Collecting Data on Entrepreneurs of Color: A Lesson by W.E.B. Du Bois

We are a national firm that sources entrepreneurs of color; connects them to launch opportunities; and sparks a more diverse, inclusive, and abundant marketplace. In order to achieve this, we've taken a system's level approach, which includes gathering data on entrepreneurs of color and resource mapping--we call this our Titan Census. Afterwards, we work with community stakeholders to bring entrepreneurs and community resources closer through collective action. 

It is hardly possible to place too great stress on the deep significance of business ventures among American Negroes. Physical emancipation came in 1863, but economic emancipation is still far off.
— W.E.B. DuBois

We value telling historical stories that provide insight and inspiration for entrepreneurs of color and people who are working to strengthen ecosystems of support for them. Interestingly enough, during our research we discovered that W.E.B. Du Bois released an investigative study in 1899 on Black entrepreneurs entering into business and he presented his findings during the "Fourth Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems" at Atlanta University. In his editorial, Du Bois reflects on the resilience, vigor, and, ambition of Black folks who were starting business with little to no support having being emancipated from slavery just 30 years prior. Also the report is supported by a thorough accounting of Black businesses across different industries and geographies at the turn of the century.

His methodology and approach to collecting data on entrepreneurs provides an excellent blueprint for research efforts today. Here's a few take aways from Du Bois and his : 

1. Du Bois had a keen sense of what was at the root of poor living conditions and outcomes of Black folks.

The impetus for Du Bois' research was the high death-rate and poor life outcomes of emancipated slaves. Their research concluded that this was a direct result of the ongoing economic struggles.
Du Bois wrote, "It is hardly possible to place too great stress on the deep significance of business ventures among American Negroes. Physical emancipation came in 1863, but economic emancipation is still far off." A word! 

2. Start with the research outcome in mind. It should be insightful and actionable.

Du Bois knew that lack of economic sustainability was at the center of the poor living conditions for emancipated slaves and that if conditions were going to get better, more people would need to go into business for themselves. The outcome of the study became, how do we demonstrate and inspire others to start their own business?

In order to achieve this, Du Bois stressed the importance of first keeping an accurate account of entrepreneurs of color. Du Bois writes, "We need to know accurately the kinds of business ventures that appear, the order of their appearance, their measure of success, and capital invested in them. We need to know what sort of men go into business how long they have been engaged and how they managed to get a start. Finally, we should know where this economic advance is being most strongly felt, and what the present tendencies are".

3. College students were and still are an excellent resource to support data collection on entrepreneurs.

Du Bois was not only able to gain the support of graduates from Atlanta University, but he also recruited graduates from several HBCU's who interested in learning first hand about the challenges and triumphs of Black businesses across the country. Graduates came from schools like Howard University, Lincoln University, Spelman College, Wilberforce, Tuskegee, and more.

4. Keep it Simple

One of the temptations with data collection or market research is trying to capture everything, at once.  We've all experienced clicking on links to a "short survey", only to find out 30 questions later that the survey was anything but short. Du Bois data collection was simple, he developed a form with five data points; name of business, location, kind of business, years in business, and capital raised. The form was then distributed to select individuals who would pound the pavement and meet with Black entrepreneurs in various communities throughout the south. The method of data collection was meant to be in Du Bois' words, "simple enough to be pursued by voluntary effort, and valuable enough to add to our scientific knowledge"

These are just a few gems, but check out the full report below.  We'd love to hear your thoughts. Tweet at us and share what you found interesting about Du Bois' study!