Started in 2000 as the Opportunity Funding Corporation (OFC) Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, OFC has made a huge impact on entrepreneurship program development at the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Entrepreneurs are key to the American enterprise, and now that OFC is a new program of TMCF, we will ensure the HBCU community does its part to guarantee that there is a talented and diverse pipeline of future entrepreneurs.
In 1970, the Opportunity Funding Corporation was created by the Nixon Administration to help address the recognized economic disparity between Whites and African Americans. The Administration reasoned that creating and nurturing Black business would contribute to their accumulation of wealth. Thus, the creation of Black businesses became a cornerstone of what the Administration called ‘Black Capitalism.’ OFC was launched with a grant of $7 million from the Department of Commerce. Donald Rumsfeld, who would later become Secretary of Defense in two Administrations, developed the concept and obtained a grant approval.
The original OFC concept was to reach into African American communities and encourage entrepreneurship, provide funding and advice for existing businesses, and to promote new business initiatives. To execute the concept, OFC employed a small staff, headed by Jack Glouster, and included Robert Kemp and Herbert Wilkins, Sr. Each man identified promising business opportunities, and assisted those businesses with cash, credit guarantees, and coaching.
While OFC realized some success, the impact of the operation was limited. The concept had to be modified to touch more businesses and communities. To that end, two venture capital firms were organized to execute the OFC mission. The two firms – Syndicated Communications, Inc., headed by Herbert Wilkins, Sr., and Fulcrum Venture Capital Corporation, headed by Robert Kemp, have had a significant impact. SYNCOM began with an investment from OFC, and has, along with the partnerships it created, provided funding and coaching to an estimated 200 small companies, including BET and Radio One. During the 1980s SYNCOM became independent of OFC, and the firm continues to grow today, supporting businesses in the minority and non-minority communities.
Fulcrum is smaller and has had less impact than SYNCOM. It began with a $1.5 million investment from OFC and leveraged that investment by issuing preferred stock to the Small Business Administration [SBA] and the Department of Transportation [DOT]. This allowed Fulcrum to provide financing and coaching to minority firms.
While Fulcrum did not achieve SYNCOM’s level of success, it has financed over 50 minority led small businesses and has returned nearly four times OFC’s original cash investment. It repaid SBA and DOT for the preferred stock and provided operating funds to OFC through the payment of dividends. Fulcrum’s management, under the leadership of Brian Argrett, also created Fulcrum Capital Partners; a $27 million limited partnership, in which OFC is a general and limited partner. Fulcrum Venture Capital Corporation and Fulcrum Capital Partners are now harvesting their investments.
In 2000, OFC embarked on its second major initiative to help close the economic gap between African Americans and the general population, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program. We reasoned that teaching entrepreneurship at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) would have a powerful impact. In particular, we believed that those Black institutions offering a masters degree in business were well positioned to educate our young men and women in entrepreneurship.
OFC soon learned that only a few HBCUs included entrepreneurship in their business administration curriculum. The vision for the OFC Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program was to strengthen the curriculums and teaching at those institutions offering a masters degree in business. And with a solid educational exposure, many of these young men and women would become entrepreneurs. Even those who do not would be better prepared to compete in the corporate world.
In 2013, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) acquired OFC, merging the two organizations with TMCF becoming the parent organization. With the appointment of Scott Lilly as OFC’s first President, the OFC’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program reached more students and ensured the HBCU community does its part to guarantee that there is a talented and diverse pipeline of future entrepreneurs.
In 2018, under the leadership of current EVP George Spencer, the OFC name was changed, and the division now functions as the Innovation & Entrepreneurship program.