Innovation is, by definition, the introduction of something new. To Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship Executive Director Anthony Herrera, that means providing students that his office serves with mentors who are as diverse as they are.
“I believe breakthrough innovation requires diversity be present, and when I say diversity I mean not only racial diversity but also diversity of thought and background,” Herrera said. “Solutions for the challenges we’re facing today will come from a variety of places.”
To that end, Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship has expanded its Entrepreneurship-In-Residence (EIR) Program from one EIR to four, with a focus on varied life and professional expertise. Leading the team is Harold Hughes, the founder and CEO of BANDWAGON, a Greenville-based identity infrastructure company that helps live-event organizers and experience creators better understand their audiences.
Hughes hopes his perspective building a successful startup will be valuable – starting with explaining the difficulty minority groups often have raising money.
“Black founders are notably underfunded and therefore have to be extremely capital efficient to stretch their early investments to get them past the ‘Trough of Sorrow’ … Given the wealth gap that exists (between white and Black people), our friends and family don’t tend to have the pools of capital to be early investors,” Hughes said. “That said, I believe that the challenges that I have had to overcome have prepared me to navigate unpredictable challenges like COVID-19, and my intent in serving with the program is to help the students avoid the mistakes that I made and highlight resources that are available today that were not available in the past.”
Herrera notes that the Paladin Pitch Competition in February featured close to 50% gender diversity and 40% racial diversity.
“Less than 2% of venture capital funds go to women founders, and minorities have limited access to new venture mentoring programs and entrepreneurial resources,” he said. “And you also need inclusion. They need the opportunity to be at the table, share their ideas, and a chance to launch and succeed.”
Joining Hughes are Joe Heritage, Ana Parra and Derek Pederson, last year’s entrepreneur in residence and founder of the tech company Fusion Web Clinic. Para is the Women’s Business Center program director at CommunityWorks Carolina, while Heritage is the design lead at Columbia Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Design in New York and Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s first “Designer-In-Residence.”
Hughes, who is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship from Stanford University, lives in Austin, Texas. He moved there to expand BANDWAGON’s national footprint and thinks those connections from coast to coast can help Furman as well.
“I think Furman has done a phenomenal job of branding itself not only locally in Greenville but across the state and across the Southeast,” he said. “But to that same point, I want Furman to be able to use my network and the circles that I’m in – Silicon Valley, New York City, here in Texas – to be able to continue expand the brand.”
A Columbia, South Carolina, native who holds B.A. and master’s degrees from Clemson University, Hughes was quick to say yes when approached by Herrera.
“The value and contribution Furman is making to the Upstate and across South Carolina, I really just wanted to make sure I was part of it in some capacity,” he said. “I hope that the students will be able to see me and all the other EIRs and realize that there is no mold, there is no pattern to match, and that you can do this with the right mentality, proper resources and enough grit.”