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Grovara Is Transforming Global Trade With a Game Changing B2B Marketplace

Abu Kamara is the CEO and co-founder of Grovara, the first B2B global marketplace to connect food and beverage brands with international retailers.

To date, Grovara has raised $8.75 million on its quest to transform global trade.

In this episode, Abu shares:

  • The current state of global trade and US exports.
  • The current export process and how Grovara is disrupting it.
  • How they have raised over $8.7 million to date and what the fundraising process has been like.
  • Why he has been intentional about creating a diverse team.
  • Advice for brands that intend to expand into international stores.
  • Building an innovation center in Sierre Leone and mentoring the next generation of young entrepreneurs.

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Be Seen and Heard: SHOPPE BLACK Teams Up With Yappa to Offer Audio and Video Comments

Over the past seven years, Shoppe Black has grown from an idea into a global community of almost 400,000 people. The members of this digital community may have varying views on a number of topics, but we have at least one thing in common, an interest in seeing Black people win.

As a company, it’s important that we find new, innovative, and most importantly, safe ways for us all to connect and engage with one another.

So, in an effort to enhance our digital community, we’ve installed Yappa, an audio and video commenting tool created by the good folks at Yappa World Incorporated.

About Yappa

Yappa is a Black owned audio and video commenting tool used to maximize a website’s content and audience participation. The company was founded by Kiaran Sim and Jennifer Dyer.

Yappa founders, Kiaran Sim and Jennifer Dyer.

In a recent conversation with Kiaran, he shed some light on what inspired the creation of Yappa. “We identified a problem with how we communicated as a society and the digital platforms that fostered an environment that can bring out the worst in humanity.

Cyber-bullying, keyboard bashing, trolling, and unfiltered rhetoric have become a part of everyday life on social media. We can often be misunderstood or misrepresented via 150 text characters. We created Yappa to offer a tool for communication that fosters productive, meaningful engagements.”


According to Kiaran, the response since they launched has been overwhelmingly positive. In 2020, Yappa enjoyed its most successful year to date. Collaborations with iHeart Media, Shaquille O’Neal, Daymond John and others have given Yappa exposure to new audiences.

“Across the summer of 2020, we got together with Big Boy’s Neighborhood (Real 92.3FM), to create a town hall for Los Angelino’s to share their stories on how the pandemic has impacted their lives. We received an overwhelming response, which truly brought a sense of product validation”, said Kiaran.

Future Plans

When asked about future plans for the company, Kiaran said that while he could certainly come up with some ideal scenarios,  he would rather live in the moment and focus on the immediate goals as an entrepreneur.

“This way, instead of filling my thoughts with lofty visions of grander, I take a more agile approach, following the breadcrumb trail that our audience leads us to. Maybe we’ve been acquired, we do an IPO, or we achieve another measurement of success, but I only see great things in store for Yappa’s future at the current rate of scale.”

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs

“The one word of advice I would give to an aspiring entrepreneur is don’t be afraid to find out who you are. Fear of failure is the biggest obstacle you will have to overcome regularly. Don’t be scared to fail, but in the same breath, do everything you can to validate your business ideas first before making significant life-changing decisions.”


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Tony O. Lawson

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This Black Owned FinTech Payroll Startup Has Raised Almost $11M

Gig Wage is a Black owned Fintech startup that builds modern payroll, payments, and banking tools for the Gig Economy.

As of a few weeks ago, Gig Wage has now raised $10.7M in total equity funding. The funds will help with its growth in areas that include sales, marketing, and ongoing product innovation.

We caught up with founder, Craig J. Lewis to find out more about his business.

Black owned fintech
Gig Wage founder, Craig J. Lewis

What inspired you to start Gig Wage? 

In 2016 I read a report from McKinsey on the Global Independent Workforce aka the Gig Economy and it struck me that no one was really servicing the businesses that pay these workers.

I thought to myself, “We can become the payroll technology for the Gig Economy.” It also really scratched an itch I had to leverage payroll to impact the end user experience (the people getting paid). Gig Wage was an opportunity to be B2B2C and help everyone involved.

To what do you attribute the rapid growth of your business? 

The Gig Economy was rapidly expanding and Gig Wage was growing really fast pre COVID but COVID19 has definitely been an accelerant. The increased need for delivery has been the main area of growth we’ve seen.

black owned fintech

How does Gig Wage benefit employers? 

Gig Wage provides all the technology and tools businesses need to pay contractors/freelancers/gig workers in a fast, flexible, and modern way. Also by having 1099 specific software helps with classification concerns.

Where do you see your business in 5 years? 

Global with a 10 figure valuation.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Get started, keep going.


Tony O. Lawson

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54gene is developing the World’s First and Largest Pan-African DNA Biobank

African genetic data may hold the key to unlock untold medical discoveries and 54gene is on a mission to improve our understanding of the human genome.

The Lagos, Nigeria based genomics company offers genetic testing for Africans providing reports on nutrition, health, fitness, and weight loss, personal traits, and Ancestry.

We spoke to the founder, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong to learn more about his business.

Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong

What inspired you to create 54Gene?

Whilst I was working as a consultant in the pharmaceuticals market, I noticed there was a huge gap in the type of genetic material used in research. Only 2% of genetic material used is African whereas nearly 90% is Caucasian, despite the fact people of African origin are more genetically diverse than all other populations combined.

With 54gene, our aim is to not only address this gap so we can equilibrate medical care for Africans but also develop treatments from our research that will benefit all populations. 

Why does your work focus solely on people of African descent?

There is a limited amount of recorded genetic material from people of African descent. As well as this, the African continent hasn’t built up this genomic capability, so genetic data is not being produced within the continent itself.

Instead, we’ve typically relied on research programs to come into the continent but usually, they’ll go into one country out of fifty four, sample one hundred people from one city, and assume they’ve collected samples from all of Africa.

That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of genetic diversity – it’s coming from one sub-group, whereas there are thousands that exist.

54 gene
Team 54 Gene 

What is your competitive advantage in this industry?

We’re actually developing the world’s first and largest pan-African DNA biobank and we’re planning for this to include 40,000 data samples, by the end of the year. It’s an ambitious project, but one now that we are well placed to achieve.

We’ll be working with health & research institutions, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare regulators to achieve this.

As well as this, we’ve also successfully piloted in three of Nigeria’s largest academic tertiary hospitals and we’ll be expanding our biobanking activities to a total of 10 hospitals soon. The model works, now we have to scale in order to capture the data required to effect change in the global pharmaceutical market. 

How can your work improve the global healthcare industry?

A big part of our work is exploring the healthcare benefits of the African genome for all populations, so we’re excited to see where our research takes us.

It’s worth noting that there have been a number of drugs developed from research from African genetic mutations such as Romosozumab (Evenity), an osteoporosis drug and Alirocumab (Praluent), a cholesterol drug.

With this in mind, we’re looking to leverage our data in a number of areas including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and metabolic diseases like diabetes. Drugs are being personalized for populations; but how can they be personalized for Africa if we don’t have the right data sets in the first place?

Where do you see 54gene in 5 years?

Over the next couple of years, 54 gene will be investing heavily in building data science capabilities to both partner with pharmaceutical companies and find our own targets. My vision is for us is to not only develop new treatments and diagnostics for people of African descent, but for all populations and become a force within the global healthcare space.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Be observant. It’s critical you’re aware of the world around you so you know what problems need to be addressed. Entrepreneurs are people who look at life from a different perspective, so where some people see a problem, they see an opportunity.

More importantly, they also possess the creative thinking to take advantage of it and I think this is the foundation for developing a really strong idea that can make a difference.


Tony O. Lawson

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Innovative Black Tech Startups You Should Know

As an entrepreneur and semi tech geek, I believe in leveraging technology and entrepreneurship to make life easier and to address social issues. Here are some Black tech startups from around the world that doing just that.

Black Tech Startups

Reach Robotics is creating the next gaming platform by fusing Robotics, Gaming and augmented reality. (Co-Founder and CEO – Silas Adekunle)

Black Tech Startups
Silas Adekunle

HireHer provides tools and resources for prospective candidates and employers to identify opportunities, advance careers and find mentors. (CEO – Ruth Chandler Cook)

Ruth Chandler Cook

AbiliLife is a tech company that engineers products for elderly and neurodegenerative patients (CEO – Courtney Williamson)

Courtney Williamson

Play VS  gives high school students the chance to compete against other schools for the state title in their official high school esports league. (Founder – Delane Parnell)

Delane Parnell

Front Door is a vertical SaaS solution that helps real estate companies automate and manage their most important business transactions. (Founders – Alain and Emilie Kapatashungu)

Black Tech Startups
Alain and Emilie Kapatashungu

SPCE connects the higher education community with University specific, student rental properties, near campuses. (Founders-  Leon Ifayemi and Omar Fahmi )

Leon Ifayemi and Omar Fahmi

Bandwagon tracks qualitative customer data for ticketed events through a proprietary blockchain database that monitors each ticket transaction.  (Founder – Harold Hughes)

Black Tech Startups
Harold Hughes

Neyber is an award-winning financial wellbeing provider that helps UK employees to be better with their money. (Founder –  Martin Ijaha)

Martin Ijaha

CoSign allows users to “tag” items within content they upload to social networking sites. If their followers purchase the items, users receive a monetary reward. (Co-founder – Esosa Ighodaro)

Esosa Ighodaro

Ovamba provides short-term capital to micro-, small-, and medium-size businesses via mobile phone technology. (Founders – Marvin Cole and Viola Llewellyn)

Marvin Cole and Viola Llewellyn

Vouch Digital builds an online verified digital supply chain platform that helps simplify the distribution of cash in form of digital vouchers meant for purchasing goods or services. (CEO – Evelyn Namara)

Evelyn Namara

-Tony O. Lawson

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23 African Startups to Keep an Eye On

African startups are are taking the continent by storm. This new generation of entrepreneurs is not satisfied with sitting back and hoping someone will give them a job or create the goods or services they want and need. They are doing it themselves and the world is taking notice. Last year, African tech startups received over $185M in funding from sources within and outside the continent.

Here are some of the startups to keep an eye on:

African Startups

54artistry is a Nigeria-based company that empowers thousands of creative Africans by leveraging technology to connect creatives to paying clients (vice-versa).

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.15.57 PM gives you an authentic local Gambia Experience by connecting you to local Gambian families that will cook for you and host you for home-cooked food.

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Paystack helps Nigerian businesses accept payments via credit card, debit card, money transfer and mobile money on their websites or mobile apps.


NerveFlo , a Nigerian startup, allows digital content creators to rapidly distribute their work to the ever-growing African market. Here you can find anything from short films to music to comics, lectures and e-books.

african startups

RoundBob is an online travel agency created in Uganda to provide varied travel content built across key demanded  areas such as sports, health, leisure and education.


Abacus is a Kenyan startup that builds web and mobile software to help investors across the globe access African financial markets.

b1124feb-7583-4750-a7b9-b193de3d0507-large is the largest online hotel booking agency in Nigeria, with over 7000 hotels registered on their platform.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.22.24” solves the problem of venue booking: by aggregating variety of event venues, making it easy to search, check availability and book venues for weddings, meetings and other events online.Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.33.07 PM helps Nigerian farmers get a good price for their produce and, at the same time, to allow buyers get fresh produce from the farmers.

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Codulab is a talent matching platform from Nigeria that connects projects to talent and expertise. Their aim is to facilitate a smooth working process, while ensuring great creative output.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.55.58 PM

RecycloBekia is an electronic waste recycling company based in Egypt and serving the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 7.40.08 AM

MeQasa is one of Ghana’s leading online real estate classifieds businesses. It provides a free service that helps property seekers, brokers and landlords conduct business efficiently online.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 7.47.42 AM

MedRX app was created in Ghana. It connects users to health personnel from various fields of practice including hospital, pharmacy, laboratory and academia.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 7.50.06 AM

CaringHand is a Ghanaian company that provides health and non health homecare services for the elderly and patients with immediate needs.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.22.11 AM

Coliba is a waste recycle company that began in Côte d’Ivoire. It was built with the purpose of solving African waste and sanitation challenges as well as providing employment and an alternative source of income for waste collectors.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 7.58.47 AM

Talking Bookz is a publisher and an online retailer of audiobooks that allows its customers to download books in digital format for use on their laptops and portable devices with focus on unique African content and other international bestsellers.

Video Moja is an online platform where you can watch your favorite Nollywood movies for free and also stay updated on the new and latest releases.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 8.02.30 AM makes the registration processes and legal services more efficient and available to entrepreneurs seeking to do business in Nigeria.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.17.19 AM

Kiro’o Games, also known as Kiro’o Studios, is a Cameroonian video game, animation, development and publishing company.


