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technology

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Lumu, a Black Owned Cybersecurity Startup Just Raised $7.5 Million

Lumu, a Black owned cybersecurity startup yesterday announced that it has closed its Series A round of funding for the amount of $7.5 million.

The Miami based company offers a cloud based service that offers a cloud-based service that helps companies continually scan and react to data compromises in real time. They not only help companies prevent breaches, they also allow them to automate their responses.

Lumu Founder and CEO, Ricardo Villadiego

Lumu launched in February 2020 and already has 1,300 enterprise customers. In just over 12 months, the company said it has analyzed more than 55 billion metadata records and detected more than 11 million cybersecurity threats.

The investment round was co-led by SoftBank Group Corp’s SB Opportunity Fund and Panoramic Ventures. ISS former CEO Tom Noonan and Palo Alto Networks former CEO Lane Bess, are also part of the round. Lumu also announced that Dr. Paul Judge, Managing Partner of Panoramic Ventures and a member of SB Opportunity Fund’s Investment Committee, has joined the company’s board.

lumu

“While attackers have become adept at covering their tracks once inside the network, they also must themselves use the network to move around, leaving trace remnants behind that become obscured amidst all the network noise. The LUMU solution was purpose-built to sift through massive amounts of network metadata in real-time, detect the telltale signals of compromise, and illuminate those network blind spots with pinpoint accuracy,” said Lumu CEO, Ricardo Villadiego.

The company intends to use the funds for sales and marketing initiatives, and additional research and development.

Villadiego previously founded Easy Solutions, which was part of a $2.8 billion acquisition by Cyxtera in 2017.

Tony O. Lawson


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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
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.”

yappa

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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Step 1: Scroll down to the bottom of the article until you see this “Sign Up/Login” box.

 

Step 2: Create an account

yappa

Step 3: Log in

yappa

Tony O. Lawson


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This Black Scientist Wants To Increase Diversity in The Biotech Industry

Since its beginnings in the 1970s, the biotech industry has grown massively and made huge advances. Unfortunately, Black people account for just three percent of this industry.

That’s why we were excited to discover LucasPye BIO, a Black owned biotechnology/biopharmaceutical large-scale manufacturing company. LucasPye BIO is one of only seven biotech companies in the U.S. with capabilities to develop and manufacture Gene/Viral-Based Drug Products.

We spoke to LucasPye BIO Founder & CEO, Tia Lyles-Williams to find out more about her company and what she has in store.

black scientist
Tia Lyles-Williams

What inspired you to start your business?

I’ve been working in the biotech/biopharma industry for 20 years. During that time I noticed three things:

1) There weren’t/aren’t many Black people in Management, Sr. Management or Executive Management Roles.

2) The financial impact of a biotech/biopharma in a community was limitless in regards to opportunities for:

  1. Generate wealth & savings for families
  2. Financially support a large percentage of the local taxes, which resulted in better schools, policing, access to better food sources
  3. Development of a strong and stable middle class community

3) Black people were not being included in human clinical trials for investigational treatment on diseases/viruses that severely impacted our communities the most. Therefore, I wanted to make changes.

More importantly, I wanted to make the biotech/biopharma industry more inclusive, diverse, and accessible to POCs from various skill and education levels.

I believe the biotech/biopharma industry will be similar to the former years of the U.S. Steel Industry; however, it will last a lot longer due to the continuous need for new and improved medical devices and biologic drug products.

Black Scientist

How, if at all, has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business plans or strategy?

The COVID-19 Pandemic, unfortunately, has had a positive impact on our business plans. It’s actually helped us to demonstrate a market need for our CDMO Services and prove our business model for:

  • Outsourcing bio-development Services via strategic partnerships to accelerate our customers’ drug products into human clinical trials & the global commercial market
  • Digitizing our business operations with cloud software, e-documentation & proprietary mobile/web applications.
  • Partnering with a commercial co-working / wet lab facility for life science start-ups & virtual biotech companies.

