Gary L. Polk (Courtesy photo)

Gary L. Polk, Sr. is passionate about helping Black and Latino entrepreneurs that will change the world.

If you’re going to start a business, there are some things you are going to need to know. Are your services relevant to your target audience? Do you even know your target audience? Is your product marketable? Are you prepared to go back to the starting block if your business requires it?

Gary L. Polk, Sr. founded the Polk Institute Foundation (PIF) to help answer these questions and more for Black and Latino entrepreneurs. A businessman, CEO, business consultant, university professor, and author, Polk is passionate about giving entrepreneurs of color all they need to succeed.

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“You may fail because it’s part of the game, but failure is ok,” said Polk, “so long as you learn something, you keep going.”

Established in September 2020, PIF received their 501(c)(3) certification in 2021. Polk shared how the pandemic helped to shape PIF.

“We wanted to do something positive coming out of COVID-19,” said Polk. “There was so much negativity associated with COVID, especially that first year, so much was serious, it was impacting businesses, and I was doing some work with the SBA [Small Business Administration] and they had these things called PPP loans.”

Polk continued, “They wanted us to man the phone, to tell business owners how to reply, answer any questions and we started using Zoom technology.”

Also, a professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, Polk, along with everyone else, made communication via Zoom the order of the day. He had to adjust his teaching from in-person to online.

“So, now all of a sudden, I’m meeting with clients one-on-one on Zoom,” said Polk. “I’m meeting with students one-on-one on Zoom, and I realize that Zoom technology is pretty cool.

“So, I did some research and I found that there are 15 tuition free universities in the U.S. I got to thinking, why couldn’t we offer, using Zoom technology, to underrepresented Black and Brown entrepreneurs, at a high level, master level, practitioner-driven, entrepreneur training and technical expertise, tuition free?”

Murphy Witherspoon (Courtesy photo)

That was the story of how an idea became reality, but Polk shared the foundation started a long time ago.

“This really started in 1991, when I started teaching a business program at Cal State Northridge,” said Polk. “They wanted a professor of color to teach intro to business class to bring Black and Latino students to come to Northridge and major in business.

“I get into teaching; I taught my students how to write a business plan and I brought in my professional colleagues.

“In 1998, I took the leap of faith. I was at Farmers Insurance getting ready to become a district manager over 28 agents. I decided to quit corporate America, teach full-time.

“So, what I’m doing at the Polk Institute today is really 32 years in the making. I learned that teaching was my passion—that’s the connection to the Polk Institute today, I’m pursuing my passion.”

PIF’s overarching goals are to create a welfare withdrawal paradigm, teach entrepreneurs how to fish, teach them what they do not know about business, create fundable CEOs, who are ethical and possess great character and to create leaders, who believe that “people, planet, and profit” is not a zero-sum.

“Social Entrepreneurship, we call it the triple bottom line,” said Polk, “and what that includes is people, planet, profit—they can coexist.

“I’m a baby boomer, I’m 68, I was taught the business of business is profit. Forget the planet, make a profit, forget people, make a profit—that’s the old school thought.”

Polk continued, “I’ve been in academia 32 years, I know for at least the last 25 years, we’ve been teaching MBAs profit maximization.

“‘Well, you mean it’s ok to hurt the planet just so you maximize profit for your stockholder’ and their answer is ‘yes.’

“Well, that’s wrong, it is not a zero-sum game.

“People benefit, the planet benefits, and the entrepreneur benefits with a profit by being that kind of focused.”

“Polk Institute is a very unusual approach to establishing entrepreneurs,” said Murphy Witherspoon, PIF director of curriculum. “The direction that was taken was how can we pull from the best and tap them to give their skills and talents to those that are looking to move into the entrepreneurial world?”

Witherspoon continued, “Facilitators come from experience and education and the workshops are set up in an approach that will guide them through a process of becoming a leader, driving a business where everyone can win with ethics behind it.

“Understanding that there’s a mental challenge upon the entrepreneur. What do they need to know in terms of corporations? Every business has operations… so, if you’re working with a product, how should you look at that product?”

PIF offers an innovative online enterprise: a tuition-free Master Practitioner Training Incubator, an Accelerator and Capital Funding. It’s a 66-week training program with the focus of graduating fundable CEOs.

“We bring in a cohort class, using Zoom technology,” said Polk. “We have a two-year training program.”

Polk shared that he noticed a surprising minority group growing with each cohort.

“When we started, we said we’re going to target underrepresented Black and Brown,” said Polk. “Our first cohort, we had 26, 17 were women. Our second cohort, we had 19, 12 were women. Our third cohort class we had 26, 21 were women.”

PIF’s fourth cohort launched on February 1 with 22, 15 of which are women.

“So, now, in addition to Black and Brown, we’re targeting women and veterans.”

In celebrating Black History Month, Polk wanted to share this thought with Black entrepreneurs.

“When we did some research, we found in our communities, self-doubt is a big factor,” said Polk. “Sometimes it comes from our family, sometimes it comes from the major race, sometimes it comes from the media, sometimes it comes from in-between our ears.”

Polk continued, “Self-doubt can be our own enemy. We cannot let self-doubt hold us back.

“I believe there’s two ways to raise capital for future generations: home ownership and business ownership.

“I say follow your passion, dream big, don’t doubt yourself.”

For more information about the Polk Institute Foundation, please visit