For Honorebel Walker (OAK3 Hidden Genius Alum), being the only boy in his family was tough as he yearned for friends with whom he could relate. After joining our Intensive Immersion Program, Honorebel not only “gained a whole brotherhood and a group of mentors”, but was introduced to the world of technology, business, and entrepreneurship. Now a sophomore at the University of San Diego majoring in Design Engineering, Honorebel is as driven as they come, and is channeling his passion for architecture and design into his next business enterprise in our Alumni Venture Seed Fund.
What plans and goals do you have for yourself this year in 2021?
Everything has been good. I’ve been laser-focused on performing well in school and flushing out my business idea in the Alumni Venture Seed Fund. Before the holidays, I registered to take Philosophy and Calculus II courses online at Alameda and Santa Ana College during the winter break in order to create more space for me to focus on my business venture this Spring. It’s been hard to manage two of these heavyweight courses in just a short amount of time, but I’m excited to pass these classes at the end of this month.
In the beginning, my business concept — Divine Errands — was a platform that helps users find talented people to help them complete everyday tasks. Now, I’m driven to combine my passion for architecture, modern design, and technology by creating a system that finds talent to build tech in the manual labor and construction industry.
What was your experience in the Intensive Immersion Program like?
The Hidden Genius Project is everything to me because they always had my back no matter what. As a young Black man, they exposed me to the possibilities of technology and opened my mind to the world of entrepreneurship.
When I started the program in 2015, I instantly recognized the talent and genius of my brothers. Straight up, we’d be next to each other writing code and solving algorithms, and five minutes later we’re outside in the David E. Glover Technology Center parking lot playing football and having fun. I’m the only boy in my family so I was always looking for a brother or group of friends with whom I could relate to. Once I joined the program, I literally gained a whole brotherhood and a group of mentors, where the love between all of us was so genuine and real.
Going on business trips was a great experience for me because I had the opportunity to learn and network with people of color at tech companies. As a kid going into the 9th grade, I only knew about companies like Facebook, Yelp, and Twitch from what I see on tv or an app, but getting a chance to see how they operate behind the scenes was pretty incredible. They were definitely more than just an app for sure. Plus, on every business trip day my brothers, James Green (OAK4 Hidden Genius Alum), George Hofstetter (OAK3 Hidden Genius Alum), Lemuel Gillespie, and I would come fresh and clean as we wanted to carry ourselves at a high standard when entering these spaces.
One of the biggest challenges for me was having to leave Oakland to attend Stevenson Boarding School in Pebble Beach, and I was one of the few Black male students there. Thankfully, The Hidden Genius Project kept in constant contact with me while I was at school by giving me opportunities to attend programming remotely via Google Hangouts. It’s funny because my other brother Quentin Smith (OAK3 Hidden Genius Alum) had to do the same thing when he left for boarding school and we were both happy to have the support of The Hidden Genius Project when we were away.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Intensive Immersion Program.
Right before attending boarding school, I had a choice to either create an app or website for my final project. I decided to create a functioning website from scratch titled ‘Sum Plan’, which was designed to be a one-stop-shop for parents and guardians to find summer camps for their children. It wasn’t an easy project as I had a hard time finding a backend database to save end-users information. I was using a bootstrap template to edit and format my website but there were always issues saving my data. Overall, it was a great learning experience.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
Learning how to lead, be patient, communicate, and network are the top skills that have been the most beneficial for me since completing the program. The Hidden Genius Project really helped me understand how to navigate professional environments and build relationships with influential people as a Black man. They showed me all types of examples and best practices on how to carry myself in front of hiring managers, investors, and CEOs.
Growing up I always held leadership positions in sports, especially in high school being a student-athlete in basketball, football, and lacrosse. With my experience, I had a sense of what it was to be a leader, as I know you can’t take days off. But The Hidden Genius Project truly showed me how to be a leader by gaining a real sense of how to support and motivate people based on their personalities. This skill really helped me thrive and grow into the leader I am today.
