By Aja Cooper, Staff Writer
Published in print Sept.24, 2014
UNCG has become well known for its esteemed business program. Helping shape tomorrow’s next great businessmen and women, UNCG has taken an extra step to cater to those seeking to start their own business.
The North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG is currently sponsoring the Entrepreneurial Journeys Speaker Series, bringing local, national and international entrepreneurs to share their stories with students as well as advice on how to achieve having a successful business.
On Wednesday, September 17, the series welcomed its first guest speakers, Michael Strong, CEO of KhabeleStrong Incubator and FLOW and Magatte Wade, CEO of Tiossan. The husband and wife duo spoke about their entrepreneurial journeys, the ways in which they’ve incorporated their passions as well as what they learned along the way.
Michael Strong shared with the audience that it was after discovering St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a high school student that he fell in love with the Socratic Seminar teaching method. Having been accepted into Harvard University, Strong attended for a brief amount of time and then left to become a student at St. John’s where he and his peers would be able to think and talk about their ideas.
While in Chicago for graduate school, Strong went into inner city schools where he led Socratic Seminars and it was when he saw the student’s passion for this way of learning that realized what he wanted to do. Strong went on to train other teachers as well as open schools of his own. These schools were innovative schools based on Socratic inquiry.
“I created schools where kids would want to come evenings, weekends [and] they hated summer break because they were apart from school, where kids performed well and loved it,” said Strong.
Strong teamed up with John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Markets and worked to create FLOW, an organization that focuses on the way the free flow of goods, capital, services and people will help accelerate human progress and well-being. A spin-off of FLOW was Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs, shining a light on developing world women entrepreneurs. Strong shared that it was through this venture that he met his wife, Magatte.
Magatte Wade, a native of Senegal, Africa made it her first priority to begin her presentation by sharing her purpose in life with the audience. Wade shared that she wants to contribute to the change of the perception of Africans and Black non-Africans, black people. She mentioned the billboards she sees in airports as she travels the world that are seeking to raise money for Malaria, hunger and children who have grown up without fathers. The commonality Wade has found amongst all of these advertisements is that they are all advertised with a Black face.
“We’re sending these messages often that black means problems and especially Africa means diseases, wars, corruption, you name it,” Wade stated that because of this, it is to no surprise that people believe this to be the reality of Africa. She related these correlations as results of branding. As she travels the world and speaks to the youth of various countries, they all say that if they could go anywhere in the world they would travel to America for its brands. Levi, Victoria’s Secret, Coca-Cola are all names that are internationally known and have been transpired as the culture of America.
Wade has identified consumer brands as a powerful tool that she can use to invite people into her culture and also cause them to inquire about her culture. Wade first did this with creating a beverage made with hibiscus and other natural ingredients. A main ingredient found in the products of her Tiossan skin care line is black seed oil. Members of Wade’s culture believe that black seed oil can cure everything except death. Black seed oil is also being researched for it’s being a very potent ingredient in the fighting of cancer.
Incorporating her country’s culture and traditions into her products, Wade is able to create a bridge between Senegal and those outside of Africa. Currently starting a skin care line based on the knowledge of the traditional healers of Senegal, Wade is creating a product that can be used on the skin of people of all ethnicities.
“Even here in America, I would love to start seeing some really, really cool African American brands that are not just for African Americans. Because if you want to matter, you have to matter to everyone,” Wade said as she scanned the crowd. “It cannot just be about, ‘it’s our little clan.’ If you’re a little clan, I’m sorry, you’re a ghetto…I’m using the word “ghetto” as in ‘you’re in a box.’ If you don’t want to be considered as a minority, then don’t behave as a minority. Open yourself to others and open yourself to others with love.”
As the first speakers of the Entrepreneurial Journey Speakers Series, Strong and Wade left lasting impressions on those seeking advice about how to be a successful business owner no matter what stage you are at.