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.
Building Sustainable and Profitable Enterprises: An Interview with David Owumi, Founder of VisionCTRL Africa
David Owumi is the Founder and Lead Business Innovation Strategist at VisionCTRL Africa, a business analysis, design and consulting firm based in Nigeria. A social entrepreneur on a mission to achieve a lifetime commitment, driving Africa’s sustainable development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR). David in this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, talks about how his brand is developing its support for African entrepreneurs, the “Business Drive for Her Initiative”, why women talents should be developed and transformed into valuable tools for social and economic growth. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about VisionCTRL and the gap its filling?
David: VisionCTRL Nigeria, founded in 2018, consists of a team of seasoned Business Innovators, Business Designers and Business Analysts committed to providing professional business development services small and medium scaled organizations. We help our league of depending clients create innovative products, services and formidable business structures necessary to deliver on remarkable value propositions while scaling to generate more revenue and market share.
At VisionCTRL, we believe in the power of Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology as vital tools for the positive transformation of the African economy, creating solutions to social problems such as Poverty, Lack of Quality Education, Unemployment, and Infrastructural Deficit.
Alaba: What sparked your interest in starting this firm?
David: From the age of 10, when I started accompanying my mother to destitute and orphanage homes dispensing amenities such as food and medical kits, I have always wanted to solve social problems but ignorant as to which to focus on. My passion for social innovation, entrepreneurship and business matured as I followed religiously the popular TV series “Shark Tank”, unconsciously preparing myself for VisionCTRL.
Few months after we launched Salt Talks Africa in March of 2018 with a focus on fostering sustainable development in grassroots communities, we saw a need to help entrepreneurs start sustainable businesses that “solve real problems for real people”.
Alaba: How is VisionCTRL developing its support for African entrepreneurs?
David: We help startups and small scale businesses with their Market Research, Feasibility Study, Business Planning, Business Model Innovation, Product/Service Innovation and Business Development. We also provide Free Business Consultation, and organize business management workshops across the federation.
Alaba: Could you tell us about the “Business Drive for Her Initiative” and what it’s set out to achieve?
David: In Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, we’re coming to an understanding of the crucial roles women play in fostering socioeconomic growth in a community, through education and entrepreneurship. This has spurred government, as well as civil societies, to initiate programmes and opportunities to fast track gender inclusivity in education and entrepreneurship on the continent.
The Business Drive for Her Initiative is one of those projects we designed for the sole purpose of educating female entrepreneurs in Nigeria on the basics of business planning, management and innovation, to scale their businesses with a corresponding socio-economic growth in the country.
I believe it takes a collective effort, i.e. both the private and public sectors, to initiate projects that would lead to the long-term, growth of the African economy, and so, we have decided to contribute our quota.
We would be training 6,000 female entrepreneurs across 16 states in Nigeria in partnership with Tech Hubs in the country on Business Management and Innovation, as well as providing mentorship and funding opportunities in partnership with Access Bank.
Alaba: How do you intend to fund this project and measure its impact?
David: To be honest, this is a major challenge faced by social innovators in the private sector, designing financial sustainability for social projects, and as such we emphasize the importance of strategic partnerships. Asides funds set aside by the organization for the project, we consorted with tech hubs in Nigeria, and other organizations that share a common interest for women empowerment in the country, with Access Bank PLC, Salt Talks Africa and Adams Start being some of our major supporters.
Engaging Salt Talks Africa in the project development phase made our planning easier due to their experience in designing sustainable projects. So, instead of asking “Where can we get funds?” we rather sought organizations willing to provide some of the items and logistics we would be spending money on.
Its always better achieving success together.
Alaba: Why is it important for women to start their business?
David: Beyond business, it’s imperative that the talents and interests of women be developed and transformed into valuable tools for social and economic growth. It’s about empowering women with the freedom and opportunities to create and trade value with a sense of belonging, and responsibility for the development of their immediate communities, and the world at large. If women can, then why not?