In fact, LucasPye BIO will be the exclusive contract development and manufacturing partner for HelaPlex – Commercial Co-Working for Life Science Start-Ups & Virtual Biotech Companies.

What trends do you foresee in the biotech industry in the near future? 

I foresee that more biotech companies will become virtual by outsourcing their manufacturing operations. This allows a significant reduction in manufacturing costs that can trickle-down to lowering the prescription drug prices for patients.

I foresee a major overhaul on the controlled documentation systems & quality management systems. The biotech industry is one of the “last” industries that insist on using paper documentation.

This is one of the primary areas that causes the extended timelines & high-costs for commercializing a drug product. I predict that the FDA is going to mandate that biotech companies digitize their controlled documentation systems & quality management systems – one that’s inclusive for global corporate collaboration within & outside their respective companies.

I also foresee that the large-scale bioprocessing equipment utilized in our manufacturing operations will become more automated and intuitive with less interface for human interaction.

How is your company uniquely positioned to capitalize on the direction the industry is moving towards? 

LucasPye BIO will be 1 of 7 companies in the U.S. with a Biosafety Level – 2 (BSL-2) and the capabilities to manufacture Gene/Viral Vector-Based Drug Products. The future of drug products to treat diseases and viruses will be Gene Vector-Based & Viral Vector-Based Drugs. We will also be strategically located in underserved communities to help rebuild their local economies.

To be specific, our headquarters will be located in/near Philadelphia, PA.

This allows us to have a more sustainable workforce, and reduce turnover by paying above market rate, financing their education goals, and lower our operations costs by requiring our Mid-Management to Executive Management roles to work from home. We are, and were, already preparing for 40% of our workforce to work from home via our Cloud Software Quality Management System (QMS), E-Documentation Platform and Proprietary Mobile/Web Apps.

The BioProcess Tracker software application allows customers to digitally monitor the manufacturing process for their drug product, receive invoicing real-time for raw materials / consumable equipment utilized in the manufacturing process, and quickly respond to items that require their review/signature in our QMS.

The BioSupply Tracker application allows our supply chain vendors to receive Real-Time Purchases Orders (POs) with payment to restock raw materials / consumable equipment in our warehouse and complete the manufacturing process on behalf of our customers on-time. It also allows more control over the quality that we require from our vendors’ products to ensure we collectively maintain business operations per FDA requirements.

Where do you see the business in 5 years? 

There is a growing trend for DNA Plasmid Drugs (aka DNA Vectors). These drugs will be the “go-to” drugs to correct genetic codes that are “paired incorrectly” or “missing a code” to treat people & animals with immune deficiencies, neurological impairments, and/or treat people with diseases/viruses that were/are considered non-treatable.

In other words, DNA Plasmid Drugs will be the new platform for vaccinations. They are manufactured utilizing bacterial cells, i.e. E.Coli. The U.S. has less than five(5) facilities with the capabilities to manufacture DNA plasmid drugs. The majority of manufacturers with these capabilities are outside the U.S., and LucasPye BIO plans to bring back these operations to the U.S. within the next 5-6 Years.

Our expansion plans are to build an additional 6-7 facilities, including strategically placing some of our new facilities in developing countries and/or underserved communities outside the U.S., i.e. Africa. We aspire to strengthen their local economy and their healthcare system alongside their education infrastructure.

To summarize, our mission is to:

  1. Lower Costs for Biotherapeutic Drugs – including prescription costs for patients.
  2. Accelerate New Drugs into the Commercial Market – including lowering the barrier of entry for new drug discoverers.
  3. Provide High-Quality & High-Pay Jobs to Underserved Communities

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

The road to entrepreneurship is long, lonely, and hard as hell. You have to be strong mentally & physically for the “hater” & “naysayer” aerosols that will be frequently sprayed at you and your entrepreneurial goals. Being an entrepreneur is not all about money.

