June 19, 2017

15 Black Startup Founders Making Great Strides in Tech

My mother always told me growing up that “If you want something done well, do it yourself.” I write stories about founders & investors from diverse backgrounds to address the lack of tech inclusion across the globe. The 15 entrepreneurs featured in this article embody Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Rather than complaining while sitting on the sidelines, they have taken accountability and started on the journey to build something bigger than themselves, a startup. Funding from investors by no means is a measure of success however it does provide an early indication that somebody besides yourself believes in your idea. Venture Capital (VC) firms such as Intel Capital (Diversity Fund), Backstage CapitalComcast Ventures (Catalyst Fund) and Precursor VC are some of many firms putting their money where it matters and investing in founders from diverse backgrounds.

In my last article, I touched on some of the investors from diverse backgrounds you should follow, and most of the founders below have been backed by many of the previously mentioned investors. Macro Ventures, founded by Charles King, for example, is focused on disruptive media companies in the multicultural market and has even invested in Blavity! Check out the list of black founders to follow below.

1. Tristan Walker

A man that needs no introduction, Tristan Walker featured in my series on ‘Heroes In The Making’ as he made it from a single parent home in Queens New York, to enjoy spells at Twitter and Foursquare before creating Walker & Co. A company dedicated to creating hair & beauty products for people of color such as the Bevel Blade and Trimmer.

Follow here: @tristanwalker

2. Wayne Sutton

Ok, so I snuck this one in as Wayne is the Co-founder of Change Catalyst which isn’t technically a startup. Nevertheless, this is an honorary mention as Change Catalyst is dedicated to empowering diverse leaders to change the world in startups and beyond.

Follow here: @waynesutton

3. Rodney Williams

Rodney is the Co-founder of Lisnr, and has raised over $10m from investors such as Progress Ventures and Intel Capital. Lisnr sends data over audio to transmit information through ultrasonic technology that can’t be heard by the human ear.

Follow here: @rodneybwilliams

4. Frederick Hutson

When you Google Fredrick, the headlines are all about his transformation from four years in prison to raising over $4m in funding for his startup, Pigeonly. However, these headlines don’t do him justice as his startup provides a suite of products to improve communication with prison inmates and others on the outside. This startup is a great example of a founder who went on to solve a pain point they experienced themselves, serving a truly underserved community.

Follow here: @IAMFastFreddy

5. Jessica Matthews

I become a heavy advocate of Jessica following her interview with Tom Bilyeu on Impact Theory. This interview was a great example of the energy Jessica generates through her renewable energy company, Uncharted Play. Check out the innovative ways Uncharted Play has created to make creating energy fun while operating out of Harlem, not Silicon Valley!

Follow here: @jessomatt

6. Edwin Broni-Mensah

I remember first speaking alongside Edwin ‘The Water Guy’ in 2011 on a panel discussion about moving from idea to execution. 6 years later and Edwin has done just that, starting off in London, UK he went on to graduate from Y-Combinator and now runs his company, Give Me Tap out of New York. His product is a simple one, buy a reusable bottle of water and help provide clean, safe drinking water for communities across Africa.

Follow here: @EBroniMensah

7. Dave Scott

Dave served as CMO of Livefyre, Gigya and the CMO of Foresee, Inc which was acquired by Answers Corp and CMO of Marketfish before he Co-founded Laugh.ly. This platform provides underground and established comedians with an app dedicated to their content. Comedy is usually an afterthought in music and podcast apps, which is why this app is dedicated to providing a distribution model that works for comedians.

Follow here: @ScottOnMktg

8. Chris Bennett

Soldsie is a 500 Startup and NewMe Accelerator graduate backed by VC’s such as First Round and SoftTech. Soldsie, Co-founded by Chris Bennett is a social shopping service allowing merchants to collect payments from consumers through the comments section for Facebook and Instagram. He is also the founder of Black Founders whose goal is to increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in tech.

Follow here: @8ennett

9. Mary Spio

One to watch as I believe VR will disrupt the personal consumer space in 10 years +. Mary is the founder of Ceek VR, funded by Backstage Capital. CeeK VR is a leading developer of virtual reality experiences for education, entertainment, and brands such as Google and Universal Music.

Follow here: @maryspio

10. Tonjé Bakang

I first came across Tonje through my good friends at BWNG who met him out in LA while pitching for investment. Tonje is the founder of subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, Afrostream which is often described as the Afro-American Netflix. Afrostream has raised funds from Troy Carter’s Cross Culture VC and Y-Combinator.

Follow here: @tonjebakang

11. Brian Brackeen

Brian first popped onto my radar when I read his great article, “I’m not “Black enough” for Inc. Magazine a few months ago. He is the founder of Kairos, a facial recognition firm based in Miami that has seen average growth over 100% month over month for 24 months. Brian is also an alumnus from NewMe Accelerator (5 years ago).

Follow here: @BrianBrackeen

12. Diishan Imira

Diishan is the founder of Mayvenn, a tech company that is reshaping the distribution of retail goods starting with hair and beauty products. I discovered the company initiated a few years ago when I worked out in the Bay as they are based in Oakland and the growth in the last two years has been incredible. Similar to how Amazon empowers merchants to set up shops and profit from sales on the platform, Mayvenn is enabling hair stylist to do the same.

Follow here: @DiishanImira

14. Larry Baker

I could have featured Larry or his Co-founder Charlie Tribbett for this one as both deserve mention. They founded Bolstr, the marketplace for small business lending. This Fintech solves a problem for small business owners in our communities who may not be suitable for startup funding but equally get turned away from the high street banks.

Follow here: @larryobaker

14. Reham Fagiri

I fell in love with the story of AptDeco, founded by Reham and Kalam Dennis when I watched their Y-Combinator Startup School SV 2016 speech (watch here). AptDeco provides a marketplace to buy & sell new and used furniture with pickups and deliveries included in the service. They started off in NYC, expanded to DC and New Jersey and are launching soon in Boston and Philadelphia.

Follow here: @aptdeco

15. Morgan DeBaun

I’ve gone from reading Blavity nearly two years ago before I had written a single article to now submitting my writing for Blavity (a media platform with over 2 million viewers a month). Morgan, Jonathan Jackson, and Aaron Samuels tapped into an underrepresented audience and provided a platform for content tailored to black millennials by creating Blavity. A great article that summed up what Blavity represents was ‘The First 12 Months in Review’. #hustlesmart #teamBlavity

Follow here: @MorganDeBaun

As you can notice above, the founders from diverse backgrounds are not focused on solving problems exclusively for people of color. But rather they are addressing a range of issues they are passionate about and scaling meaningful companies along the way. The actual benefit of supporting more founders from diverse backgrounds is that they deliver a diversity of thought to the market and therefore create more value for consumers like you and I. You can start in supporting them by following them on Twitter, supporting their products and spreading the word.

You can follow me on Twitter to learn more about founders & investors across the globe from diverse backgrounds.

Andy Ayim

Andy is Managing Director of Backstage Capital London. Previously a Product Manager who has traveled and worked in over 40 countries in the last five years. He is passionate about telling stories about founders & investors from diverse backgrounds and improving Tech Inclusion.

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