Black Space App Founder and CEO, April Jefferson
In this age of digital disruption, the tourism industry globally has embraced new technologies and changed the way we travel. And these new technology advancements promises to deliver an improved, even more interactive and user experiences. Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online interviewed April Jefferson, CEO of Black Space App as she shares her thoughts on entrepreneurship, how are her brand is using technologies to fine-tune travel experiences, connecting black travelers across the globe to their culture and the development of Africa’s travel industry. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us about Black Space App and the gap its filling?
April: Black Space App is the Ultimate Black Travelers Guide, connecting you to the culture no matter where you are. Our mission is to provide Black travelers with cultural safe, educational, and enjoyable travel experiences. Black travelers are looking to experience people, and places that are culturally relevant as they experience comfort and familiarity within these spaces. Not only that but we are in a time where racial discrimination has become prominent, hate crimes have increased every year for the last four years. Our vision is to become the one stop shop for Black travelers providing them with all they need to plan, navigate and share their travels. As we curate this community, we are keeping Black travelers safe, informed, entertained, and creating memorable travel experiences.
Alaba: What is your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
April: I have not raised any money to date, we are one hundred percent bootstrapped. We may fund raise in the near future.
Alaba: What are the major challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
April: The major challenge right now is funding. We are growing quickly, at a demand where it is becoming harder for us to keep up. With limited funding we are only able to travel so much, and or purchase the needed equipment to capture the sites, people and places we’d like. However, we have been very innovative, and resourceful with what we have been afforded. Our Nikon’s and Kodak’s have allowed us to capture the culture through our eyes, to share with our users.
Recently there’s been competition in this sector, as the Black community is beginning to learn that the only barrier to seeing the world is ourselves. Has there been major competition? I am yet to find any company providing the full scope of the Black travel experience including booking, streaming, etc. that we are providing to Black travelers.
So, we are confident in that we are fulfilling a major gap and breaking into the travel industry in a more innovative, holistic way.
Alaba: How is your App connecting black across the globe to their culture and heritage?
April: Our app was created to connect our users to the culture, creating a sense of home no matter where they are. Black travelers are looking to experience people, places and things that are of their culture, as research shows they show familiarity and comfort within these spaces. Our app provides them with the local cultural experience; so that no matter where they are, they are able to find events, places and people that they are able to connect to. We also will be educating them on local African history and culture as they travel.
Currently we are collecting research on the Green Book and the communities it obtains, documenting and sharing Black historical sites as well as present day institutions that educate and celebrate the African heritage. We will document our experiences, and guide travelers through these spaces encouraging them to experience them during their travels. When we say that we are connecting travelers to the culture, we truly mean in every aspect. Our near future plan is to add these sites to the app in the form of Augmented Reality, to truly transport travelers through these experiences of African history, and culture. We hope to take this feature into Educational Institutions, introducing them to the guide utilizing technology to innovatively educate, and connect communities to the African culture that surrounds them.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of the travel and tourism in Africa?
April: We have been following the development and are aware that tourism plays a vital part in the economic development of Africa. Black travelers are traveling to Africa at an increasing rate, and they are looking to learn more about the history, culture and how they can be a positive reinforcement when visiting. However, with their being a true disconnect to what is truly happening in Africa; tourists are not able to fully experience the culture and contribute to the Economics. We want to provide them with the experience and educate them on how they can visit and be an asset to the country, as well as how they can continue to support outside of their travels, is how we plan to bridge the gap.
Through technology, through our app, we can connect travelers to the businesses in Africa for them to patronize the events in Africa they need to support and even initiatives that assist in other areas of development. We also plan to educate on the history of Africa and offer tours on the ground providing jobs to locals. Africans inhabit every inch of the planet; therefore, Black Space is looking to be in every city, and country worldwide contributing to develop education as it pertains to African culture, and economics as it pertains to Black and African communities.
Alaba: What’s the future for your brand and what steps are you taking towards it?