Alaba: How can we increase capital, confidence and capability in women’s entrepreneurship?
David: It all begins in the home, educating parents on the importance and benefits of a gender inclusive society. Unfortunately, there are families that choose to invest their limited resources on the male over the female. This has to change, and we look up to civil societies and human right activists to champion this cause.
Though impressive measures have been taken to foster female participation in business, education and leadership in Nigeria and Africa, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We need private and public agencies to deliberately allocate opportunities to women as a way of encouraging others at the bottom to strive for the same.
Alaba: What is your advice for any young woman who is thinking about starting a business?
David: If you can create value, and you are convinced you can execute well on your value propositions, why not? Being a woman is no excuse for mediocrity. Hone your craft, and be the best you can.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
David: I feel honored contributing to the advancement of Africa’s sustainable development. There’s no better time to be African than now, and making a conscious and deliberate effort daily to push the continent forward is one decision I’m proud of, despite the intricacies associated with starting and growing an enterprise in Africa.
Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking towards achieving them?
David: At VisionCTRL, we are on a daily mission to be a part of the success stories of businesses driving social growth and economic development in Nigeria, and Africa. We want to understand the dynamics of entrepreneurship and innovation on Africa, and supporting African businesses to be well positioned for these trends for maximum social impact.
To achieve this, we invest a considerable amount of resources in organizing workshops for entrepreneurs, as well as improving our knowledge and operations.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
David: I spend my leisure with family, and often researching. I’m a huge fan of Africa’s history, especially the colonial era. So, I’m often caught reading about the history of Africa on Wikipedia.
B I O G R A P H Y
Owumi David Voke, 27, is a Social Entrepreneur, Tech-Innovator, Community Research & Developer and Fashion Designer, who is on a mission to achieve a lifetime commitment, driving Africa’s sustainable development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. David is a graduate of University of Benin, Nigeria where he bagged a Second-Class degree in Mathematics and Education.
He is the Director of Salt Talks Africa, a para-governmental organization currently operating in 3 African countries, designing and executing community development projects geared towards fostering sustainable development in rural communities across Africa. Through grassroots initiatives such a RuraLearn, R.E.I.A., Project Upcycle and Salt Talks Conferences held across Nigeria, Salt Talks Africa is indeed fostering Africa’s sustainable development in one of the most strategic approaches.
David is the Founder and Lead Business Innovation Strategist of VisionCTRL Africa, a Business Analysis, Design and Consulting Firm in Nigeria, building disruptive business ideas and enterprises. He believes disruptive social entrepreneurship plays a vital role in driving socioeconomic growth and sustainable development in Africa.
Having worked on several high-end successful and failed projects such as Upnepa.ng, Agro-Ex, Haypko.com (Now FuelUp.ng), Sew It Stores (Now Gods Official Clothiers), Hi-traffic.tech etc., VisionCTRL is well positioned to change the narrative of Africa leveraging an entrepreneurship framework.
He is also an advisory member of African Bio hub, Invent Hope Initiative etc. and a member of the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA).
Interview with James Lawson, Founder, Intergreatme; A RegTech Company Helping You Create Your Own Digital Identity
James Lawson is the Founder and Chief Information Officer at Intergreatme, a global digital identity platform that can be integrated into a wide range of businesses in less than a day to bring identity verification and secure multi-factor authentication in seconds. In this exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Lawson shares insights into his approach to leadership as CIO of a technology company, scaling a digital business, and overcoming operational challenges in the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and ID verification space. Excerpt.
Heath: CIO roles in today’s IT environment are quite dynamic. What do you enjoy most about your role?
James: Each day is completely different from the next. I try and plan what I can in the morning, and then spend the rest of my day engaging with executives, development team, support agents, and with our clients.We have a dynamic business, and being a start-up means we are constantly dealing with resource constraints – which isn’t a bad thing, it forces you to focus on the most important tasks at hand.
