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.
Margaret Adekunle, Founder of the first Black owned Canadian company with a branded secured credit card
Margaret Adekunle is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of City Lending Centers, a credit building solution company. She has worked in the banking industry for 20 years, and her passion for progress and dedication to her community has been universally praised by Friends and Colleagues alike. Margaret has seen the struggles immigrants face and experienced them firsthand. Driving her forward to take action and uplift her community, so that nobody will have to endure their struggles alone. She founded Immigrants Inclusive Credit to tackle the complex struggles with systemic racism and financial insecurities that immigrants are forced to adapt to as they integrate into the Alberta ecosystem.
A Diversity and Inclusion Strategist and the Founder of ATB Black team members Network. The network that advance the Inclusion of Black team members by providing development opportunities and creating diverse talents throughout the organization. Her vision is to create a pathway to leadership for all underrepresented groups.
Margaret Adekunle is committed to bringing Inclusion, Diversity, Human Right and a Sense of belonging to the forefront through education and community initiatives. Teaching and mentoring new immigrants on how to adapt to the Canadian workplace culture is a cause that has been fulfilling for her.
About City Lending Centers (CLC)
City Lending Centers (CLC) is a custom credit building solutions that help you take control of your finances. And helps you get a good credit score, and a high score means better loan terms and lower interest rates on lending facilities such as loans, mortgages, and lines of credit. CLC helps build new credit, improve existing credit scores and fix damaged credit.
With over 21 years of experience helping customers rebuild damaged credit, build new credit, get out of debt, and save more. A company of former bankers with branch management experience and equipped to advise on all areas of money management. They understand how credit scores work, and can help you improve your credit scores faster. Also, they understand that financial strain could impact mental health. Therefore, provide free credit counseling and mental health evaluations through their partners.
They offer a secured credit card that works like any other card that helps build credit. CLC’s secure credit card helps customers create new credit or rebuild damaged credit. The only difference between CLC’s credit card and regular credit card is that clients pay an upfront deposit to secure their credit limit. CLC reports all payments to credit bureaus similar to the bank’s process. Clients are be expected to make their monthly payments promptly.
Shalom Lloyd: Building A Skincare Company on Valuing Healthy, Ethical and Sustainable Living
Shalom Ijeoma Lloyd is an award-winning, senior business professional, with over 25 year’s experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Shalom is the Founder of Naturally Tribal Skincare, a natural chemical-free skincare company built on valuing healthy, ethical and sustainable living whilst empowering African women. She holds several NED positions on the Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce and SEMLEP boards. Alaba Ayinuola had an amazing opportunity to ask Shalom a few questions. Time to discover Naturally Tribal.
Alaba: Hi Shalom, could you briefly tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship?
Shalom: In 2014, after four cycles of IVF, I gave birth to my twins, Joshua and Amara. My son Joshua was covered in eczema. As a pharmacist I understand the value of medicines in our life, but I tapped into my African roots. After experimenting and mixing in my kitchen, I stumbled across the right formulation. Three days later Joshua’s skin cleared and this was the birth of my company Naturally Tribal Skincare.
With Shea Butter being my main ingredient, this journey led me to build a Shea Butter processing facility in Niger State, Nigeria, where we employ and empower our women. In addition to being a supplier of proudly made in Nigeria Shea Butter, I source my ingredients ethically from there, and then bring them into the UK to manufacture, formulate, test and distribute the finished products.
Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is stocked in Harrods Beauty. So, if you are looking for quality unrefined Shea butter and great natural skincare products, Naturally Tribal Nigeria is able to supply that.
I am also one of the directors of JE Oils, a state of the art Shea processing facility based in Gwagwalada, Abuja!
In 2018 I co-founded another amazing company called Emerging Markets Quality Trials. Although black people represent about 17% of the world’s population, less than 3% of us are involved in clinical trials, so this company, eMQT, focuses on bringing diversity into clinical trials. It gives African patients access to medicines and African healthcare professionals the opportunity to be part of global trials. It also gives pharmaceutical companies access to a great patient population.
So all roads in my entrepreneurial journey seem to lead back to Africa, which makes me proud of my British African heritage.
Alaba: What are your offerings and the problem you are solving?
