At the tender age of 24, Jaylon Smith is already a household name in the US thanks to his star turn as a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. But there’s far more to him than just sporting prowess. In 2018, while finishing his first season with the Cowboys, Smith also founded the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute (MEI), a philanthropic fund which helps connect investors with minority-owned businesses, social enterprises and entrepreneurs.
As well as raising awareness around the hurdles facing minority businesses and offering guidance, the MEI also actively invites minority businesses to find funding through regular pitching opportunities and showcases attended by international investors. Here he tells us why sport may be his life but business is his real love…
"When you’re pitching your business it’s really important to consider who your ideal customer is."
It was always my passion to be an entrepreneur but I recognised the economic and educational gap between white America and minorities. This community lacks the access to become successful entrepreneurs, so I started the MEI to create opportunities and resources to close the gap. It provides aspiring entrepreneurs with the financial funding, mentorship and strategic planning necessary to succeed.
I found that the minority community not only lacks the access to basic things like affordable bank loans, but also the business experience to really know how to run a company. The MEI has created a committee of industry experts to help guide and educate these entrepreneurs. The mentorship program is huge in helping them understand how to run a company and build their infrastructure. From a financial funding standpoint, the MEI supports them in applying for a loan and gaining capital funds to take their businesses to the next level.
When you’re pitching your business it’s really important to consider who your ideal customer is. Who is going to buy what you’re selling? Business owners need to understand the ins and outs of the industry they are entering. The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was from the late Eugene Parker, my former agent and cousin, who helped me understand the principle of value over cost. It’s key in business but also in many other areas of life.
I have learned so much from being a professional athlete and playing sport my entire life. My biggest lessons: responsibility and accountability. Being a man of your word and following up on what you’ve said is crucial. Trust is also very significant, because in life you can’t do it alone, and that’s the same for business. You must have a great infrastructure in place, one that allows you to count on others in your team, know their roles, and be successful as an entity.
"Understand what you are good at, understand the scalability, make sure it’s worth the effort financially, and if it works, run with it!"
I have something which I call my ‘Clear Eye View’ which keeps me motivated. It is comprised of focused vision, determined belief and earned dreams. My Christian faith has helped guide me my entire life and provided me a clear vision about my ability to accomplish my dreams – as long as I put in the work and labour to get to where I want to go.
I would tell any aspiring entrepreneur to find your sweet spot. Do what you love so it never feels like work. Understand what you are good at, understand the scalability, make sure it’s worth the effort financially, and if it works, run with it! Do it for the people who support you and believe in you, and don’t worry about the people who don’t believe in you.
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