April: We are a social impact company, who wishes to take the travel industry by storm and become a one-stop shop for Black travelers. Our vision is to be the only resource needed for them to book their travel, find out what’s happening locally and purchase tickets, stream music during travels and connect to other like-minded travelers. All of these features are already available through our app, and we are working on expounding on what is already integrated. Through our app, we hope to put Black travelers mind at ease when planning their trip knowing that they will be safe, accepted and have an enjoyable travel experience.
In addition, we have a mission to preserve, and allow users to interact with Black history throughout the World empowering and uplifting African culture throughout the Diaspora. Currently we are working to add, and enhance this component of the app. This component we are looking to bring into educational institutions and to city governments to create diverse tourism experiences geared toward Black communities promoting economic development in underserved communities.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
April: Underrepresented, and severely underserved. Black women receive the least amount of funding within the tech space, making it that much more difficult. I often feel as if what I’m doing is important, innovative, ground-breaking but, many times within this space it’s severely reduced and I can easily feel like I’m not making any leeway. However, I also feel that this makes me stronger and smarter in every aspect. I’ve learned to use my challenges, and differences to my advantage in all that I’m doing. I believe there’s power in being able to say: “I’ve had to figure most of this out on my own, and I’m still standing” and I definitely don’t plan on lying down any time soon. What I’m doing is important to not just me, but my culture if we don’t tell our story, who else will?
Alaba: What’s your advice for prospecting entrepreneurs and investors looking towards the tourism and travel sector?
April: The travel, and tourism sector has been the same for a long time. It has been advertised to the same people, and locations. It is time to include more innovation, and incorporation of various cultures. I think that it is important that those entering into this sector understand the importance of the need for the shift in the industry. Not only that but realize that travel connects us to communities across the globe therefore, it is important to create a positive impact in those communities as we come in contact with them through our companies.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
April: I love to go to the beach; I love the water which is one of the reasons I relocated to Virginia on the coast. I also read to relax. I can tuck away and read all day. I usually read articles I enjoy biographies as well. I recently finished Nina Simone’s biography. I often watch the documentaries and read the stories I am a very inquisitive person, so I love to look at things from every aspect.
Alaba: What are your favorite local dish and your favourite local holiday spot?
April: Well I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO and we are known for some of the BEST foods. My favorite local food from my hometown is the Chinese Food; no one in the World makes Chinese food like St. Louis makes Chinese food! I’m not a huge Holiday person; I’m more into creating new, individual experiences.
April Jefferson was born and raised in St. Louis, MO the heart of the Midwest. As the oldest of four, she often held the responsibility to nurture and care for those around her, including those in her community. Her parents afforded her many opportunities enrolling her in private schools, where she excelled and encouraged her to take Leadership roles in many community programs, such as the Drill Team, African American Role Model Association, etc. Therefore, her interest and love for Black Culture, and Community was instilled at a young age.
Graduating High School with honors, she was accepted into Saint Louis University—one of the most prestigious schools in the Country. However, after two years at the University and experience culture shock being on of the few Black students on campus she transferred to a Public University. She studied Psychology, until she gave birth to her first son in 2009. She planned to give birth and return back to school immediately however her son was diagnosed with several complications at birth and spent his first month of life in the NICU, with his Mother right by his side. From there she worked in Design picking up contracts with St. Louis Public Schools and several small businesses, and Education working in several capacities from tutor, to registrar.
After the uprising in Ferguson, she created a professional organization, Black Businesswomen of St. Louis, where she connected, educated, and elevated hundreds of women in Business. She also hosted Community Events, for several small black businesses, owned by black men and women alike assisting them in connecting with the Community, and increasing revenue. She also hosted a radio show on fergusonhottalkradio.com, acquiring listeners from across the Globe and bringing awareness to issues within Ferguson.
She published her first book “Allowed to be Me,” a book she calls an “Ode to my Sista’s”. A self-help book for Black Women and went on tour to promote the book—landing in Hampton Roads, VA where she currently resides. In 2018 after settling in and processing her tour she created the Black Space App for Black travelers, with all the features she felt she looked for during her travels.
Currently she has participated in Black Enterprises TCX Fellow Program, Founder Gym, and won the Ulule Social Impact Pitch Competition.
How this student entrepreneur is bridging the gap between law study and the labour market
Cheeka M. Onyeka is a student entrepreneur, the CEO and founder of Cosmo legal Africa based in Enugu, Nigeria. A virtual career development hub for law students and with a global outreach that equip law students with industry information by bridging the gap between an average law student and career opportunities. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, he shared is passion for the study of law, why he founded Cosmo Legal Africa and his entrepreneurship journey. Excerpt.
Alaba: Can you tell us about Cosmos Legal and the gap its filling?
Cheeka: Cosmo Legal Africa largely leverage on technology to make the study of law easier and credible in Africa. As a virtual firm we equip law students with industry trends, career opportunities and a first hand insight into emerging areas of law like sports law,space Law, fintech etc.
Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind setting up this startup?
Cheeka: l feel glad to speak on this, l birthed Cosmo legal Africa (CLA) out of my passion for the study of law. I came with CLA to bridge the gap between Law study and the labour market. If we are to embrace the truth. Simply acquiring an LLB is not the key to wealth. Various faculties of law churns out thousand of law graduates every year but then you find out that most of them are not employable or cannot maneuver their way through the labour market. This is because they are at sea with the realities of the labour market. CLA is here to bridge that gap!
Alaba: How do you fund your startup?
Cheeka: Fund has been a big issue for my team and I. But I have the firm belief that as days goes by we will surmount that.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Cheeka: The world is changing. How we live. Interact. This is as result of technology. I have equally accepted the fact that my role as an individual is increasing and the only option available is to subscribe to the trends. The key challenge we are encountering at CLA is lack of commitment from our Associates and then having people underestimate your vision.
Alaba: As a student, how are you running this startup effectively?
Cheeka: Well, it has not been easy. But I always try my best at maintaining a good time management schedule.
Alaba: How are you supporting law students in line with their career path?
Cheeka: I have been able to connect with colleagues from other schools in Nigeria and Ghana . We also have campus Ambassadors in various schools. They mobilize students for our monthly webinars and career sessions.
Alaba: How does your firm measure its impact?
Cheeka: Since we just started out not quite long. We intend to carry out feedback survey from time to time through the use of google forms and any other available means. We would also be asking for immediate feedbacks from participants of our Webinars and also from our beneficiaries in the future.
Alaba: What’s the future for Cosmo Legal and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Cheeka: In the long run, l hope to align with reputable law firms in Africa, Government agencies and key players in the labour market to fully adapt the legal profession to this changing times. Because to really adapt the legal profession to the best standard. The grassroots must be involved and that grassroots are law students.
Alaba: How do you feel as an Africa student entrepreneur?
Cheeka: It has been tough. However it has given me the opportunity to work in a team space. I find it worthwhile working with my Co-Founders Imonikhe Wilson and Akinwade Zainab. Emmanuel ikedinobi and oforbuike who are my course mates and also Associates at CLA have always pushed me to be best l can. Nevertheless, setting up CLA has made me realize that whatever beautiful ideas we have, can not be fully appreciated until we take steps to actualize them.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Cheeka: I love the digital space. It has given me the opportunity to be aware. To know more. I enjoy the works of John Grisham, Yuval Noah , Shakespeare and Joel osteen.
B I O G R A P H Y:
Cheeka M. Onyeka is the CEO and founder of Cosmo legal Africa. He is an intern of Justistia chambers Unizik. Calm and possesses a ‘lawyerly’ composure. He exudes a witty exuberance that can only come from consistent study of the law.He has a unique skill in both writing and oral advocacy and is an excellent team player with eye for details. He is innovative and strongly dedicated to demanding duties. He has keen interest in corporate and commercial law, and the role it plays in modern day transactions.
He has worked as an executive member of the law students electoral commission Unizik from 2017-2018. He serves as the Chief bailiff of the Students’ union Government Unizik. Also, he is currently the public relation officer of the International law students Association, Unizik and an aspiring contestant of the Phillip Jessup international moot court competition in Washington DC.
