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Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship Close Entrepreneurship Week with Pitch Competition and Fireside Chat

PNC Center Entrepreneurship Week Fireside Chat 2024

WASHINGTON – The Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship’s second annual entrepreneurship festival closed with a fireside chat featuring James Rhee, the John H. Johnson Endowed Chair for Entrepreneurship, and Tina Byles Williams, founder, CEO and CIO of Xponance, a $17 billion asset management and investment firm. As founders of successful businesses, the pair shared their keys to success and effective leadership. 

The former CEO of plus-size women’s clothing company Ashley Stewart, Rhee transformed the company from being on the brink of bankruptcy to a sales powerhouse. Since 2021, Rhee has taught Systems of Life, Money, and Joy at the Cathy Hughes School of Communication. During the discussion, he shared insights from his forthcoming book, “red helicopter – a parable for our times: lead change with kindness (plus a little math),” releasing on April 9. 

“In my class, I remind my students that the business world is like being 10 years old running a lemonade stand,” said Rhee. “When you open a lemonade stand, everyone has great ideas, but the investment is in the person, the execution, and is all about your relationships. Your life track record is often more important than your career track record.” 

Williams’s experience as a Jamaican immigrant working in finance in the 1990s shaped her perspective on leadership and sparked the idea for Xponance. Taglined “Transforming Access to Alpha,” Xponance was founded to empower people of color and women in the finance industry. Today, Xponance is the largest diverse-owned asset management company in the United States. 

“If you are starting a business because you have an idea to improve people’s lives, rather than just to make money, then that idea may have a chance at being successful. The degree you get and the relationships you build improve your ability to execute your idea,” said Williams. “As a Howard student, the people in your class are the foundation of your community, and the ones who will help support you throughout your journey as an entrepreneur.” 

At the program’s end, the Center acknowledged the winners of the fifth annual HU Empower Business Pitch competition: Oluwaseun Adeyeye, sophomore electrical engineering major from Baltimore, Maryland, and Jayson Johnson, sophomore mechanical engineering major from Silver Spring, Maryland. The duo are the founders of Tree Technologies.  

“As a first-generation American, it was very impactful for me to hear the speakers’ stories. Hearing Mr. Rhee talk about the lemonade stand was important because now I have the biggest lemonade stand I could possibly have,” said Adeyeye. “I want to make sure that while I'm running this business, I’m keeping my morals in check. We want to make sure that we always put students first and maintain focus on improving the lives of other people. 

Adeyeye and Johnson were awarded $20,000 in funding for their companies. The students have developed the Tree app, which consolidates information about Howard University for its students. The app will host information on study locations, dining halls, and campus news, and feature an AI bot that will answer student questions about navigating the University. The founders plan to use their funding to secure Amazon Web Services and legal considerations. 

“The vision for the Tree app is to be in all universities. We want to start locally and then expand first to HBCUs because we know from talking to students at other schools, they face a lot of the same issues that we do in navigating campus,” said Johnson. “Preparing in this year’s pitch competition helped me see firsthand just how much effort is required to run a business.” 

The PNC National Center also recognized its HBCU Startup Scholars, a cohort of HBCU student entrepreneurs from across the country. 




About Howard University  

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university comprising 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced three Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu