In honor of Juneteenth, New York City Wired celebrates 10 New York City Black tech founders. These entrepreneurs are in different stages of their companies, but each is changing their industries.
Jessica Matthews, Founder and CEO of Uncharted Power
While attending her aunt’s wedding in Nigeria, at 17-years-old, she couldn’t breathe when the power went out, and the backup generator kicked in. Her cousins told her she would get used to it. She grew up in the U.S. but has dual citizenship with Nigeria, which is why she wasn’t used to it. She thought there had to be a better way to power a generator.
Fast forward to her junior year at Harvard, her classmate, Julia Silverman, and she got brainstorming. Her cousin’s love of soccer inspired Jessica, so they created a soccer ball with a microgenerator inside. Every 30 minutes, the ball is in motion producing three hours of light via an attachable LED. In 2011, she officially launched her company.
More than half a million of these, what she calls Socckets, have been placed as alternative energy sources in Africa and Latin America.
In 2016, Jessica moved the headquarters to Harlem, N.Y. She also launched a non-profit that helps startups called Harlem Tech Fund. She’s raised $7 million for Uncharted Power.
Stacy Spikes, Founder of PreShow
The Co-Founder of Moviepass has recently launched his next venture, PreShow. A mobile app allowing gamers to “exchange their time spent engaging with branded content to unlock in-game currency without interrupting their playing experience.” The app is currently in beta mode, but the company has received $3 million in seed funding from Harlem Capital.
While Moviepass failed, it reinvented how people go to the movies. Big movie chains launched their own film passes, ultimately making it cheaper for moviegoers that frequent the cinema.
Eli Polanco, Founder and CEO of Nivelo
Eli Polanco from the Dominican Republic launched her company right before the pandemic hit and raised $2.5 million in seed money when she couldn’t meet with investors in person.
She was the former executive director, head of banking product at Blockchain Center of Excellence at JP Morgan.
Her company, Nivelo, protects ACH transactions for companies. The technology alerts organizations of threats.
Nivelo is still in the very early stages, but keep an eye on the company and Polanco.
Amanda Johnson, Co-founder and Chief Operation Officer, and KJ Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of Mented Cosmetics
Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller met at Harvard Business School. They were bonding over wine at Miller’s Harlem apartment when they were talking about the difficulty of finding a nude lip shade. Brands just didn’t have options for Black women. That’s where their company was born. They learned how to create their own lipsticks and started an e-commerce store. They both have experience in the fashion industry. Johnson worked at Barneys New York in the business department. Miller was a buyer at top apparel stores. They have since expanded their selection to include foundations, eye shadow, blushes and more. They have also raised $1 million in venture capital when African American women receive less than one percent in capital funding.
Christina Lewis, Co-Founder of Give Blck and Founder of All Star Code
Christina Lewis was seeing organizations helping young women learn to code to open doors for them. However, she noticed young men of color were not being represented, so she created All Star Code. The organization teaches them the skills they need, but it also tells them not to fear failure, to keep trying. As of 2018, the company had raised $900,000.
In 2020, Lewis set out to help open more doors for Black people by launching Give Blck to raise awareness for Black-owned non-profits across the country.
Black-owned businesses receive less funding and at a lower rate. The average level of capital for these entrepreneurs is just $35,205. Lewis is looking to fix this.
Shabazz Stuart, Co-Founder and CEO Oonee
Brooklyn-native Shabazz Stuart was commuting by bike, and in five years, his bike was stolen three times. He thought enough was enough, and in 2015 came up with the idea of his company, Oonee (pronounced ooh-nee, after the Japanese word for sea urchin).
Oonee creates shelters for commuters to store their bicycles and scooters. The customer scans a card and leaves their property in the pod that is covered in advertising. The company has two perforated aluminum huts, one in Jersey City and another at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. They also are placing two mini hubs in New York City with a partnership from Swedish scooter sharing company Voi.
Akili Hinson, Founder and CEO of Juno Medical
Akili Hinson has an MD and an MBA. He has experience at Goldman Sachs and several top-tier hospitals, including New York Pesteroerian Hospital and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Last year, he took his expertise and launched Juno Medical in Harlem. Patients not only get their everyday, specialty and wellness care, but the hospital is also fit with all state of the art technology. For example, they recently created the Electronic Health Record technology to keep track of their patients’ records more efficiently.
Kimberly Gray, Founder and CEO of Uvii
Kimberly Gray’s entire family went to Howard University, so of course, that’s where she went. Her parents thought she was crazy when she decided to leave, move to New York and attend the Fashion Institute of Technology to follow her dream of being a stylist. That leap paid off when she worked for “Stress Magazine” and “Woofin.’” She also worked in the wardrobe department on feature films like “Exit Wounds,” Trippin’, and “Summer of Sam.” She then wanted to make the leap into tech. Her parents once again thought she was crazy.
Her vision for her company started with an article she read about Robert F. Smith, the founder and chairman of Vista Equity Partners. He watched his mother send $25 to the United Negro College Fund every month as a child. This really spoke to Gray.
Her company is a virtual collaboration platform that provides access to distance learning evaluation tools right on your phone. Her goal is to make education more accessible, collaborative and affordable.
Esosa Ighodars, Co-Founder of Black Women Talk Tech
A random meeting on the subway for Esosa Ighodars and Abiodun Johnson inspired CoSign. They got off at the same stop, and he tapped her on the shoulder and complimented her outfit. That led to them talking and creating CoSign together. She’s a Brooklyn native, and he’s from Tennessee. Together they created an app that paid you to post selfies and share your style with your followers by creating a virtual storefront.
Since then, Ighodars has co-founded Black Women Talk Tech with Lauren Washington and Regina Gwynn. They recognized the difficulties for black women in the tech industry and wanted to create a place to help them and give them tools to succeed.
These ladies are on a mission to create a safe space for black female founders and help them develop the next billion-dollar business.