Also, the coding aspect of the program was often difficult for me to understand because I have dyslexia. There were times where I would get so frustrated with learning how to code that I would just stop working on the assignments. I realized I had to practice patience and invest a lot of time into developing my coding skills. I’d often lean on my brothers and mentors for support whenever I needed additional help on my assignments.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
During my 7th and 8th grade year in middle school, I attended several STEM, technology, and robotic camps all over the East Bay and I was often the only Black boy in these programs. Early on I began to recognize how people would question my reason for participating in these camps. A majority of them would either tell me outright that I’m in the wrong camp or that I enroll in a sports camp. The funny part is that I was performing better than any of my peers on both the technology and social aspect of these programs.
I even attended tech camps that were designed for Black youth, but it was operated and co-signed by white folks who employ Black people to run these programs. Plus, the sad part is that the Black instructors don’t have a final say on what to teach in these programs and classes. Their hands are always tied because they either are not listened to or have to ask for approval.
Overall, The Hidden Genius Project is an organization that does not co-sign or look for white validation to teach, empower, and develop curriculum for Black males and folks of color in our communities. When creating systems, buildings, technology, products, you name it — it should be designed by the people, created by the people, and for the people. The Hidden Genius Project does that on every level and the brotherhood of Geniuses and communities benefit from it.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
The most important thing I gained from The Hidden Genius Project is the constant support and access to my fellow peers and mentors in the organization. The staff has always put an emphasis on community and brotherhood in the program, and I can get in touch with any of them at any time of day. Whether it’s about internship opportunities or personal life matters, nothing is off the table whenever I reach out to them.
For example, I spoke to Brandon [Founding Executive Director] about biomimicry in designing technology transportation last month. Later that day, he introduced me to a designer at Disney who develops projects with an emphasis in biomimicry. We connected two days later and now I have gained a connection who can help me understand the next stages of engineering through biomimicry.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since graduating from the Intensive Immersion Program?
They are always checking in on me via phone call or email, so whenever I’m in town from college I’d swing by the office to say hello and see what’s going on as I enjoy just being around them. Plus, the staff continually ask me how I’m doing in my social and educational journey and they keep on sending me scholarship resources and internship opportunities. Now I’m currently involved in the Alumni Venture Seed Fund where I am learning how to be an entrepreneur and create a startup.
Tell me more about the Alumni Venture Seed Fund. What is this program all about and how have you benefited from this experience?
The Alumni Venture Seed Fund is a program to help student alumni who have an interest in developing their own business, like myself, to receive training and coaching on their business ideas. I meet with my cohort (James Green, Perry Irving, Malik Poole, and Ronald Bolden III) and coaches twice a week to learn about business ideation, legal, and marketing strategies to strengthen our business ventures.
Shout out to Sean [Director of Strategic Initiatives] and The Hidden Genius Project for creating this program to help alumni such as myself receive support with their entrepreneurial ambitions. I work on my business 24/7 and the conversations I’ve been having with my coaches are invaluable. During our meetings, we can ask questions about anything regarding the lessons or parts of our businesses to improve our understanding.
There was a cool moment when Michael Seibel [Partner at Y Combinator, a prominent startup accelerator] was a guest speaker during one of our meetings and it was insane to have someone of his expertise join our virtual session. Meeting a Black entrepreneur who founded and sold million-dollar companies is really inspiring. He talked to us about how our work ethic should be if we want our companies to thrive. He also gave each one of us advice about their business projects and ways to improve it. Overall, this unique program has taught me how to analyze every single aspect of my business in order for it to excel.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Hidden Geniuses?
I’d tell future Hidden Geniuses to be open-minded, work hard, and continue to be transparent with their mentors in the program. Also, don’t be afraid to ask or receive help on your projects or any ideas you have as it could be the next big billion-dollar business.