Shalom: Our offerings and solutions are;
The Nature lover: Our products speak to the nature lover who is passionate about plant-based power. These are the natural skincare lovers, the vegan and cruelty free skincare lover who is passionate about our environment and planet.
The luxury skincare and beauty lover: We speak to and cater for the results driven and luxury skincare lover who appreciates our use of ingredients with the power to battle wrinkles and tighten the skin naturally.
For skin conditions: With around 900 million people in the world suffering with a skin condition, skin diseases remain a major cause of disability worldwide. We are changing the narrative and will be the leading global natural skincare brand for customers with skin conditions as well as customers who want to maintain their skin as nature intended. From consumers with skin conditions to those undergoing medical interventions that will impact the skin.
Alaba: What is your main product and its pivot story from founding to the current state?
Shalom: YARA Body Food is the product that started Naturally Tribal Skincare so I guess you can call this our ‘hero’ product. YARA is special because it worked for my baby and gave me the confidence to start the company. Hence, the name YARA which in Hausa means children. It depicts love, care, protection; making it amazing for the most sensitive skin. Made with high quality unrefined Shea butter, our YARA is packed with natural goodness. It annoys me when we sometimes turn our noses at the scent of the liquid gold that is Shea Butter not realising the jewel we have.
Alaba: How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start?
Shalom: When customers see us, they can see themselves as part of our journey because it’s not about the glitz and glamour but more about the substance. The value one brings to the table and the impact we have on skin, on our planet and on people’s lives.
Hard work, tenacity, resilience; these are not just words! We have a long way to go but having the right people with the right mindset and who share my passion has helped the company grow. When you do something that solves a problem, impacts lives, and have fun in the process, that is a winning formula. On the business side, understanding my numbers (which does not come naturally). Defining my supply chain and knowing one’s position in a crazy, beautiful saturated market helps a lot.
Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is a proud United Kingdom Department of International Trade Export Champion!
Alaba: What are the challenges and achievements since you launched?
Shalom: Finance was of course the main challenge. I had to remortgage my home to start this business but it has been worth it. Building the factory in Essan required investment and I am honoured to be working with investors who are also colleagues and friends. I wish I had mastered communication and people skills earlier in life. Involving and working with the right people from the start would have saved me a lot of pain. But going through this process throughout my journey has taught me some valuable life lessons.
The greatest achievement is seeing the proud look on my husband and children’s faces. That feeling that the sacrifice has been worth it. 2021 is the year our products launched in Harrods and that is such a big deal for me and my amazing team. We are exporting more, and have been able to complete the formulation of our facial and hair care products.
Alaba: Why are you so passionate about Nigeria and Africa at large?
Shalom: Naturally Tribal Shea butter supply chain is an impressive demonstration of my love and passion for Africa. It has been a journey of ‘Ethical Sourcing and Empowerment’ Pillar. The Shea industry supports and provides income to over 16 million women across the African continent. My research into potential supply sources led us to Niger state, Nigeria and an introduction to the King of Essan. I fell in love with the Kingdom of Essan and today, the Naturally Tribal group has a Shea Processing facility (with creche and worship rooms) that harvests and processes the shea directly in the region, employing about 22 rural women with plans to employ up to 70 in the future.
Our JE Oils shea processing facility boasts of the fact that all our supervisors are women which is a big deal in Nigeria. Having a facility that produces 400 metric tons of shea butter is no joke! This has created an ecologically sound and sustainable infrastructure, jobs, training and more commercial co-operative opportunities to market and sell shea butter.
Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty and wellness industry?
Shalom: We are more aware of the impact we have on our planet, more aware of consumerism. So the modern beauty industry is on a journey to impact the 120 billion units of unrecyclable plastic we put out annually. Of course, making money is important, we run businesses after all however, It’s not just about making money it’s also about purpose and impact. We no longer look at wellness as a separate topic, we have made beauty, particularly skincare part of one’s holistic wellness – don’t forget that your internal wellness can manifest on your skin.
Alaba: Where do you see yourself and Naturally Tribal in the next 5 years?
Shalom: Our pipeline is exciting, and we are currently working on our facial and hair care products, using innovative and unique ingredients. We are building even stronger relationships with our current stockists. Looking to grow and expand into the Hospitality industry, partner with great luxury SPAs and make great inroads into being stocked in airline duty free luxury goods.
