Age: 38, Co-Founder
Bell Curves L.L.C., New York City
Akil Bello still marvels at his career in education. “I always gave the teacher a hard time,” explains the co-founder of Bell Curves L.L.C., a test-preparation company in New York City. An admitted rabble-rouser and cynic, he once asked his sixth-grade teacher why there were seven continents when one could walk from North America to South America and from Europe to Asia. He realizes now that his precociousness was a manifestation of the critical thinking needed to do well on standardized tests.
Bello stumbled upon his career at The Princeton Review, where he worked for 13 years — part time while studying architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and full time after graduation. He believed that the company did not reach out adequately to underserved markets and saw this as a niche for his own venture. In 2002, with $2,500 in savings, he started Bell Curves with his brother, Hashim, and father, Yahaya, targeting students in low-income communities at prices they can afford. He chose the name to thumb his nose at a controversial 1994 book on intelligence and race. Last year, his company grossed almost $1 million in revenue. “There are so many fun implications with the name Bell Curves, one of which is that here are two Black men who are doing well in taking tests.”
Sometimes, Bello gets home in time to see his two sons before bed, a rare treat.
“I can only see my clients during the evenings,” he explains.
In five to 10 years, he hopes to offer institutions like Black colleges and universities a comprehensive test-preparation service for their students. “They tend not to have that kind of program in place,” he says.
Favorite food: Marla’s Bayou chicken
What actor should play you in a movie: Don Cheadle
First job: Pharmacy stocker
Favorite comedian: Rudy Ray Moore
Countries visited: Togo, Nigeria, Haiti
First car: Mazda MX-6