselves in the category of allies, investors, and champions of WOC entrepreneurs – the people who say that diversity is essential and inclusion matters. This is not an event that is focused on WOC entrepreneurs connecting just with each other, it is an event to bring together all the people who believe that a change is needed. Our goal is to help the ally and investor community to diversify their network, which we believe will lead to them diversifying their professional network.
New Jersey Urban News: Bringing it back to legacy, foundation, and building, how is WOCCON changing the landscape? Where do you hope to see it in the next few years?
Jill Johnson: It goes back to inclusion; we want to see more women of color included in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and having the opportunity to build wealth from their business. [WOC entrepreneurs] can’t stop running their businesses and stop working to grow their businesses to wait for capital. We’re trying to help them make the dollars they have stretch and get access to resources they couldn’t otherwise afford. We used a platform to create a content agenda to elevate conversations that we think need to be front and center and we brought thought leaders to the table. [This year’s summit] was super exciting; we had registrants from 32 states and six countries… every year has gotten better and better. We’re planning to do some smaller events in a few cities around the country. One, to keep the energy going, and two, to get people to meet in person. Our vision is to create a billion dollars in new wealth through the success of WOC entrepreneurs.
New Jersey Urban News: Can you please describe the Making of Black Angels?
Jill Johnson: Folks talk a lot about the lack of venture capital that goes to women, people, of color, and women of color. The challenges that often involve getting VC capital is angel capital, preceded by friends and family money. That creates an inability for most of the founders to actually get access to friends and family money and when you look at their personal network, they are not connected to people who have a lot of money, which is where you find the angel investors in groups of people who have wealth. If we can get Black people who know Black entrepreneurs, there would be an opportunity to unlock capital for Black entrepreneurs, using angel capital as that on-ramp to other forms of capital. That’s what started the Making of Black Angels. We want to activate 1,000 new angel investors.