From Inside Business By Sandra J. Pennecke

The HBCU New Venture Challenge cofounders are Akin Akinhanmi, Joe Akoun, Emeka Igwilo, Obi Obiaka and Sanmi Kalesanwo. (Courtesy / HANDOUT)

The five founders of the HBCU New Venture Challenge realized they all shared a common dream: They wanted to help others succeed and create viable businesses.

Akin Akinhanmi, Joe Akoun, Emeka Igwilo, Emeka “Obi” Obiaka, and Sanmi Kalesanwo each earned their undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering from Morgan State University.

Akinhanmi said they experienced difficulties learning the business landscape while in college due to a lack of mentoring and funds. The men, who all have successful careers, were originally focused on giving back to their alma mater by helping young entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams.

But then they saw a broader need, and in 2020, they started a business plan competition with 20 participating historically Black colleges and universities.

The quintet’s vision is to nurture and spotlight student entrepreneurship within the HBCU community alongside a network of sponsors, investors, mentors, and volunteers to maintain an ongoing ecosystem.

Last year’s winner, Inglish Hills, a Spelman College alumnus, founded Safe Cycle, a recycling company that repurposes material handling.

The 2022-2023 challenge has grown to 41 historically Black colleges and universities, including Hampton, Norfolk State, and Virginia State universities in the Commonwealth.

The three-round competition works like this: Applicants submit a 90-second video pitch accompanied by a 250-word summary by Sept. 28. The semifinal round consists of a Nov. 19 virtual business plan presentation. The final round is a Feb. 25 live virtual business plan presentation open to the public.

The winning entrepreneur or entrepreneur team will receive up to $25,000 in seed funding. The list of eligible institutions and the application can be found at

Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-652-5836,