I enjoy the freedom that I have around exploring new technologies, looking at existing products and looking at how we can optimise not only the code we have, but the products and services we use to run the business.I am also analytical and detail oriented. I build my own reports, interrogate the data, and use it to build data-driven decisions to help optimise the business. This helps to provide recommendations to our customers as to how they can optimise processes where our technology plays a role in their onboarding process, especially where they can achieve greater savings by implementing quick-win solutions.
Heath: Describe your leadership style? How do you lead through change?
James: My main leadership style is through servant leadership. As such, I believe that the technology side of the business is most effective when employees are given the opportunities to make their own choices, and for me to support them in those choices (unless I can see there is an obvious issue with the decision-making process). This also gives each individual a high degree of autonomy, and we have really worked hard to try and build self-managing teams.
This is also really reflected in my attitude towards servicing our customers. That does not mean to say that I am a “yes man” and will implement every product feature that a customer asks for, but that I will hear our customers out, and advise them on the best route forward – and sometimes decision that involves persuading them to cut out a feature, though proven experience in our product domain.
Heath: Can you explain the most difficult part of being a leader?
James: The most difficult part of being a leader is dealing with the decisions no one else is prepared to make. Sometimes, those decisions are not the popular ones. But at the end of the day, the decisions I make in the business are always focused towards the betterment of the company, and the people working inside of it.
Heath: To what do you attribute your success? How has it impacted your enterprise digital goals?
James: I consider myself fortunate that I have been able to move between different industries. I have worked in several non-technical jobs in banking and finance; have lectured at several universities, worked as a journalist, as well as in tech-and-management roles. While some might consider this a more… checked past, I see this as a valuable attribution to my collective knowledge and experience in the workplace.
One of the more innovative solutions I helped design was for a training institute, where we digitised the manual process of getting classroom labs set-up into an automated one. Before setting up a lab, a technician is required to manually copy each image across to the computer, often a symmetric process of copying the image across one-computer at a time. Working with the internal development team I managed (along with 3 other departments), we incorporated BitTorrent into the classrooms and built a Web-UI classroom management solution.
This meant the technician could now do his work remotely, increased the speed at which classroom labs could be setup, but more importantly, if a student had an issue with their lab, a new instance could be deployed in seconds vs. minutes or hours to manually find the correct image on a server and copy it across.
The impact was massive in terms of time and money saved, as well as customer satisfaction.
Heath: Where do you see your business in two years?
James: Intergreatme has two products, an app where people can upload and manage their identity with form-completing services, like renewing their car licence disc; and our Know Your Customer (Self-KYC) solution that handles the remote collection, validation, and verification of personal information to help businesses comply with their regulatory requirements, such as FICA and RICA.
I believe in the next two years that we will see a shift to our coresolution as corporate South Africa comes to grips with regulations like therisk-based KYC approach and the eventual implementation of Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).
Heath: What are some of the challenges you face from a day-to-day operational perspective?
James: I would say my biggest operational challenge is keeping the focus in the company on the route forward – the identity space can be disrupted in so many ways! It is easy for someone to come up with an idea that is entirely feasible, and easy to implement; but knowing when to show restraint and say no, is one of my biggest daily challenges.
It can also be very tough to motivate the various teams, especially when we are under pressure to deliver product. I am proud to say I was able to refine our internal development process to reduce the stress levels of everyone in the dev. team, while also keeping stakeholders happy. We moved from break-neck development with long hours, and tight deadlines, to a more sensible flow.
Understanding policy, especially from a local regulatory stance. Our business is built around identity, and trust, and ensuring that we not only build a product around these regulations, but also that we employ a best-effort approach to securing our services.
How This Tanzanian Is Building An eLearning Platform For Students To Learn, Discuss and Network
Kizwalo Simbila is the Founder of SchoolBiz Forums, a growing online student community and social learning platform for schools and universities. He is passionate about Youth Development and thrives in raising young people in leadership. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Kizwalo reflects on his entrepreneurial journey, talks about SchoolBiz Forums, how it operates, challenges of eLearning in Tanzania, the future of his company and much more. Excerpt.
