Amidst all the chaos in 2020, these Black-owned tech platforms kept pushing through with a common goal: creating space for Black communities online.
Since COVID-19 set in last year, social media users have found themselves perusing through different apps or sites to find new connections. The new normal is ZOOM check-ins and Google Hangouts rather than lunch meetings and coffee dates. Despite these woes, there’s a silver lining. Black creatives capitalized on the months people have spent cooped up in our homes and apartments quarantining.
Rather than letting time pass by, quite a few disruptors have been putting in work, launching and developing essential platforms amid the ongoing pandemic. Their creations tap into specific communities spanning fashion, design, beauty, music, and sneaker culture. Since tech is often seen as a white, male industry, it was important for us to give each of these innovators the space to share what makes their platforms worthwhile in their own words. Each of the selected leaders are breathing life into tech by utilizing their own unique skill sets and backgrounds to drive their sector forward.
This list of six Black-owned technology platforms showcases the strength, grit, and energy that exists within Black culture. It’s admirable that even amidst all the chaos — including racist Internet trolls, a racial awakening, the shenanigans of the former president, and a crippling pandemic — these creators kept pushing through with a common goal: creating space for Black communities online.
Here is a list of six Black-owned tech platforms building digital communities.
Company Type: Music Marketplace
Founders: Ameer Brown, Anthony Brown, Rotimi Omosheyin, & Daniel Ware
Location: San Francisco
TikTok has swooped in and staked its claim within the entertainment industry as the go-to destination for discovering new artists, influencers, and talent. If you delve deeper you’ll realize the app’s simple interface is an ideal medium for dreaming up innovative content. Breakr, a new tech start-up from four Florida A&M University alumni aims to disrupt spaces like TikTok. Coined a tech-enabled music marketplace, the platform is keen on “breaking” new music while providing seamless payment for influencers.
On Breakr, which is currently in early access mode, music influencers are able to create a profile and promote digital campaigns that will be available on numerous social media apps. Similarly, artists have the ability to create their own profile and submit directly to micro to mid-tier influencers for review. Artists on the platform will also be able to connect with DJs and A&Rs.
“DJ and influencers have always controlled music culture,” Ameer Brown, Breakr co-founder, President, and CTO, said. “It’s time to capture their influence on one platform and give them a Shopify type equivalent to promote and manage their music promotion efforts in a seamless manner.” Brown’s background consists of numerous marketing and development roles. He also ran his own company for nearly a decade, at the moment he’s a software engineer at Adobe.
Brown and the founding team which also includes Daniel Ware, Chief Marketing Officer, Rotimi Omosheyin, Head of Marketplace Liquidity and Business Development and his brother Anthony Brown, CEO pride themselves on always being on the cusp of cultural trends. In the past, Anthony was a portfolio manager at Acumen Fund and previously worked at J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. Omosheyin is currently a regional sales manager at Tyson Foods, he brings countless years of sales experience and his MBA to Breakr.
“Everyone wants to monetize their social real estate. We’re basically cutting out the middleman,” Ware said. “It provides [someone] who wouldn’t have gotten attention from brands a fair shot. All in all [Breakr] is rooted in fulfilling the needs of micro to mid-tier influencers.”
Company Type: Virtual Marketplace
Founders: Antoine Gregory
Location: New York
Fashion is notoriously known for its lack of equal opportunities for Black designers in comparison to their white counterparts. Antoine Gregory, a Fashion Institute of Technology alum, is dismantling that notion. Last September he launched Black Fashion Fair which consisted of an e-commerce site and a live database from the industry’s underlooked Black talent. “The mission of Black Fashion Fair is to discover, support, and further the [trajectories] of designers and the communities they inspire,” Gregory said. “Creating Black Fashion Fair was me trying to offer an alternative to traditional retail concepts and methods because Black designers are left out of those spaces.”
Gregory is a voice in fashion that insiders and designers trust. His Twitter account, @bibbygregory, is a popular destination mainly because he touches on diversity and often shares the latest shoots featuring Black designers. His passion derives from working in multiple capacities within the industry spanning corporate and his own freelance work for brands like Pyer Moss. His path led him to tap into his power which is championing fashion houses who may not be household names: No Sesso, Phlemuns, Tia Adeola, and more. To top it off, in November he launched scholarships for Black students interested in design.
Company Type: Sneaker Trading Platform
Founders: Ariana Davis, Jonathan Low & Terrence Whaley
Year Founded: 2019
Location: Los Angeles
Terrence Whaley first got into sneakers when he was nine years old. This affinity led him to work for Sneaker Summit, a convention that happens every year in his hometown in Houston. Combining his respect for the footwear community with his background in software engineering ultimately sparked an ambitious idea. Whaley settled upon creating a sneaker trading platform alongside co-founders Jonathan Low and Ariana Davis. And from there, Sole360 was born. Sole360 is a site that gathers and optimizes inventory from its own community. Users are able to trade sneakers based on the value of what they are looking to let go of. “Where we feel like we can fit in is that marginal transaction where people don’t really want to pay the resale value,” Whaley said.
