Connections For Business
Through his professional network, hamet watt strengthens his business and helps others along the way
By Matthew S. Scott
Hamet Watt has always had a passion for entrepreneurship. He has held down a job since the age of 14 and has always pursued entrepreneurial activities. As an undergraduate at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, Watt formed a company to move and store the furniture of other students over the summer. He also bought two single-family homes off-campus and rented them to students.
After graduating and doing a small stint at a boutique investment firm in Maryland, Watt, 32, became a partner in North Carolina-based venture capital firm New Africa Opportunity Fund, where he helped many black- and minority-owned companies secure much needed financing to start, grow, and sustain their businesses. And what's more, the Washington, D.C., native has made it a point to support organizations that support black- and minority-owned businesses.
At this point in his life, Watt has a lot of personal entrepreneurial experience and has worked extensively with other business owners. He says that a lack of capital and a lack of mentoring are two of the most challenging issues facing minority entrepreneurs who are trying to build successful companies. "It's surprisingly difficult to find mentors that have built successful businesses, especially technology-related businesses," says Watt. "I think mentorship is a key aspect of building a business."
Mentorship was important to Watt four years ago when he started NextMedium Inc., a company that provides information products and technology solutions to the entertainment and advertising industries and helps them respond to the changes in the way people consume entertainment. The company helps those industries respond to the challenges brought on by personal recording devices and digital recording devices, such as TIVO, which allows consumers to skip commercials. It also helps the industries benefit from product placement. Television is a $60 billion a year industry, so missed commercials would be an understandable concern. Watt believes he has a great opportunity to benefit from helping these industries deal with that problem. But he knows he wouldn't have been so fortunate landing that opportunity had he not been diligent about creating relationships with people who have been valuable resources for his business. His goal is to help other business owners do the same.
Watt had a team of non-minority and minority professionals advise him when he started NextMedium and he continues to value their advice. He's been careful to foster relationships that can help him and other black- and minority-owned businesses create value. When he worked at New Africa, he was an active member of the National Association of Investment Companies, an association of minority-focused venture capital funds, and he's still "very close to the NAIC community."
As an entrepreneur, Watt joined The Marathon Club, an organization of minority entrepreneurs, investment professionals, executives, IT professionals, and support professionals (lawyers, accountants, consultant, etc.). Its members meet twice a year to discuss major issues tied to the creation of strong, profitable, minority-owned businesses. "I participate in roundtables and discussions about what we need as minority entrepreneurs to make it," says Watt. "[We ask ourselves,] 'What do we need to build big businesses? How does the venture capital community react to us? How can the minority venture capital community thrive so that they can support black entrepreneurs?'"
Through his entrepreneurial pursuits and having worked with professional organizations over the years, Watt has formed thousands of business relationships. "At The Marathon Club, the goal is to help entrepreneurs collaborate to build valuable businesses," explains Watt. "If you have people who are successful, they start other businesses, and that [breeds] success in the community.
"I'm able to share other relationships -- with investors, strategic partners, potential employees, or individuals who have industry knowledge and experience that may be relevant to other entrepreneurs," says Watt about the extensive network he's built. He moved his wife, Joy, 30, and his firm from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles last year but still maintains his relationships on the East Coast. "I value other people the way they value me," he says. "I think we all enjoy collaborating with each other and sharing ideas and relationships that help us build successful companies and create value."
Because he's well connected, Watt often helps businesses solve problems or moves them to the next level by simply picking up the phone. Using memberships and contacts to strengthen businesses is a strategy that can be used by anyone. The Marathon Club is just one example of how the strategy works. This is why Watt is someone who exemplifies Declaration of Financial Empowerment Principle No. 8: to support the creation and growth of profitable, competitive, black-owned enterprises. The importance of human capital is sometimes overlooked in business, but Watt has made it a mainstay of his success. He helps a number of businesses grow, either through collaborating with them, investing in them, or mentoring them.
Watt is excited about the future. The relationships he's built have helped him in the past and he knows they'll continue to be invaluable resources as he builds his company. NextMedium recently collaborated with Nielsen Media Research to launch the first product placement measurement service that tracks brand exposure in television shows. The collaboration was Watt's reaction to advertisers shifting away from passive advertising and moving toward more integrated messages in entertainment products, such as sending a brand's message during a television show or in a music video.
Watt says he's impressed with the number of talented African American executives he's met. He's also noticed an increase in the number of talented and experienced African American executives in positions of influence and power. "I think the entrepreneur ecosystem for African Americans, which includes strong relationships with corporate America, service providers [law firms, accounting firms, etc.], and other professionals, is getting stronger." And that's good news for all entrepreneurs.
Watt made a commitment to do the following in order to support the growth of black- and minority-owned businesses: Support business organizations.
Having belonged to the NAIC and by presently belonging to the Marathon Club, Watt has placed himself in a position to receive information that could help his business and deliver information that could help other businesses. "[When you join organizations,] you meet people with like ways of thinking. ... You can brainstorm more efficiently and share relationships more efficiently," says Watt. "All those things are important."
Build a strong network. Watt didn't just collect business cards, he set out to create relationships he could take with him as he moved throughout his career. His relationships have become a very valuable resource, allowing him to gain knowledge and provide a service to people who come in contact with him. The old adage about it not being what you know, but who you know has a degree of truth to it.
Become a mentor to other businesses. When he was getting NextMedium off the ground, Watt didn't come across as many black companies to mentor him as he would have liked. Because of that, he is determined to help other entrepreneurs. "I'm a big believer in black entrepreneurial talent. I think there is an extraordinary amount of talent that is unrealized, untapped, and undervalued," he says. "I look forward to the opportunity to be a mentor."