Cheeka M. Onyeka is also law tutor under the academic board of Christian law students fellowship of Nigeria.
Looking Back, Moving On: My little entrepreneurship journey in Africa
Zoussi Ley (Entrepreneur & Marketer)
When I concluded my Masters from IE Business School in Spain, I flirted with the thought of moving back to Africa. I wanted to work in an impactful and growing sector. I was drawn to the Tech industry, mostly because its impact is felt across other sectors. I truly believed technology held the keys to the continent’s economic development. I truly believed technology held the keys to the continent’s economic development. Hence, when I was offered a position at an Ivorian AgTech company, WeFly Agri, I packed my bags and moved to Abidjan.
My time in Ivory Coast came to an end when I had gathered enough to begin the entrepreneurship journey. While researching the African AgTech ecosystem, I found out about Complete Farmer, a crowd-farming platform based in Ghana. I was mesmerized by the concept of involving everyday people in African agriculture.
Coincidentally, I met one of the co-founders at DEMO Africa in October last year, where I got to learn more about the company and the team. I wanted to be part of that journey and contribute to the vision. Joining this venture felt right so within a few days of meeting the co-founder, I moved to Accra, Ghana to assume the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Complete Farmer.
During my time in Ghana, I got to meet and build a strong network of players across the food industry/agricultural value chain — from commercial farmers to commodities traders, supermarkets and agro-processing firms. A major new player I got to deal with is the Ghana Commodities Exchange (GCX), the first ever regulated market linking buyers and sellers of agricultural products in West Africa.
After passing the certification, I was able to start trading at the GCX. This move allowed Complete Farmer to gain access to a wide range of market actors, thereby creating opportunities for the company to increase its revenue streams.
Ghana taught me that a conducive ecosystem can make the tough entrepreneurship journey an enjoyable one. In fact, Complete Farmer was incubated by Pan-African incubator MEST, meaning my team and I were working out of the incubator’s office space alongside other entrepreneurs. I loved the MEST environment. As entrepreneurs, we received practical advice, got introduced to ecosystem partners and most importantly, I truly valued the guidance I got from the fellows and entrepreneurs.
My time at Complete Farmer illustrated the not-so-obvious benefits to having competitors. Of course, every entrepreneur should pay some attention to their competitors, as they’re an important part of business. Understanding how our competitors operate allows us to avoid making their own mistakes while giving us ideas to expand our market.
Being an entrepreneur in Africa also means collaborating with other startups. With Complete Farmer, I got to partner with Jetstream for logistics services, Qualitrace for agro chemicals and Stanbest for irrigation systems and this was exciting working with other stakeholders in the agriculture sector.
On a personal note, I have also learned from many challenging and enlightening experiences through my journey. The first lesson has been to master my thoughts and emotions. Most lessons come from failures and setbacks. Although painful experiences, they develop the self-awareness to grow. They forced me to spend time on mastering my thoughts and emotions. As entrepreneurs, our cool is often tested.
Not being able to resist these frazzled emotions can lead an individual to react the wrong way, thereby causing setbacks and more failures. I learned that being clear-headed before making a decision gives me an edge when handling challenging situations.
My experience in Ghana showed the importance of building a network. As an entrepreneur, I quickly realized the importance of building relationships with other key players of the ecosystem — entrepreneurs, influencers, media platforms, investors and international organizations. You never know when an opportunity to collaborate may come!
Being an entrepreneur in Africa also taught me to stay curious and not stick to what I know. I had to learn to do my research on other industries, companies, and business models; to always be prepared to welcome new ideas and opportunities. All in all, I learned to embrace the challenges for personal growth and to find true joy in my entrepreneurship journey.
More so, I have come to appreciate researching about the vision and values of the organizations you work with. We get excited about new ventures, the prospects of building something new and having our names on a business card that I am a Co-Founder too. However, my experience over time, has taught me that doing your due diligence on the industry and your team while having a common goal and clear vision with your colleagues will get any start-up off the ground and running at a phenomenal pace.
