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How one Harvard professor is sharing his knowledge with inner city business owners

ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections program has a proven track record of success, with alumni from the program averaging 184% growth in revenue, raising $1.4 billion in debt and equity capital, and creating more than 12,000 jobs since 2005. A key aspect of this program is capacity-building executive education, allowing entrepreneurs an opportunity to receive high-quality training while running their businesses. The success of the program depends on the quality of the professors who have been recruited from leading business schools throughout the country. Of these educators, Steven Rogers is surely one of the most beloved. An alumnus of Harvard Business School, where he’s now a Senior Lecturer of Business Administration, Rogers also taught for 17 years at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Now the most senior teacher in the ICCC program, Rogers considers himself a tenured faculty member and for good reason: students find his real-world experience and teaching style essential to educating them about growing and sustaining their own businesses.

Steve Rogers’ enthusiasm for teaching others is apparent the moment you speak to him. His new class at Harvard Business School, Black Business Leaders and Entrepreneurship, is rated one of the top electives at Harvard and came out of what he says is a “dearth of case studies with black protagonists.” The course now enrolls students from nearly all the schools at Harvard, and has been the subject of wide media coverage. This commitment to educating students about the experiences of a more diverse cohort of entrepreneurs translates immediately into Rogers’ commitment to being what he describes as “part of the solution to the problem,” a lack of resources for underrepresented entrepreneurs, often working in inner cities, that can experience exponential growth when provided with the correct tools. Rogers knows the inner city business world well; along with his decades of teaching experience, he also purchased his first business in inner city Chicago at 28, a mere two years after receiving his MBA from Harvard. He went on to own two more companies in the area, and swiftly disproved the adage that teachers teach because they can’t do. This makes him a true practitioner of entrepreneurship, and the ideal professor for these students.

When asked about his participation as an educator in the ICCC program, he describes it as the “highlight of my year.” His success in business has given him what he considers a personal commitment to give back to society, by providing a practical tool set to increase entrepreneurial success and growth. He firmly believes that by helping entrepreneurs from inner cities he is enabling them to help others by providing jobs and community development where their businesses are located. Rogers says that teaching is his “opportunity to give back and help other urban entrepreneurs,” and he’s extremely proud of his work to make the universities and programs in which he teaches “an extension of the community.” His materials with ICCC focus on entrepreneurial finance, a topic that Rogers finds many business owners are wary of. He says that with a typical class, only 10-25% of attendees initially say that they enjoy finance, but he stresses to these entrepreneurs that “if you do not embrace the fundamentals of finance, you will never become what you can be.” Rogers says that after his class, 100% of the participants leave enjoying finance, an idea strongly backed up by his students.

Elizabeth Sacco, founder of Diabetic Dabs, a Peabody, Massachusetts business focusing on diabetic healthcare, participated in ICCC this year. Sacco is extremely passionate about her business, having a son diagnosed with diabetes, but initially experienced struggles related to bringing her business from concept to commercialization, with what she described as a “constant learning curve.” Despite this learning curve, she continued to grow her business, saying that “being an entrepreneur has allowed me to pursue my dreams of trying to make a positive difference in the world.” Perhaps it was this commitment to creating positive change that connected Sacco and Rogers; Sacco said after the session that “hands down, Steven Rogers was my favorite.” Originally a financial advisor, she understood the importance of being well-versed in finance but thought she could use a refresher, and she immediately liked that Rogers emphasized his background was not in finance; to her, this said that “if he could learn finance, so could anyone. It gave the session a sense of encouragement.” Rogers “was able to simplify and break down complex topics to a level everyone could understand,” and said she can immediately apply the knowledge she learned from him. Sacco said what stuck out the most about Rogers was his contagious enthusiasm, and that “his knowledge of the field was impressive and his ability to captivate on a subject that most business owners have an aversion to truly is a gift.”

Sacco believes that every session with ICCC has offered takeaways that would be beneficial to any business, and that being part of the program has supplied her with a wealth of knowledge on all levels of business that can be implemented into her business model. Steve Rogers and Elizabeth Sacco’s interaction is just one example of the relationships that ICCC provides entrepreneurs with, and the program itself is emblematic of the ways in which communities can help foster growth. Whether it’s an inner city business creating jobs or experienced entrepreneurs taking time to educate others on how to succeed, ICCC understands and leverages the strength of communities with the determination of entrepreneurs to open opportunities for both to grow and flourish.

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