It’s about the opportunity to make a social impact and prove to the local communities around the globe that there are some “do-gooders” that still care about their problems, interests, and aspirations.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to never give up on your divine purpose in life, never give into the naysayers & the haters and never compromise on your mission for your company & professional aspirations.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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Squire, A Black Owned Barbershop Scheduling App, Raises $34 Million

Squire is a business management platform for barbershops. This software has the capability to serve independent professionals, stand-alone locations, and multi-location franchises, with tools such as Point of Sale, Scheduling, Payroll, CRM, and a host of other features.

squire
SQUIRE Founders Dave Salvant (L) and Songe LaRon (R)

The company just announced a Series B round that includes $27 million in equity financing and $7 million in debt financing, bringing the total raised to $46.2 million for the tech startup. This investment round aims to assist the growing company as it adds financial services to its already functional digital platform.

Squire provides barbers and shop owners with the ability to operate their businesses with cashless and contactless pay transactions, thereby streamlining service interaction and helping them earn and retain loyal clientèle as a result.

“Barbershops have been forced to modernize overnight, where scheduling and digital payments have become imperative to their operations and livelihood. And thankfully for shop owners, they have Squire to enable their expedited digital transition,” says Reid Christian, General Partner at CRV. “From an investment perspective, backing Dave and Songe with their unique perspective on the industry, coupled with the underlying structural shift in how consumers expect to interact with businesses, made this a unique opportunity to revolutionize an entire market.”

squire

With new regulations regarding social distancing practices and mandatory appointments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Squire’s technology will continue to perform, and help shop owner’s organizational structure, with the goal of assisting them in reclaiming some of their losses during the global crises and increasing their overall revenue afterward.

“Small businesses are hurting right now. Fortunately, barbershops are well-positioned to thrive in an economic downturn since people will always need haircuts,” says Songe LaRon, co-founder, and CEO  of Squire. “We’re focused on providing the payment infrastructure and financial services that will help barbershops reopen successfully and excel post-COVID. This investment will help us scale and execute on our goal of becoming the industry standard for barbershops.”

“Our goal has always been to put our customers first and be a resource in times of need,” says Dave Salvant, co-founder, and President.

Funds from this round will also be utilized to assist and educate barbershops; equipping them with the necessary tools to function in a post-pandemic society while providing training and access to digital practices that will aid them in operating a seamless business.

 

-Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned Software Company Raises $8 Million To Help Non Profits Operate More Efficiently

Resilia is a Black owned Software company based in New Orleans. Founded by serial entrepreneur Sevetri Wilson in 2016, Resilia’s mission is to harness the power of technology and human connection to bridge gaps between those deploying capital and those on the receiving end, and to democratize innovation for the entire nonprofit industry.

black owned software
Sevetri Wilson

Today, Resilia announced an $8M series A funding round to support the company’s growth and increased demand. In addition to being one of the largest series A rounds of an enterprise software company headed by a Black woman founder, it also marks the highest venture capital raise by a woman-founded tech company in the state of Louisiana.

The platform’s Nonprofit Formation product (available in all 50 U.S. states) offers a “turbo tax” approach, expediting the process of incorporating and applying for tax exemption. For existing nonprofits, Nonprofit Pro and Plus help organizations stay compliant while increasing capacity through online training, webinars, and other resources geared to productize consultancy services drastically reducing costs to nonprofits.

Lastly, Resilia’s Enterprise solution enables grantors to streamline data collection; track budgets; manage grantees, reporting, and evaluation; and provide much-needed capacity support to the projects and organizations that they fund.

black owned software

According to 2019 report from the Urban Institute, there are approximately 1.56 million nonprofits in the U.S. Those organizations contributed roughly $985.4 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015, according to the last available data. That’s roughly 5.4% of the U.S. gross domestic product.

Of those nonprofits, public charities accounted for three-quarters of revenue and expenses representing $1.98 trillion and just less than two-thirds of the total assets of the nonprofit sector, which amount to a whopping $3.67 trillion.

