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‘Fail fast and fail forward’: This accelerator and HBCU summit founder believes in seizing the moment

Kiante Bush balances leading initiatives to support historically Black institution-based entrepreneurs alongside plans to launch an app later this year — and new fatherhood.

Kiante Bush. (Courtesy)

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Kiante Bush remembers his days working at Burlington Coat Factory —a job he acknowledges had little relevance to his current roles.

Today, the founder, tech consulting manager and champion for HBCUs has pursued enough work that we recognized him as DC’s 2023 Tech Community Leader of the Year. Despite the leap from retail to tech and entrepreneurship support, the 30-year-old makes sure to sprinkle some retail charm on his resume, highlighting his knowledge of supply chains and logistics gained from his days at the department store.

Bush also boasts a wealth of experience at companies such as Deloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton, JPMorgan and Northrop Grumman. His academic achievements are equally impressive, from his undergraduate degree in engineering from Morgan State University to his MBA in a dual studies program with Johns Hopkins University, from which he graduated with honors.

At present, Bush is the founder of Venture for T.H.E.M., an accelerator and resource for minority founders (especially early-stage tech entrepreneurs from HBCUs like Morgan State) that focuses on funding, mentorship and workshops.

He also, with his team, created the HBCUniverse Summit to celebrate the future of entrepreneurship and innovation. This February, the event hosted over 300 attendees and 20 speakers, had over 10 government hiring agencies and provided funding to numerous student and alumni entrepreneurs.

In short, Bush is a busy man.

“Definitely a journey, kind of balancing both,” said Bush, adding: “I just want to shout out the PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship, Dr. [Johnny] Graham and his team over there. They sponsored our HBCUniverse Rocket Pitch competition.”

Read on to hear about how he seized the moment after several wins last year, his advice for founders balancing their venture and full-time work and even what lesson he’s learned in fatherhood. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Black founders often face challenges in securing funding, even with other kinds of recognition. What inspired you to capitalize on the successes of your local and national recognition in 2023 and build up the HBCUniverse Summit?

Honestly, a portion of inspired that. Even after just being awarded the DC Tech Community Leader of the Year award, I was thinking, “Alright, you know, this is an honor to have, but I really have to keep things pushing.” It kind of lit a fire in me like, “Okay, this can’t just be a show or something cute that just happened one year, but like, alright what’s next? How can I continue to champion for the community, champion for HBCUs, Black and brown spaces in tech innovation and entrepreneurship?”

Another inspiration was [that] our team were Black Ambition Prize finalists. So while I was in New York, the idea kind of conceptualized. We were grabbing dinner with Pharrell, Felecia Hatcher of Black Ambition and lots of other really dope innovators. And they were talking about how, you know, “In the midst of all these no’s that we received, here’s our big yes,” and “Take advantage of the now,” you know, take advantage of this moment. That just resonated with me. So I came back home and I’m like, “I gotta do something big.” You know, like, while people are watching Venture for T.H.E.M, and they’re watching our team through this Black Ambition prize.

What advice do you have for founders balancing full-time work and their venture?

It can be a struggle. But I saw something interesting recently and it said, ‘The most successful people fail more than most people try.” And that resonated with me. Because it’s like, that’s true. You gotta fail forward. … Some things that I worked on didn’t quite amount to what I thought they would be because I just couldn’t balance it. But just having that tenacity to pivot — like, I failed, this wasn’t what I expected but let me try this. Or even expand within that same thing you’re working on but just changing the direction.

So all that to say: Fail fast and fail forward, and just let it come from a place of passion. Even though I get exhausted trying to balance the two, just my passion for bridging the gap for Black and brown founders just kind of keeps me going

You’re also a new dad. Any lessons from fatherhood yet?

My six-week-old daughter Jordyn is amazing … She has taught me a lot of things about patience and just continuing to strive to build a legacy for her, too.

What’s next for Venture for T.H.E.M?

We’re ramping up for our four-month HBCU All-Star Accelerator. Throughout that duration, we typically select five HBCU founders, whether students or alumni, and at the end of the program, they’ll be able to see non-dilutive funding. Also throughout those four months, we connect them with C-suite mentors and a variety of other things like workshops and a bunch of resources.

Our CTO Jeff [Scruggs] is still working on our app. Right now it’s in the prototype phase, but we’re hoping to have released before the end of the year.

Look forward to the next rendition of HBCUniverse in September.

What do you do outside of work?

Just see different places, try different food, learn about different cultures. I love to travel. That’s probably one of the things at the top of my list. I love music, too.

Companies: Booz Allen Hamilton / JPMorgan Chase & Co. / Morgan State University / Accenture / Deloitte /
Series: How I Got Here

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