Slatecube is a Nigerian startup that helps job seekers develop industry-relevant skills, gain work experience, and land well paying jobs through world-class up-skilling courses and virtual internships.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.55.58 PM

Flippy campus out of Ghana, puts your entire campus experience in your pocket. The app allows users to connect with friends on campus as well as friends in other schools.


Gamsole is a Nigerian mobile game production company. Their goal is to “make games that are fun to play; plain and simple.”


Kadi Energy of Ghana is the producer of the Kadi Mobile Charger, a portable, solar-powered charger designed to deliver reliable and affordable access to energy.


Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson


LISNR: The Black Owned Business that Raised over $10 Million and is Disrupting the Mobile Technology Industry

I have a huge appreciation for disruptive technology. That’s why I was excited to discover LISNR, a Cincinnati based business that is easily one of the most disruptive companies within the mobile communication industry.

I chatted with Rodney Williams, the co-founder and CEO of LISNR.  This is what he had to say:
IMG_0075.2 - Hi res

What is LISNR and how can it be applied in day to day life?

LISNR is the creator of SmartTones, a new communication protocol to connect devices.  It is similar to Bluetooth, however we simply use sound to generate second screen experiences, drive proximity marketing campaigns and to connect devices.

Think of all of the places you’ve been in the last 24 hours.  Now, think about how many of those places have a speaker infrastructure.  Your car, Starbucks, your office, your computer, your TV – with LISNR, all of these places and devices now have the ability to send data over audio.

We can send promotional offers while standing in line for coffee.  We can replay a huge play you missed when you got up from your seat at a sporting event.  We can deliver an interactive game through your television while you’re sitting on your couch watching Walking Dead.


You left your job at Procter & Gamble to pursue this business idea. How did you know it was the right decision to make?

I knew that LISNR had the potential to change the world.


You were born without hearing. Thankfully, your hearing is now restored.  Is that part of what inspired you to create a company that uses inaudible sound waves?

Yes, it was absolutely part of the inspiration behind the company.  Being born partly deaf has forced me to always examine how I solve problems.  That ability to problem solve has allowed me to approach real-world challenges in entirely new ways.

I always look at the world from the other end of the telescope – and doing so, gives me the ability to see things some people can’t.  As an example, when I started thinking about how to interact with consumers while they are shopping – I thought, “Why not use this ubiquitous medium (sound) that’s all around us??”  It was that question that ultimately led me to start LISNR.


You recently raised $10 million from Intel Capital. Before that you raised $4.4 million from Mercury Fund, Jump Capital and Sierra Capital. What do you feel makes your business attractive to investors?

I think that investors see the potential that this company could have at scale, and they believe deeply in the team we’ve built.  If you think about it, the real potential for LISNR is beyond the amazing work we are doing with people like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Visa.

The fact of the matter is that LISNR provides a utility to connect devices – and when every device, appliance and gadget coming to market today is connected to the internet – that means very powerful things for LISNR.

Additionally, we’ve been able to attract some of the brightest minds in the world to work on this technology from places like P&G, Gracenote, Yahoo, Lockheed Martin and more.  That says a lot on it’s own.


Where do you see yourself and your company in 10 years?  

Take out your phone and open the menu.  Do you see that Wifi icon?  The Bluetooth icon?  Soon, LISNR will live right next to those…in the hardware on hundreds of millions of devices around the world.


Besides not needing hardware to perform like Bluetooth – how does your brand enhance the customer experience better than other similar brands on the market?

I could go on and on about the advantages of LISNR over other technology in the market.  No hardware, exceptionally better coverage, no wifi, no app open and running, little battery drain, so on and so forth.

I think the reason that we continue to win in the market is that LISNR gives brands, retailers, teams a new, scalable way to reach consumers with contextually relevant information at the moment that matters.


What are your growth plans? Do you plan to use this technology for military or medical device communications?

What I love about LISNR is that we are relentlessly focused on building our core technology.  When we are able to be so focused on doing one thing with excellence and open our technology up to other bright people to build on, we are constantly surprised by the new use cases people come up with.
Yes, we absolutely plan to see SmartTones in use in the military and in medicine.  Some projects are already in motion – but that’s classified 🙂

What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Prove people wrong.  I don’t want that to be taken as negative – but I love the doubters.  I love the naysayers.  I’m motivated to show the world what I know to be true.

Tony O. Lawson

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