Those numbers represent a massive opportunity for companies that can find better, lower-cost ways to service these organizations and help make the entire industry run more efficiently.

“We are serving a two-sided market,” Wilson said. “We are providing software solutions from nonprofits… Helping them come online… whether you’re a charter school or healthcare clinic, and from there we have helped nonprofits with their compliance and fundraising and built that into a subscription platform.”

-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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A conversation with Architect, Iddris Sandu

By now, you’ve heard of Iddris Sandu, the young visionary who landed an internship with Google at 13, received a Presidential scholar award a 14, worked on data analytics for Twitter at 15, and was hired by Instagram at 16. At 17, he was working with Snapchat until he became a consultant at Uber, working on the software to self driving cars, and at 20, he collaborated with Nipsey Hussle to create the worlds first smart store.

We reached out to find out more about his thoughts and beliefs about how to change the world through innovation and “great design”.

What is the digital revolution and what does it mean to you?

The digital revolution is an ongoing evolutionary cycle of technology. I guess many could say that the term was coined in the early 80’s but we’re now starting to see the progressiveness of the term on a larger scale. For me it’s about automation. Digital technology is now being able to replace and outsmart the very creators of the technology.

idriss sandu

How important is it that we shift from high utilization rates to high production rates of tech platforms?

We need to do so in order to create a more diverse infrastructural playing field. I think it’s a common theme in tech for people to say let’s decentralize technology, but that’s not the answer because a system can be decentralized but still not diverse and accessible.

In order to generate the best stories we must be able to have a platform and best tell the narrative.  Our youth must not just be able to establish grounds in rented spaces, but also be able to own their own spaces.

You’ve worked on projects with celebs and major corporations. What attracts you to a particular project?

For me it always cuts down to purpose. I think alot of people focus on projects with the intent of how their ego can be fueled.
I just want to point out that I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, but as for me, I’m on a different mission and purpose.

I also just feel like the world already has too much of that going on. This vision i’ve been tasked with is bigger than a single individual and thus, all projects I’m attracted to are ones that have a sense of serving and being of service to societies, communities, and humanity in general.

idriss sandu

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

I would credit the philosophies of Dieter Rams stating that less is more, Alan Watts on the simplicity of life, and even Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese way of life which focuses on three basic philosophies; 1)That things are never finished things,
2)Things are never perfect and 3) Nothing ever lasts.

If you could have a giant billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?

I think it would say “one race, the human race”. But I don’t know if that’s politically correct. Anyways, it would say that.

What advice do you have for aspiring tech designers?

Indulge in more solution-based thinking over problem based thinking. The general world doesn’t necessarily thrive on another t-shirt, Instagram post , or social media app. The world needs healing. The world needs solutions to ever-evolving man generated problems. We need the best thinkers working on providing accessibility to everyone rather than for aspirational gain.

Cars should be $30,000 and look like the Lamborghinis. All houses should have concise and great affordance all throughout them and should be class -less. Our resources should be distributed to as many people as we can service rather than simply accumulating for ourselves.

idriss sandu

 

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

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GrpFit is using Technology to Promote Health and Fitness in the Black Community

GrpFit is a fitness app created to address health issues in the Black community.

Since we’re all about health and wellness, we decided to find out more about the company. We spoke to co-founder Rich Bailey and this is what he had to say.

Grpfit
Grpfit co-founders: Chris Ketant and Rich Bailey

What inspired you to create Grpfit?

It’s no secret that certain health issues such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension are more prevalent in the Black community. But, some of the statistics are baffling. According to studies, 76% of our community is either overweight or obese and 43% of us have hypertension.

And then, when it comes to causes of deaths, heart disease and stroke are #1 and #3, respectively. A lot of these health issues can be alleviated by living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Because of that, we decided to create GrpFit with the mission of making the Black community a more fit and healthier one.

