Hidden Genius Project founder on helping Black male youth, entrepreneurship

Brandon Nicholson has always stood up for others.

As a child, the 39-year-old recognized that career and educational opportunities for young black boys were not very accessible unless they were well-connected.

“My parents were trained as lawyers and have been very involved in school politics, taking me to school board meetings and parent association meetings as they try to advocate for more resources,” he said. he told CNBC Make It. “So I got a lot of support.”

“[I remember] in the middle of the day the counselor and vice principal called me out of my main class to go to the office. They slipped an application on the desk for a program called A Better Chance that helps young people of color apply to prep schools across the country. All I could think about was how many people hadn’t been called into the office that day… How many people wouldn’t have access to these resources? »

This experience ultimately motivated Nicholson to “want to do something so people didn’t have to get a special call to access something.”

Little did he know that he would later be founding executive director of The Hidden Genius Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to training and mentoring young black men in technology, entrepreneurship, and business. leadership.

Brandon Nicholson, founding executive director of The Hidden Genius Project, engages with students.

The 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 training, secured millions in grants, and made mentorship and technical skills accessible to black boys in California. and Detroit. On December 2, The Hidden Genius Project held a grand opening ceremony for its new headquarters in Oakland, Nicholson’s hometown.

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

“Almost nothing important is done alone”

While no two paths to success are the same, one thing most established people 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 that helps them achieve their goals.

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

“The ‘stock art’ image of entrepreneurship in many of our minds is a representation of a unique, enterprising individual striving tirelessly to build a successful business and eventually take everyone with them,” says -he. “In reality, nothing important is done alone, and the most dynamic entrepreneurs know how to build together in ways that generate mutual gain.”

Nicholson also says he was able to “merge” with several other black men he met as a student at UCLA and UC Berkeley – one is even on his leadership team at the Hidden Genius Project. .

“I think my college leadership activities with organizations such as Community House, Black Student Union, Black Men’s Awareness Group, and others have helped me learn to ‘rise up and step back’, while growing towards a bolder common goal.”

Be ready to pivot

Having a career plan is a great way to hold yourself accountable for achieving your goals, but it’s just as important to embrace and adapt to changes in that plan.

Nicholson says growing up he “rarely imagined” himself in his current role, but he feels it was all “made to be”.

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

The hidden genius project

“In the job I had right before this one, I was evaluating social impact programs and I generally understood that I wouldn’t want to be a nonprofit executive because everyone in the role always seemed pretty stressed,” he said. “The opportunity to lead The Hidden Genius Project was more intriguing, but honestly, what precipitated the pivot was a lot of my inability to land a corporate role in the social impact/social responsibility space. I applied for all kinds of jobs and got a bunch of ‘no’s every step of the way.

“Even though it wasn’t the role I initially felt called to, I love what I do now.”

The challenges of entrepreneurship

Nicholson says the impact on the children’s lives has been “hugely rewarding,” but owning a business is no picnic.

“We need to make sure we stay strong on all the fun things like compliance, financial controls and all those responsibilities that are inherently difficult. We never want those things to get in the way of the work we do to support our community and its young people. .

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

“It’s a lot [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 next to them. But we also need everyone to do their job. So you have to make sure everyone here carries their weight, while we carry the weight of making sure they have what they need to thrive.”

Look forward

Nicholson and his team enter 2023 with a new headquarters – the culmination of all the dedication and hard work they put into their cause.

“We were once a small fledgling organization with no stable infrastructure, and so many other partners stepped up to care for us and help us get to where we are today,” he shares. “I am especially thrilled that partners who serve young people can bring their participants to such a beautiful, accessible and safe space, and I hope they will feel at home right away.”

Groundbreaking ceremony at The Hidden Genius Project’s new headquarters in Oakland, California.

The hidden genius project

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