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.
Viero: A SaaS Platform Enabling Entrepreneurs Create Food Delivery App Without Code In 60 Seconds
Viero & Zistify Founders, Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude
Launching a food delivery start-up requires an entrepreneur to manage 4 aspects; Restaurants, Delivery Agents, Customers, and the most costly of them all, an application. Building a food delivery application can cost up to $60 000. There are also additional costs that need to be paid on a monthly basis to maintain and improve the application. “This is a major barrier to entry into the food delivery industry in Africa” said Basheer Phiri, the founder and CEO of Viero.
“Because of these high costs, we see a lot of food delivery Startups all over Africa serving the urban market, because it is big, and has enough customers to cover the development and maintenance costs and make a profit.” Basheer believes that food delivery Startups do not target township and non-urban areas because these markets need to be built from the group up, which means additional marketing costs and slower growth and adoption rates.
Therefore, coupled with the need to cover maintenance costs and the demand for growth and traction from investors, food delivery Startups prefer competing in the already established urban markets. This has led to high concentration in urban markets while non-urban markets remain relatively untapped.
“We saw this and realised that there was value that could be created” said Basheer. “After speaking to a few interested entrepreneurs, we saw that they could manage every aspect of the food delivery business, but could not afford to pay for an App. That is how Viero was born”
Viero is a SaaS Platform that enables entrepreneurs to create a food delivery web application with no code in 60 seconds. (Here’s how it works – https://youtu.be/1T9oxNtRDpM).
The platform built a standard food delivery application template and enables it to be cloned, rebranded and hosted through white-labelling. Entrepreneurs can use the application under a monthly subscription and have access to many features depending on their chosen plan. Entrepreneurs can also make changes to the layout and design of their app, all without any code.
Launched in South Africa on 1 June 2020, the platform has achieved amazing uptake thus far. 22 Apps in total have been created with 2 Food delivery Startups that are live and operating in South Africa and 20 other Startups preparing for launch. 108 orders have been delivered, with R4700 processed in transactions, 200 customer users, 16 listed stores and 45 delivery agents.
Viero was launched by UCT students Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude. They met in their first year in 2018 as residents of Smuts Hall Residence at The University of Cape Town, when they were introduced by a mutual friend who noticed their passion for entrepreneurship. Since then, they have worked together on several Startups and projects.
Basheer and Hopewell are not new to the food delivery industry. In 2019, they launched Zistify, a food delivery start-up for the university market. Zistify delivers food ordered from food vendors on campus through it’s app to university students and staff.
Viero is in capable hands and is ready to disrupt the food delivery industry in Africa. Currently raising a $100 000 seed round to incorporate logistics into its business offering, to bring in more talent to the team, and to continue building and improving the platform.
Meet The Resilient Black Brothers Saving The Planet One Car At A Time
AutoSparkle Owners, Jesse and Genesis Onomiwo (Image by: Jesse Onomiwo)
According to UNIDO’s Investment and Technology Promotion Office in Nigeria, only 20% of SMEs manage to survive in Nigeria. The studies further states that “although everybody in Nigeria desires to become an entrepreneur, only 40% of the dreamers get to start, but no more than 20% survive. But one innovative Lagos-based company seem to have gotten the winds in its sails instead.
Founded by Jesse and Genesis Onomiwo in 2010 in Lagos Nigeria, Autosparkle is currently the world’s only waterless luxury car interior-only detailing company with an option of waterless engine cleaning. As a fully integrated professional operation that combines convenience with environmental sustainability, the company takes their services to their clients without messing up the environment with water and soap.
Autosparkle was selected and named one of Nigeria’s Top Emerging SMEs for 2019 by ConnectNigeria. And just last month, the company also got selected as part of 200 businesses out of 5,000 others to take part in the first ever Forbes Digital Accelerator Program for Nigerian businesses. This has further opened the company up to top venture capital firms, successful founders from Silicon valley and a host of highly respected resource persons from Google, LinkedIn and other renowned credible organizations.