The Black community has many health issues that need to be addressed. How does GrpFit provide a solution? 

GrpFit is a safe and encouraging platform for people of all fitness levels to share their fitness journeys, learn and motivate each other. Users of the app can share photos and videos, get sample workouts and read health and fitness related articles.

Our most powerful aspect of GrpFit is the ability to connect with other people who you can relate too. An underrated part of any fitness journey is the accountability and motivation you receive when you have a great support system and community behind you. We are providing a platform for people seek those type of connections.

We also have a ton of other features and services that are currently being developed and will be released in the near future. Stay tuned!

What has been the most gratifying and the most challenging thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur thus far?

The most gratifying thing is the opportunity to serve as an inspiration to others. Becoming an entrepreneur/tech startup founder is no easy feat, so showing other people that it can be done is so fulfilling.

The most challenging thing I’ve experienced is being able balancing the pressure to succeed with taking your time to figure out what’s right for your company and brand. The pressure to succeed can often lead to making quick decisions that aren’t fully thought through. Every decision you will make should tie back to your vision/brand and what’s best for your users.

Tell us about your 21 day fitness challenge.

The 21-Day Challenge was something we did back in January and February of this year with 21Ninety and Gym Hooky. Its purpose was to provide women the tools and resources to create lifestyle changing habits as it relates to health and fitness.

We provided the members with community support, weekly Q&A sessions, daily challenges and guides that helped them create goals, choose better foods and pick and perform exercises.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

In 5 years, GrpFit will be the one-stop-shop for everything related to Black Health and Fitness. We want to be atop of everyone’s mind when it comes exercising, advice, fitness communities and a source of information. Ultimately, we want GrpFit to be synonymous with Black Health and Fitness.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Nothing is too hard to accomplish. If you don’t have the necessary skills to embark on your entrepreneurial journey, then take the time to educate yourself and surround yourself with others who complement your skills. Also, be prepared to learn along the way and always keep an open mind to changing things at a drop of a dime. The latter is crucial because what you think may be a great idea may not be what people want.

 

GrpFit is currently available on iOS and Android

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

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SoLo Raises $1.2 million to Take on the Peer-to-Peer Lending Industry

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is disrupting the financial industry via online platforms that provide individuals and businesses with more innovative lending and borrowing options.

Options like SoLo, a mobile peer-to-peer lending exchange that provides affordable access to low-value funds. We spoke with CEO/Co-founder, Travis Holoway to find out more about the company and its plans.

SoLo
SoLo CEO, Travis Holoway

What inspired you to create SoLo?

Travis: We started this company because when we looked around our community we were disgusted by the lack of financial resources available to those who look like us. The purpose of SoLo is to combat what we feel are two of the biggest problems currently plaguing minority communities; affordable access to capital and financial literacy.

Every day more people in inner cities are being lured into debt traps from payday and title lending institutions. Since we don’t teach financial literacy in schools, people are learning their financial lessons by making mistakes which are some of the most expensive mistakes they will ever make.

Furthermore, our most noble but vulnerable citizens like single mothers, teachers, and active duty military are being taken advantage of the most. It’s promising to see that awareness is increasing in regards to the predatory payday-lending industry, but there has been no real solution until now. We intimately understand this problem because we’ve lived it, so it’s our belief that we are uniquely qualified and positioned to solve it.

What differentiates your company from the other P2P lending platforms?

Travis: We believe that there is a misconception of what peer to peer lending really is. The biggest names in the industry are financial institutions that make all the financial decisions once they get money from lenders. These institutions take money from Mike and decide if Tom is an eligible borrower.

Mike has no control over who his money gets disbursed to. SoLo is peer to peer lending in the purest form ever. We allow Mike to decide exactly who his money goes to. Other P2P platforms are solely focused on loans between $1k-40k. These alternative loans are great for some people, but not the average American.