Alaba: Tell us about SchoolBiz Forums and the gap its filling?
Kizwalo: For instance, students could be located off-campus for the duration of their enrollment and successfully do discussions online. It is important to mention that online platforms include discussing at all levels of education. In recent time, the Online Education industry recorded strong growth and of course this is due to rising internet penetration in households and changing consumer preferences that favor conducting online discussions.
SchoolBiz Forums is the growing online student community and social learning mobile application for schools and universities. It was founded in the year 2016 and designed for every student to use and support each other –whatever their background through education, life around learning, all the way through to careers. They are given opportunities to Learn, Discuss and Network. SchoolBiz Forums is unlike any other Forums you will come across! At SchoolBiz Forums we seek to improve African education.
Alaba: What sparked your interest in starting this social enterprise?
Kizwalo: It resulted from prayer and burden to see African students and youth having a platform that will bring them together and do lean and network because we believe that this transformation lies in the hands and minds of studying youngsters with the desire to move lives toward prosperity and achievement.
Alaba: How are you funding your business?
Kizwalo: The platform is funded by me and our partners including Universities who we are working with to make changes and help students all around.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competitions and how are you overcoming them?
Kizwalo: Challenges are always there and we are here to learn from them. Getting a right team of people who can be trusted and move together towards the success of the company can be tricky sometimes. A successful business needs a strong foundation. Or more literally, founders. Before you bring in new hires, we have to be clear on our leadership positions. Tanzania has two platforms dealing with secondary schools education helping them with notes and quizzes. We can up with a new idea getting a platform for all students all over Africa that they can do more than just school and enjoy the atmosphere in there.
Overcoming the challenges is one of the factors of growing. That’s when you solved a mistake and next time you won’t repeat the same. Reading books and having mentors who can help me with ideas on how I can solve problems is one of the factors of me overcoming them.
Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impact?
Kizwalo: We measure our impact through the activities going on in the application. All we need is to make sure we have enough traffic of activities in the application.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the EdTech ecosystem in Tanzania?
Kizwalo: In the 2018, an article done in Tanzania about Adoption of E-learning systems in Tanzania’s universities says “Current studies indicate that there is no comprehensive instructor model in e-learning systems’ adoption in universities in Tanzania”. We want to be the only leading E-Learning platform in Tanzania that can be helpful to all students and solve different problems in and out of the border.
Alaba: What’s the future of your business and what steps are you taking to achieve them?
Kizwalo: Our future is to build an online educational brand that will become one of the preferred online educative platforms in the online community in Tanzania. We have to position our online forums to become one of the leading brands in and out of Tanzania. To make all this happen needs commitment, team work and new ideas to make the company better.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Kizwalo: I feel hungry for more in Africa. “Entrepreneurs don’t wait for the right conditions” to start a business. “They create the right conditions.” I need to do more and take Africa somewhere because I am part of my continent and I will do all it takes for it’s development.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Kizwalo: Never stop learning. Starting your own business is a constant process of achievement and learning. It’s important to enrich yourself with both practical and emotional skills, it helps. Also “Take Risk”. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. If it won’t work learn and try something else no matter the cost. That’s the life of an entrepreneur.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Kizwalo: I love travelling. Giving yourself some holiday to relax your kind is so important. That’s how I relax my mind and explore more than thinking. This year 2020 I will be reading more on Entrepreneurship and business books so that I can learn more and more.
B I O G R A P H Y
Kizwalo Simbila, is the Founder of SchoolBiz Forums, Public speaker and entrepreneur from Tanzania. I am passionate about Youth Development and thrive in raising young people in leadership. I fancy deep discussions on what ways young people can impact the economic development in Tanzania.I strongly believe in the case of Tanzania, the brain drain has left a wound, which could only be healed if we go back and resuscitate the economy and education.
To learn more, visit: SchoolBiz Forums