In 5 years time, I see myself, taking a bit of a back seat and overseeing others running my companies. Enjoying the fruits of my labour with my family and friends.
Alaba: Finally, what is your advice to female entrepreneurs in the beauty industry or first-time startup founders?
Shalom: The journey is tough so do something you are passionate about. NEVER let the lack of finance stop you. Align with the right type of people, be genuine, surround yourself with a great team (no one knows it all). Most of all, ENJOY the ride, bumps and all. The beauty industry is so saturated, so be unique. Let your passion shine and come through. Know your numbers and know the value you bring – never sell yourself or your products short. If you are going to do it, do it well and don’t cut corners.
Hazel Eki Osunde, the German-Nigerian Luxury Silk Print Fashion Designer Behind EKI
Hazel Eki Osunde is the Creative Director and Founder of EKI. She was born in a rural town in Germany, raised in Nigeria and now residing in London. Hazel injects a bit of nature, culture and travel into her designs with Africa on her mind. After working in Asset Management for 8 years, it was her fascination with culture and colour that inspired her to pursue her own career in fashion. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, discover more about Hazel, EKI and her view on the fashion world. Excerpt.
Alaba: Tell me about yourself and journey as a fashion designer?
Hazel: I am of mixed heritage German-Nigerian. Born in Germany, spent my childhood in Nigeria and now reside in the UK. I spent my first 10 years in banking until I fell pregnant and found a new meaning to life. It was at this time that I decided to follow my passion which was a love for colour, culture and travel which I then translated into prints. My first love is designing prints that narrate positive African stories.
Alaba: What attracted you to fashion and what do you attend to achieve?
Hazel: Fashion can be very impactful. It can light up a room and also create a platform for change. It is powerful and it can be used as a tool to educate consumers on the importance of matters. My goal is to allow the EKI story telling of the prints to naturally evolve into other areas, creating the same magical feeling.
Alaba: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?
Hazel: I was working in banking when I recall a friend of mine talk so passionately about her career in media and it was at that moment, I realised I couldn’t put that much love and excitement into my profession. So, I ventured on a journey of discovery. It soon dawned on me that I had a love for textiles, designs and a nostalgia for Africa. And that’s how it started.
Alaba: How do you walk the line between being unique and having commercial appeal?
Hazel: Uniqueness comes from the interpretation of our prints. I don’t design prints for everyone, nor do I follow trends. I pick shades and colours that I am drawn to and know my customers like. The designs of our dresses are quite simplistic and classic allowing for that commercial appeal. I believe with the bold EKI prints are balanced out with the styles we choose.
Alaba: How is your work received internationally and where do you look for creative inspiration?
Hazel: The pieces have a clear African influence, yet subtle and the fact that we print on silk gives it that international appeal. The garments are also quite flowy and can be worn casually or dressed up, as our international clients are often quite simplistic in their style. Inspiration is always drawn from Africa and I always tap into nature, culture or travel and narrate the story from an African point of view.
Alaba: What is your favourite part about being a designer?
Hazel: I love hearing clients’ stories on how they felt wearing the pieces; the confidence, the sexiness and the attraction they got from it.
Alaba: How do you want women to feel when wearing your designs?
Hazel: I want them to own their femininity and exude a palpable feeling of confidence and sexiness.
Alaba: The term Fashiontech is still quite new. What is your opinion of the state of the Fashiontech industry and its growth?
Hazel: Fashion tech will become the new norm. There will need to be discussions on how we preserve the authenticity and creativeness of fashion. There has been such an investment into slowing the fashion down and producing pieces of meaning by people we should care about yet fashion tech goes completely against this as it cuts out the middleman, replaces them with robots with the sole purpose of speeding up the fashion space. The smaller brands that focus on individuality and handcrafting will have to create stronger identities and brand stories to be able to compete with faster fashion spearheaded by fashion tech.
Alaba: There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with the greatest collection season after season. What advice would you give to young designers just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?
Hazel: Keep it creative, small and don’t overstretch yourself financially until you have created your clientele base who not just likes and follows your pieces but also purchases.
Alaba: Finally, what would you like to achieve before the end of the year?
Hazel: I just presented our latest SS22 collection in Lagos, Nigeria and my goal till the end of the year is that this collection is very well received and we pick up on how sales were pre-lockdown because fashion in the UK in particular really came to a standstill during our endless lockdowns.
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