So, in this light, I am stepping down from my role at Complete Farmer to pursue new and exciting opportunities in Lagos, Nigeria. I am grateful for my experience, the lows, the highs, the blessings and the lessons learned.
While I will remain in AgTech, I am exploring the personal care and beauty industry, a sector I believe technology can help redefine in Africa. I look forward to bringing my creativity and experience into this industry, from the economical heart of Africa — Lagos.
By Zoussi Ley (Entrepreneur & Marketer)
Cynthia M. Wright: On Becoming A Successful Speaker, Business Mentor And Organisational Strategist
Cynthia M. Wright, author of “The Purposeful Leader- 10 Steps to success.”
Ambition and motivation are an essential driving force for success. For Australia Day Ambassador, Organisational strategist, Social Entrepreneur and Global Purpose Leader Cynthia Musafili Wright, this internal drive spearheaded her career from nursing in Aged Car to a well-known consultant in the field. Like a renaissance woman, Cynthia spread her interests and with a healthy dose of enthusiasm became a successful keynote speaker, career and business mentor, global purpose leader as well as an organizational strategist.
Alaba: Tell us about yourself and what you do?
Cynthia: Cynthia Musafili Wright is a leader. Finding a better way was always one of my qualities since I arrived in Australia. I started as an assistant in nursing in Aged Care, and in a couple of years; I became a registered nurse and then a clinical nurse manager, then a clinical consultant. I tried to broaden my areas of expertise and got familiar with healthcare management, regulation compliance, and Meditech fields. All this opened the gate for Aged Care business model consultant career.
Alaba: What sparked your interest and passion for aged care and mental health?
Cynthia: Understanding the challenges of Aged Care business from top to bottom in developed countries helped me turn-around several facilities that failed to achieve Outcomes of the Aged Care National Standards successfully. My experience in organizing clinical management teams came to fruition and helped in restructuring. In all my actions, I try to have a positive impact.
Being around Aged Care organisations naturally led me further in that direction, and as for mental health, I recognized in many ways the importance of mental wellbeing and decided to make it my cause also. I go by the motto, if we don’t feel right in the heard, we can’t function well physically. As officially defined by the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Alaba: How has it being as an African Diaspora based in Australia with Africa in your heart?
Cynthia: I was born in Zambia and migrated to study in Australia at age 19. Being in Australia didn’t make me forget about my African roots. That is why I founded my social enterprise – Regions International once my career took off. The organization provides mentorship and advice for startups and SME who want to scale up into the African market.
Regions International collaborates with global organisations to host meaningful events to foster dialogue and discussion about investments, capacity building and socio-economic development for the African Continent. Another vital role for Regions is fostering sustainable corporate social responsibility projects in Africa and Australia.
Alaba: How are you using your influence and connecting to attract investment to Africa?
Cynthia: I’m a Country leader for Australia for organization called Innovative Africa. In this role, my team and I connect the tissue between the two continents. We aim to help incubate and birth real success stories of innovations that will touch the lives of Africans by providing an African Market Entry Solution and growth structures that will help drive prosperity into the African continent.
The innovate Africa global team lead by Founder and Global CEO Dotun Adeoye and Paulo Mukooza – Global Commercial Director, continues to work across many countries as a support framework for entrepreneurs looking to bring their market-creating innovation to life and companies looking to expand into the African continent. More on what we do visit Innovate Africa
Alaba: Kindly share your leadership journey.
Cynthia: One thing is sure, Cynthia Wright won’t be outspoken. I think I’m dynamic, try to be educational, and above all, inspiring in my work. My leadership journey goes beyond the titles I wear, it is quantifiable. As a leader, the main aim should always be moving forward that which has been given to you. If you are not moving things forward, then you cannot quantify your impact.
I do a lot of speaking and I am privileged to speak to crowds on topics that have been strongly influenced by my path. Topics such as Leadership and Purpose, I strive to inspire personal growth and build leadership qualities. Social issues are also part of my most inspiring speeches, where I have talked about migration, inclusion and diversity. Creating leaders is something I’m passionate about.
