Johnson Means Business Attracts 60 Prospective MBA Students
by Sherrie Negrea
Marlon Nichols, MBA ’11, considers himself a one-percenter: He's among the 1 percent of venture capitalists who are either black or Latino and are investing in start-up firms that are addressing the needs of minority communities.
As blacks and Latinos — along with Asians — become the majority of the U.S. population over the next three decades, they are becoming increasingly interested in entrepreneurship, even though they are attracting a small percentage of available venture capital, said Nichols, founder and general partner in Cross Culture Ventures in Palo Alto, Calif.
"So what's going to happen? You're going to see are a ton of ideas that the 99 percent of the venture capital world just won't understand," Nichols told a group of prospective students at the annual Johnson Means Business Diversity Symposium. "They don't have associates in this community, and they don't have friends in this community."
Nichols, the keynote speaker for the symposium held Oct. 20-21, said he credits his experience at Johnson with driving his success in the venture capital field. While at Johnson, Nichols served as President and COO of the BR Venture Fund and led a student team to win first place at the IdeaCorps Challenge at Entrepreneur Week 2010 in New Orleans.
"I'm a big fan of learning by doing," Nichols said. "The BR Venture Fund was here so I knew I wanted to get involved in that, and it was amazing because I was interacting with venture capital professionals and calling them and talking about working on deals."
Nichols was one of 25 Johnson alumni, students, and administrators who spoke to the group of 60 prospective students at Sage Hall during the two-day event, which is designed to introduce underrepresented minorities and members of the LGBTQ community to the Two-year and One-year MBA programs.
Johnson Means Business is a key element in the school's efforts to increase representation of minority students in its MBA programs. Underrepresented minorities comprise 15 percent of this year's entering MBA class, an increase of 5 percent over 2015–16, said Mark Nelson, the Ann and Elmer Lindseth Dean at Johnson.
"Johnson is committed to valuing a diverse and inclusive environment," Nelson told the prospective students. "The fact that we're putting scholarship dollars and programmatic dollars behind this commitment is important."
Ayosike Akingbade, a recruiter and career coach in Columbia, Md., said she was impressed by the culture and the commitment of the alumni at Johnson. She noted that one of the alumni speakers, Marques Zak, MBA’10, a finance director of the Northeast Region of Frito-Lay North America, said in his talk that he has regularly attended the Johnson Means Business event for the past decade.
"It says a lot that there is an alumnus who comes every year to this for 10 years," Akingbade said. "Those kinds of things really matter."
Another prospective student, Jason Bullen, a project manager at a general contracting firm in Houston, said he found the event "eye-opening" and added it had convinced him to rank Johnson as one of the top schools he is considering. "The atmosphere is very authentic and comfortable," he said. "It feels like a small little family."