Hustle And Grow
Entrepreneur|September 2017

What can budding entrepreneurs learn from hip-hop? As a new Philadelphia program has shown students: quite a lot.

Max Marin

In a modish coworking space overlooking downtown Philadelphia, Imowo “Veli” Udo-Uton has six minutes to persuade six investors to finance his startup. 

He has an event production company he wants to take to the next level, and, clad in a baseball cap and black-framed glasses, he outlines his plan—his ticket sale models, room occupancy caps, and the first few big venueshe can get with more capital. He tries to keep it animated and conversational. But midway through, he falters.

“I feel like I’m talking too much,” he says. “I’m not presenting.”

“Don’t do a corporate pitch,” says one person. “That’s not you, man. Be you.”

“Keep going, Veli,” says another.

The cellphone timer chirps,and the pitch is over. The audience claps. Veli looks relieved. 

This isn’t an actual pitch. The “investors” are Veli’s fellow students, and the venue is the Institute for Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, an experimental, nine-month, tuition-free program that uses lessons from music industry moguls to teach young people how to run their own businesses, and then awards the strongest pitches shares of $30,000 in seed money.

Why hip-hop? “Hip-hop oftentimes doesn’t get its due when it comes to innovation,” says Tayyib Smith, a former music industry executive who cofounded the program with his business partner, Meegan Denenberg. For more than 40 years, the art form served as a springboard to stardom and to self-made careers for people of color working in music, fashion, food, marketing, nonprofits, technology, and more. That makes it a valuable lens through which to view entrepreneurship, particularly in our current economy: the world has realized the power of entrepreneurship, but the subject is still usually taught in a staid way that can be distancing to members of low-income, marginalized groups.

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