Alaba: What have you learned along the way that has helped shape you in your journey?
Cynthia: The key to my success both in career and business is centered on the ability to maintain partnerships and collaborations. Creating connections and understanding that it’s a give and take relationship contributed to success in so many fields. That social component, as well as constant learning and hard work, shaped me into the person that I am today.
I’m an Australia Day Ambassador, where I participate in awarding new Australian citizens, providing support in understanding civics and citizenship, active citizenship and promoting the Australian brand. On these occasions, I am honored with the role of a keynote speaker where I talk about Resilience, Skilled Migration, Leadership, Active Citizenship, and other relevant topics.
I am also work with the global brand of Tedx. I am the TEDx Perth partnership manager. This role allows me to create partnerships and collaborative approaches to achieving excellent goals and outcomes for our global viewership. I have many other roles that I am fully engaged in. more can be found on my website www.cynthiawright.org
Alaba: What are your projects for Africa and how are you engaging Africans in the continent to achieve them?
Cynthia: Through the Regions Foundations, I work with local Zambian hospitals to improve and enhance the best clinical practice. We also support rural Zambian hospitals with necessary clinical supplies and connect them with Australian clinical and hospital stakeholders. Regions also provide hospital-grade linen, wheelchairs, hospital beds and surgical supplies to rural hospitals and orphanages in Zambia.
Apart from my philanthropist projects, I have recently been engaging African talents in IT and graphic designing for all my upcoming projects and I am so excited to share this with my tribe in the next coming months. Without revealing too much information, I am also working on an infrastructure project for Ghana – where we intend to build a city for the future. More on this to come in the following months. Watch this space.
Alaba: Describe yourself in one word, and why?
Cynthia: Fearless. Most of us know what to do, but don’t take the actions to follow through on our goals. We tell ourselves that we are not smart enough, not strong enough or brave enough. What hold us back are not our capabilities – it’s the fear of failure. It’s okay to be afraid, but it is not okay to let fear stop you. I have learnt to set goals, identify what was holding me back, and learn to move past fear.
Alaba: How are you changing the negative narratives of African migrants in the Diaspora?
Cynthia: By owning my African heritage story and telling it loud and clear in my own works and through my work time and time again. We are our own best media, if we don’t tell our stories the way they should be told, no one will. That is why I founded Africa writes Australia – a platform focused on promoting positive narratives through story telling. More about Africa Writes Australia
Alaba: If you could make one remarkable change in the world by 2020, what would it is?
Cynthia: 2020 is in four months. I think the change I would make is to use my voice to speak more about Love and honour for each other as human beings. Without love, all this is meaningless.
Alaba: What’s your advice for African governments, Africans, and investors?
Cynthia: Invest in the African people. They are your best and only asset. Collaborate and engage with the African diaspora, they are a great addition to the needed skills and knowledge to foster economic development and help implement strategies for future growth. For investors, you would be crazy not to consider the African market for scaling up your business.
B I O G R A P H Y
Cynthia Musafili Wright is a Social Care Corporate Executive. She is currently the 2019 & 2020 Australia Day Ambassador and Australia Ambassador for Global Organisation Female Wave of Change and Founder/CEO of the Social Enterprise Regions International. Cynthia is currently a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the TedxPerth Manager of Partnerships. She is also a publisher of various articles on Resilience, Migration, International Education, and Aged Care and a recent author of books on International Education, Purpose and Mental Health.
She is an active international student alumnus in Australia. Having attended one of the best universities in the world, Cynthia describes her international student experience as an experience that helped shape her into the leader that she is today. In addition to her leadership and career success, the international exposure and opportunities that presented as a result of her studies have contributed to positioning her on a global platform for work and business.
Cynthia is passionate about creating a positive impact in the world by creating leaders. Her success in her Career and Business comes down to her ability to build and maintain partnerships and collaborations; Her success in life is attributed by the connections she creates with others and the extent to which she can give and receive. She has created success in her roles as Clinical Consultant in Corporate Australia, with thirteen years’ experience in the Aged care industry and leadership roles.
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