But the journey for the founders of Autosparkle hasn’t always been rosy. One of the company’s founders, Genesis Onomiwo, had to drop out of school for a whole year in order to come establish the company in Lagos. His brother and co-founder also had to push his National Youth Service forward by one year. When the business failed to pick up as envisaged, Genesis eventually had to return to the university where he completed his first degree in Architecture. In all, Autosparkle failed more than 8 times before finally picking up. But all that is history now as the rewards of their perseverance and exceptional business acumen is now starting to pay off beautifully well.
Autosparkle spotted a critical gap in the car care market and has so far exploited it richly. The common neglect by car wash shops that popularly dot the roadside in Nigeria and the observed dissatisfaction of most customers with often rushed jobs made the brothers decide to start focusing on waterless cleaning of what they term the two most critical parts of the car; the interior and engine. Their approach to car cleaning is based on nanotechnology and covers everything from stain removal, vacuuming, leather and upholstery treatment, dashboard conditioning, roof cleaning, plastic/rubber/chrome trim polishing, to deodorization, and more.
The level of personalized attention given to the details is based on the fact that Autosparkle treats each car according to its unique needs. That’s why it could take up to 3-4 hours to get one car completely detailed. They do not overlook any part because no one sees them. As a mobile unit, they take their pampering experience to homes and offices in Lekki, Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Ajah axes of Lagos Island and beyond in Nigeria. From the most executive to the most luxurious of cars, Autosparkle continues to renew the interior of cars for Nigeria’s affluent class and those expatriates living in Nigeria. And now a replacement for the word interior detailing.
Ultimately, the company is building the largest chain of environmentally friendly and convenient cleaning operations out of Africa. This covers waterless detailing (thorough cleaning) of luxury cars, aircrafts, boats, furniture and fittings in homes and other types of spaces. This company is certain one to look out for in the coming years.
Black Founders: Here are some fundraising and networking opportunities
In the past few weeks, the world has witnessed one of the largest civil rights movements in recent history. People across races, religions, geographies and social economic classes have joined together to demand justice, opportunity and respect for black people. As an African woman living in the US, I have personally seen and sometimes witnessed the ugly side of racism and racial bias. To make any meaningful difference, we must support each other in stamping out racism from not just the United States, but across the world. I am hopeful that this movement will bring practical solutions to the fight for social justice.
On the positive side, this movement has brought a renewed (and hopefully lasting) vigor and focus on black entrepreneurship. From venture capitalists to retail companies and professional communities, many institutions have committed to supporting black entrepreneurship in some way. If you’re a black founder, or looking to start a venture, now is the time to tap into new and existing resources and opportunities.
It might be difficult to keep track of them all, so I have curated some key resources.
- Apply to join the 2020 cohort for the 1-week immersive course by Black Founder’s Exchange.
- SoGal x Atlas is limiting this year’s Cohort for “Building without Burnout” to Black Entrepreneurs. Apply by June 15, 2020.
- Clever Girl Finance is now offering all its Finance Resources and Courses for free!
- Apply to join the Transparent Collective which is helping underrepresented founders access the resources they need to succeed.
- Apply for a $10k grant from IFundWomen. Deadline June 15, 2020.
- Apply for a grant at the National Association for the Self-Employed (maximum $4k).
- Founder Gym wants to help you learn about fundraising and scaling tech ventures.
- Have a fintech startup and are looking for solutions for underserved populations, Accion Venture Lab wants to talk to you.
- Reach out to funds that are passionate about supporting black founders such as: Harlem Capital, Backstage Capital, New Voices Fund, Cleo Capital and Cross Culture Ventures.
- Nihal Mehta, Co-founder of Eniac Venture is offering free 15-minute mentoring sessions to Black founders.
- Jason Lemkin, VC Investor is reviewing decks and pitches of Black Founders.
- Ha Nguyen wants to meet with Black and Latinx founders.
Networking and Community
- Add yourself to the Black Founders List, and get visibility.
- Join Valence, a network of black professionals.
- Follow the Black Enterprise blog.
- The Plug has all your information needs.
- Plan to attend the Women in Tech Conference; happens every year. 2020’s is virtual and is happening in July.
This is a dynamic shortlist of resources I could gather online and from my networks- will continue updating. Are you aware of any great resources or opportunities?
Please comment below.
Article By: Dami Olagunju Founder, Lagos Young Professionals Innovation Club (LYPIC)