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The Institute Of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship Is Here To Craft Your Hustle

The Institute Of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship Is Here To Craft Your Hustle

IHHE's Tayyib Smith & Meegan Denenberg Explain How They Groom Young Entrepreneurs To Craft Their Hustle & Empower Their Dreams.

IHHE's Tayyib Smith & Meegan Denenberg Explain How They Groom Young Entrepreneurs To Craft Their Hustle & Empower Their Dreams.

TS: Absolutely. And to speak to the reasoning behind the need for the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, it’s amazing how many people come to me for advice. Over the course of the year. Whether they are in school, recently graduated from school, or somewhere in a career and suddenly realizing that isn’t what they want to do. I have a lot of empathy for people trying to figure out how to make in the 21st century economy. When I look back at my peer group from when I first started, most of those people were talent and I was in the unique position that I never desired to be talent. There’s so much that you learn in the process of trying to start a company or launch your first brand. Doing things that people don’t expect are in your wheelhouse or a part of your skill set. Recently I’ve been doing things that I could never have imagined myself doing years ago. And frankly, they are surprisingly easy. There are moments when I find myself now having conversations with my retrospective self and the things that I once thought were beyond my capabilities are funny to me now. I see so many people that might have talent or might have passion or might have a good idea or great skills, but figuring out how to combine those into some movements to get people on the path to fiscal responsibility or independence is something that has been a motivation because I don’t feel like I have enough peers.

OKP: How has Little Giant evolved and refined its mission?

MD: Throughout that period of time when we were building the brand I think we were ahead of the curve with respect to what’s going on now, which is kind of this cultural competency that a lot of brands are beginning to realize is necessary in order to talk to a world that is clearly changing very rapidly into a different majority. Everything that we did had such an inclusive platform and to us it wasn’t multicultural marketing, it was general marketing. When you really think about the demography of the city and the country, brands are still continuously trying to talk to a specifically African-American or specifically Asian or specifically Hispanic market. That’s an outdated paradigm. I think Tayyib and I have always had certain passions for that subject and in the course of our work, we naturally gravitated to the realm of cultural competency. That is where a lot of social justice issues are stemming from. As a result of that, I think we’ve somewhat inadvertently fallen into the social justice realm where we really care about social impact and focus more heavily on that. With Tayyib traveling and being exposed to various workshops and salons and conferences and discussions — through my work and the things that I’ve been doing with our clients, I think we’ve naturally fallen into a space where the IHHE, our Creative Cities Lab, and some of the other concepts we are developing are concerned with ensuring that rapidly changing cities are not going to be rapidly shoving out the local communities at their foundations.

OKP: Does the IHHE curriculum pull from your experiences about things like best practices, pivoting to refine a business, or cut the fat in order to make room for growth?

MD: I think what’s great about what Tayyib and I are doing, is that IHHE is beautifully laid the foundation of what we have done with Little Giant Creative. I that think what’s worked best for us, however, is that we don’t posit ourselves as experts. One of the things that make Little Giant so great and dynamic is that since we’re such a small team our basic premise is solving problems. Not necessarily thinking that we know all of the answers, but solving problems however we can. Which means casting a wider net and talking to more people. Maybe getting information from people who know better than us, or just knowing that he and I can’t rest on our laurels or successes or failures, and that we always have to keep going. As much as our story is very much the story of IHHE, we’re working with specific curriculum developers and experts in and around the subject of entrepreneurialism. While we are 100% committed to working with them on what the curriculum is going to be — talking about proposition value, talking fiscal responsibility, talking about social impact — we also want to make sure that our story is only part of the narrative and that there ultimately are many more narratives to draw from.

OKP: How important is it to have avenues outside of academia or startup schools for entrepreneurship?

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TS: Mostly everything I’ve ever done or learned was achieved through independent study, process, hands on experience or mentorship. One of the things that always blows my mind is how much the incubation and startup scene doesn’t see their own cultural bias and how much privilege they have. The tech scene is such an exclusionary, white, male space. I think it is really hard for people to get how much we’re not taking advantage of the collective social and intellectual capital of women, people of color — people of color beyond just being black. Most of the tech scene that I see is white men who are 25. And on the venture capital side it is white men who are above 45. That level of arrogance and ignorance to believe that all of the good ideas that are going to make a transformative change for the future of the planet reside in those men, is an absurdity. Take into account how many avenues are blocked to women and people of color to have the same access to opportunity. For people of a certain socioeconomic class, your first round of starting a business is your friends and family. When you’re in the hood, friends and family is a different situation. Friends and family is debt. When you’re black and someone dies, you get bills. When you’re white and someone dies, you might get a house. You might have some inheritance or maybe a trust. I’m speaking in generalizations. Not everyone has that. But if you look at the perspective or the narrative of a lot of the people that are the faces of this new gig economy, they didn’t have to gig their way through college.

MD: I think that’s what is driving this program in a lot of ways. Someone from a university pointed out to me that academic institutions are the oldest institutions on earth. Regardless of what everyone talks about with the incredible prices of education, university and college endowments are the highest they’ve ever been. Enrollments are the highest they’ve ever been. So institutions and universities aren’t facing any types of problems and they aren’t going away anytime soon. However, I think that we have to take into account how quickly things are changing and how quickly that change has occurred within the last 50 years (as opposed to the last 250). With all of these things evolving around us, how do we not change the basic precepts of education? I think that if the basic precepts of education work for some people, they clearly are not working for everyone. As evidenced by the disconnect between the people who have access to education and the people that don’t. A lot of what we wanted to do with IHHE was at least move the needle to maybe create a bridge for that gap. There are so many reasons why people don’t succeed in academic institutions. Not the least of which, is the fact that many people can’t afford it or do not feel it is within their grasp. I think a lot of people within the academic institutions don’t necessarily feel like it speaks to them. Its not necessarily taught in a way that is contemporary. What we really want to do with IHHE is acknowledge that there are alternative ways of being successful in this world and there are alternative ways of learning. Putting things into the perspective of hip-hop or music or anecdotes or stories, it can make a really hard theory into something accessible. That’s the future and that’s the way that a lot of people from underserved and underrepresented communities are going to be able to go from here to there.

OKP: Do you think there’s a definite lack of mentorship in hip-hop?

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