Hidden Genius Project founder on helping Black male youth, entrepreneurship

Brandon Nicholson has always been an advocate for others.

As a child, the 39-year-old learned that professional and educational opportunities were not available to young black boys unless you were well-connected.

“My parents are trained lawyers and were very involved in school politics, taking me to school board meetings and parent association meetings to advocate for more resources,” she tells CNBC Make It. So I got a lot of support.

“[I remember] In the middle of the day, the counselor and the assistant principal called me from my classroom to go to the office. They put a plan on the table for a program called A Better Chance that supports young people of color to apply to prep schools across the country. All I could think about was how many people weren’t invited to the office that day…how many people wouldn’t have access to these resources?”

The experience ultimately inspired Nicholson to “want to do something so people don’t have to get a special call to access something.”

Little did he know that down the road, he was the founding executive director of the Hidden Genius Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and mentoring young black men in technology, entrepreneurship and leadership.

Brandon Nicholson, Founding Executive Director of the Hidden Genius Project, interacts with students.

Hidden Genius Project

Through his organization, Nicholson and his team have supported the professional development of more than 9,300 students, provided more than 600,000 hours of direct instruction, received millions in grants, and provided educational and technical skills to Black boys across California. and Detroit have been made available. On December 2nd, the Hidden Genius Project hosted the grand opening of its new headquarters in Oakland, Nicholson’s hometown.

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Here’s how Nicholson prepared for entrepreneurship, the lessons he’s learned along the way, and his plans for 2023.

“Almost no results are achieved alone”

Although no two paths to success are the same, one thing most high achievers have in common is that they didn’t do it alone. Whether it’s friends, family, or mentors, successful people usually have a personal board of directors to help them achieve their goals.

Nicholson says his parents, wife and teachers all played a role in his success. He also says that practicing “continuous collaboration” at university was the “best” thing he did to prepare himself for entrepreneurship.

He says: “The ‘stock art’ image of entrepreneurship in many of our minds is of a single, innovative person trying to build a successful venture and eventually bringing everyone else along with them.” “In reality, no result can be achieved in isolation, and the most dynamic entrepreneurs know how to build together in ways that effect mutual benefit.”

Nicholson also says he’s been able to “integrate” with several other black men he’s met as students at UCLA and UC Berkeley — one of whom is even on his executive team for the Hidden Genius Project.

“I think my college leadership activities with organizations like Community House, the Black Student Union, Black Men’s Awareness, and others were instrumental in learning how to ‘step up and step back,’ all while moving toward a bolder shared purpose.”

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Be ready for a spin

Having a plan for your career is a great way to hold yourself accountable to achieving your goals, but accepting and adapting to changes in that plan is just as important.

Growing up, Nicholson says, she “rarely” imagined herself in her current position, but felt it was all “meant.”

Brandon Nicholson, Founding Executive Director of The Hidden Genius Project, speaks at the grand opening of their new headquarters.

Hidden Genius Project

“The job I had right before this was evaluating social impact programs, and I knew in general that I didn’t want to be a nonprofit manager because everyone in that role is stressed all the time,” she says. “The opportunity to lead the Hidden Genius Project was more appealing, but to be honest what drove me to a large extent was my inability to do a corporate role in the social impact/social responsibility space. I applied for all kinds of jobs and got a bunch of them. “No” in Each step during the process.

“Although it wasn’t a role I initially felt called to play, I love what I’m doing now.”

Entrepreneurial challenges

Impacting kids’ lives has been “really rewarding,” says Nicholson, but owning a business is no walk in the park.

“We have to make sure we stay on top of all the fun stuff like compliance, financial controls, and all the responsibilities that are inherently challenging. We never want those things to get in the way of what we’re doing to support We do it from ourselves, its communities and its youth.

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Nicholson also says it can be difficult to make sure everyone’s needs are met and that the entire team “feels supported.”

“it’s too much [of pressure] Try to make sure everyone can move into a home that is comfortable for them. And if they have people at home with them, those people can eat with them. But we also need everyone to do their part. “So you’ve got to make sure everyone here is carrying their weight, while we’re carrying the weight of making sure they have what they need to thrive.”

Looking to the future

Nicholson and his team step into 2023 with a new headquarters – the culmination of all the dedication and hard work they’ve put into their goals.

“We were once a small, fledgling organization with no stable infrastructure, and many other partners stepped in to take care of us and help us get to where we are today,” he says. “I’m especially excited for our youth-serving partners to be able to bring their participants into such a beautiful, accessible and safe space, and I hope they feel immediately at home.”

Ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Hidden Genius Project headquarters in Oakland, California.

Hidden Genius Project

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