Impressively, Sole360 serves as an option outside of resale sites like StockX which at times features high pricing. While Whaley is Sole360’s CEO and co-founder, the site wouldn’t be what it is without Davis who currently leads UX/UI. “The difference [as to] why we’re not another GOAT or StockX is that, with us, you can’t really just say, ‘Oh, I just want to bid $1000 on these Off-White [sneakers],'” Davis said. “You have to have another pair of sneakers and cash as a value.” In addition to the ability to add cash, Davis shares there’s a built-in algorithm that gives all customers an idea of what an equal trade looks like. “At the end of the transaction, there is some type of sneaker that’s being traded, which I think really differs us from the competition,” she said.
In addition to his role as co-founder of Sole360, Whaley is currently a Software Developer at Northrop Gunram while Davis is the Lead Product Design UI Engineer on the Consumer Products & Technology team at The Golden State Warriors.
Company Type: Community Based Collective
Founder: Kamille Glenn
Year Founded: 2019
Kamille Glenn traces her roots back to Brooklyn Technical High School, where she first fell in love with technical design. Her aspirations led her to the Fashion Institute of Technology where she earned a BFA in Interior Design. During her time at FIT, Glenn was one of two Black students in her program. While there she pondered if she could create a community for designers of color in different disciplines. Upon graduation, she landed a job at the architecture and design firm Rockwell Group. As an associate interior designer at Rockwell, she worked on projects in New York City, Las Vegas, Portugal, and Canada.
Six years into her role, Glenn launched dsgnrswrkshp, a collective that focuses on fostering community for designers of color. “[dsgnrswrkshp] all about the advancement of our community and also the amplification of our community within design,” Glenn said. To upend change Glenn is actively creating space for people of color that make up architecture, fashion design, textiles, packaging, and other silos within design. In 2021, she’s planning a number of interactive events and talks.
Company Type: Virtual Mentorship Program
Founder: Candace Marie Stewart
Location: New York
Minority creatives in corporate America deal with a bevy of issues that can push them to battle with imposter syndrome. Arkansas native Candace Marie Stewart, a social media wiz, has personally witnessed the crippling effects of being the only person of color in mostly white work environments. Using her decade-long career in fashion as leverage, Stewart decided to create what she believes should have existed when she was starting out: Black In Corporate. The platform was launched to cultivate connections and give participants tangible resources that she hopes will help them grow and flourish.
In November, Stewart launched a virtual mentorship program to create organic relationships for an inaugural class of mentees. Mentors are required to schedule at least two meetings a month, but some go beyond that limit, which Stewart believes is a great sign for the direction the platform is headed. “We are 400 years plus behind in wealth, but we’re that much farther behind in these connections and knowing people and having to get our foot through the door. A lot of times we go through things in silence and [don’t have] someone that we can talk to about it,” Stewart said. “I know that these connections with these prominent Black professionals will make a world of a difference [for those] that are fresh into their career.”
Company Type: Retailer
Founder: Angel Lenise, Phyllicia Phillips & Montré Moore.
Location: Los Angeles
Beauty shopping experiences for Black women and women of color typically aren’t pleasant. It doesn’t matter if you’re in big city hubs like New York City or Los Angeles, sometimes stores simply don’t have simple necessities like edge control or bonnets. “When we shop in person, it’s that single ethnic beauty aisle, or when we shop online, we have to have this retailer browser open in this tab, or another one in [another] tab.” Angel Lenise, the current supervising video producer for ELLE magazine and co-founder of AMP Beauty LA, said. She knows all too well the woes of shopping in beauty supply stores or convenience stores that aren’t equipped with what she needs. “AMP Beauty LA [is] a solution for our consumers, it’s a tech online retailer.” Lenise said.“We carry a curated edit of skincare, haircare, beauty, and body products made with Black women and beauty consumers of color in mind.”
The ultimate goal of the site is to be a “digital one-stop-shop” for shoppers who are often not considered despite their billion-dollar spending power. Lenise co-founded the retailer with two of her Clark Atlanta University sorority sisters, Phyllicia Phillips and Montré Moore. Phillips who is also COO uses her background which spans the legal and tech industries to contribute to the retail side of the brand.
“I tell people a lot of times we’re a solution and we’re building something for consumers, but we’re also investing in the brands that we carry as well,” Lenise says. “We want to support Black wealth, Black ownership, Black entrepreneurs, and really circulate that dollar longer within our community.”