78% of American workers are currently living paycheck to paycheck which means the majority of people are one surprise away from financial hardship. These people don’t need a $15k loan, they need $400 to get their car fixed or $100 to pay a utility bill to keep the lights on. The average payday loan borrower takes 8 loans at $375 a year. These are the people who need access to more affordable loan resources and our predecessors haven’t focused on that group, we’re here to change that.

Why would it benefit someone to borrow using SoLo as opposed to a traditional financial institution?

Travis: Traditional financial institutions are not even an option. You can’t walk into any traditional bank and obtain a loan for $75 because they don’t lend small dollar amounts.

Resources for loans under $1,000 are extremely limited which is why the payday lending industry has been able to capitalize off of our countries most noble but vulnerable citizens.

Payday lending institutions charge 400% interest rates. At SoLo borrowers set their own terms. There are no imposed or mandatory interest rates on our platform. We are the most affordable lending option available in this country.

What measures do you have in place to protect investors who lend on the platform?

Travis: When the lender and borrower agree to terms a digital promissory note is created which states that the borrower has agreed to accept a loan from the lender and will pay back the debt. On the agreed upon repayment date, we do all the work.

The lender does not have to remind the borrower about the outstanding debt and the borrower doesn’t have to remember to repay the debt. We automatically draft the funds from the borrowers account and return them to the lender. In the rare case that there are insufficient funds in a bank account, we will attempt to draft again on a future date. If we are unsuccessful drafting the funds, the debt becomes eligible for collections.

The lender has the option whether or not to send the debt to collections. If sent to collections our third-party collections provider will work diligently to recover the debt and return the funds to the lender.

What are some obstacles or challenges that you forsee and how do you plan to overcome them?

Travis: For technology companies, marketing to minority communities has proven to be challenging. With the exception of social media platforms, non-college educated minorities are often late adopters of new technology. I can recall a trip to the barbershop a few months ago when nobody in the shop had ever heard of AirBnB.

It was shocking to realize that a company that I deemed to be a “Household Name” could be virtually non-existent in the neighborhood that I grew up in. Although AirBnB is one of the most disruptive companies in the last 20 years, but it had no brand recognition in my community. It was at that point that I realized we would have to aggressively market to our target demographics.

To think that people will hear about us solely because we are scaling would be irresponsible. Historically, minority communities are skeptical of financial institutions and because of that trust must be built. It’s imperative to build an organic word of mouth referral culture amongst our users. I believe we will overcome this challenge if we remain transparent and cherish the trust we build with our users.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

Travis: Ultimately, we see SoLo evolving into a data company. The information that we have about the underbanked population is valuable and is extremely insightful because this demographic has been elusive to traditional financial institutions.

The majority of Americans have subprime credit scores and are not eligible for traditional credit because they don’t meet the stringent criteria of banks. With that said, banks will need alternative data in the future in order to make intelligent credit decisions, and we’ll have the data they need.

At what point will you consider the company a success?

Travis: I already see the company as a success. I know that sounds strange from a company in its infancy that isn’t even cash flow positive yet, but the day we launched and processed our very first loan I felt like a boulder had been lifted off of the back of that borrower. Every loan fulfilled on our platform means that’s one more loan that wasn’t taken from a predatory payday lending institution.

I’ve already received many testimonials from people who simply appreciate the fact that we exist and understand their plight. Knowing that a child had food on the table because of what we created is a win every time.

Having a positive social impact was the goal from day one so in my eyes we’ve already found success, now it’s just a matter of how many more people we can be a resource to.

solo

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Travis: You have to be all-in because it won’t work if you have one foot in and one foot out. I tried that, and it didn’t work. I used to work on the idea whenever I got extra time and I would get excited about things that didn’t matter, like a new pitch deck. That created a false sense of security because while pitch decks are important, I wasn’t truly making any tangible progress on the vision.

You learn by doing. Trust that you will find solutions to problems as they arise. Move fast because if you’re cautiously pressing the brakes, just know that someone else in the world is aggressively pressing the gas and they will beat you to the destination.

Ideas don’t come to just one person, they come to many, but few people ever see them through. Running a company is indeed a marathon and not a sprint, but marathons still have winners and losers. Be a winner.

Check out a previous interview with SoLo Co-Founder Rodney Williams – LISNR: The Black Owned Business that Raised over $10 Million and is Disrupting the Mobile Technology Industry

Tony O. Lawson


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Tech CEO Sheena Allen on How Her App Promotes Financial Health and Wealth

Sheena Allen is the founder and CEO of tech companies CAPWAY and Sheena Allen Apps. We chatted with her to find out how she went from having no coding experience to running businesses with millions of app downloads.

sheena allen

SB: What inspired you to start your tech companies?

SA: I started Sheena Allen Apps as a senior in college. I was in school double majoring in Film and Psychology and had no plans of ever going into tech.

Even though the first app didn’t do well as far as traction, I fell in love with the process and the potential of having people from all over the world using an app that I created.

My second startup, CapWay, is financial technology. CapWay was started after visiting my hometown in Mississippi and noticing the people in my community were still using the predatory economy – payday lending, check cashing, title loans, etc.

I knew I had to create a platform that can prevent the next generation from falling into same the cycle of relying on the predatory economy. I want to provide them with a better understanding of money (financial literacy), and a financial platform that provides services they actually needed.

Traditional banking has not worked out in our favor for financial health or wealth. It was time to create something new, so I created CapWay.

 

SB: Not everyone who wants to create a tech business is tech savvy. What suggestions do you have for those an idea but lack the tech skills?

SA: I had no clue how to code or anything when I started, so I understand having an idea for a tech business but not being tech savvy or a non-technical founder. First thing first, you do not need to be 100% tech savvy. Some of your biggest and most well-known tech founders weren’t/aren’t technical founders.

The key is it to learn enough so that no one can beat you out of your money and time. For example, you may end up outsourcing the development. You need to learn and know enough so that if a developer tries to charge a rate at 10 hours to add a splash screen, he/she is lying and just taking your money.

Things like this happen a lot and it can be scary for those who aren’t tech savvy, and it is why I wrote my book, The Starting Guide. It’s a guide on how to get started if you lack technical skills and all in between.

SB: What are your thoughts on how to overcome the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley and still succeed?

SA: Five years ago or so, I would be the first to say make your way to Silicon Valley. When I first got started, it is where I went. However, times have changed.

You no longer need Silicon Valley to be successful in the tech world. Silicon Valley will always be Silicon Valley – the bad and the good that comes along with that reality. However, as minorities, there are other up-and-coming tech hubs that we can now take advantage of including Harlem, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and New Orleans.

SB: Since there’s a lesson in every experience, what did you learn from your most successful app and what did you learn from your least successful one?

SA: My least successful app to date was my first one, and I’m happy it worked out that way. I learned that no matter how great we may think our idea is, everyone else may not think so. It also taught me that not everything might work out the way we want but what matters is how we respond to that defeat.

My most successful app taught me to be appreciative. While some people may take millions of people using their app as a boost to their ego, it honestly humbled me. It made me appreciate the process, the hard work, and most importantly, every single person who downloaded and used my app.

SB: Where do you see your company in 5 years?

SA: With Sheena Allen Apps, we will continue to develop more apps and expand our footprint into products and other things. We are currently at a few million app downloads, but I see use reaching 30 million+ app downloads as we expand.

With CapWay, we will continue to perfect our platform and create an untraditional financial ecosystem. After all, we are using blockchain technology which is already an emerging technology and will be more advanced and understood in five years. Most importantly, we will have made an impact and see a positive impact on the financial health of the financially underserved.

 

SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs interested in creating a tech startup?

SA: There is information all around us. Use it. Google is your friend. Also, reach out to people who are where you want to be. Use LinkedIn to your advantage. People are more willing to help than you probably give them credit for. Most importantly, just start.

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafricn)