No one wants to get pulled over while they’re on the clock, but for commercial drivers, getting a ticket could mean big trouble for their licenses.
TicketRX, a platform that works to keep drivers out of court, just got acquired by Multi Service Technology Solutions (MSTS). TicketRX will now function under the MSTS subsidiary Open Road Drivers Plan — formerly known as ORDP — to make tickets a lot less stressful for drivers and their spouses.
TicketRX founder Bryan Shannon tells Afrotech that his company’s technology will give ORDP a “facelift” so that ORDP powered by TicketRX can function.
“This will ultimately revolutionize the way traffic tickets and compliance-related issues in the CDL industry are handled on a massive scale,” Shannon told AfroTech.
Open Road Drivers Plan used to be a legal service provider before taking over TicketRX, and ticketed drivers could call the company’s customer service line to find local lawyers to handle their cases.
TicketRX provided a similar service; however, users could take a picture of their ticket to get paired with a local attorney. Now the two companies have combined their methodologies. ORDP powered by TicketRX now uses artificial intelligence and other automation tools to match ticketed drivers with lawyers who will get tickets dismissed or reduced to infractions.
TicketRX’s first product was a chatbot that processes drivers’ information and pairs them with attorneys in the region. Lawyers subscribed to the platform would receive notifications about clients who need their services.
ORDP will cover all of the legal fees when drivers get citations or other tickets while on the road. Commercial and owner-operators can utilize the platform to find local attorneys.
ORDP costs $38.95 a month. The membership also covers spouses and provides other family benefits for travel expenses. ORDP offers other perks including bonding services for members and their spouses and drivers’ rewards for safe habits on the road.
Shannon, the founder and CEO of TicketRX now serves as the managing director for ORDP powered by TicketRX.
Maintaining connections can be hard, even in the digital age. Many people, especially immigrants, talk about their struggles to remain connected to their home community and its culture. One founder, Ikechi Nwabuisi, is hoping to make all of that easier through The TRiBL Network.
Tribl describes itself as a “social network for the diaspora.” It’s a mobile app designed to instantly connect immigrants and multicultural people to their origin communities. The app specifically focuses on African, Caribbean, and South American communities.
Comparing itself to “carrying Little Africa in your own pocket” — Tribl uses people’s national identity and cultural affiliations to introduce them to familiar strangers near and abroad. Nwabuisi’s inspiration to launch Tribl came from some of his own personal experiences.
“As a first generation Nigerian American I’ve lived most of my life in-between two worlds,” Nwabuisi said. “Seeing the opportunity and talent that existed on both sides made me wonder how impactful it’d be to build a bridge between those communities.”
Since 1980, the Black immigrant population has increased fivefold, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2016, there were 4.2 million Black immigrants living in the United States. Having access to tech that caters to a growing community’s various needs is incredibly important.
“By focusing on building connections amongst immigrants here we position ourselves to become the WeChat for Africa, Latin America, and everywhere else,” Nwabuisi said.
Tribl is available all around the U.S., but it’s currently most popular in Houston, New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Cities have their own channels, so people can share content to them and find functions in their cities.
The app is still growing, but it already has plans to expand. The company has future plans to move to some of the origin countries of their primary users, Nwabuisi shared.
If you’re interested in getting connected today, Tribl is available in Google Play and iTunes.
When Horace Williams left his executive position at Oracle, he wanted to create something that could have a huge impact on his community. The New York-native began developing his own platform focused on civic engagement in 2013 and Empowrd was born.
Empowrd is based in Atlanta where the startup scene is taking off for Black entrepreneurs. Williams said the city has become communal space for Black founders and many leaders are leaning on each other to foster success.
Empowrd is an app for individuals and organizations to stay informed and to motivate political action. Users can access news, contact elected officials and find ways to get engaged within their communities.
Organizations use the app to conduct surveys on their constituents, build partnerships with influencers and political leaders, and access data analytics.
AfroTech had a chance to chat with Williams about Empowrd and the problem he’s trying to solve using tech.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you come up with the idea for Empwrd?
I’m a big guy — about 6’3′, just around 290 pounds. When I was a kid, I was around Trayvon Martin’s size so his story just kind of resonated with me. The outcome of that entire case and trial led me to want to dig deeper and identify who was accountable for this.
As a result, I just did my own personal study and looked into the decision makers and just saw how the local landscape of political leaders was involved — how many were involved, either directly or indirectly.
I identified two things. One is that we have a lot of local elected officials that represent us that we’re not aware of, whether it’s in regards to their role or just their existence.
The other side of that was how disengaged we are as a community from those local elected officials and how in many cases we don’t engage them for the first time until adversity strikes. The biases never really lean in our direction. It awakened a passion in me. I wanted to create something that, at minimum, provides some transparency into who these people are, what they do, and which ones represent me.
It was enough passion for me to leave Oracle and go ahead and start Empowrd.
What initiatives has Empowrd launched around political races?
There’s already enough investment and time spent in getting people engaged during campaign season.
Our goal, our hope, and our vision is that people start to transition from just thinking that voting is a core part of civic engagement. The next shift has to be what we do with these folks once they are elected to office, how we engage them and positioning people to engage them effectively. Even now during legislative sessions, you’re starting to see people post more on bills and things like that. I think it’s heading in the direction that we want folks to go in. Your vote is your leverage, use it. But, start actually holding folks accountable. We hope that the increased attention across the campaign increases the transparency of what they do when they’re in office.
Are the names of elected officials curated manually or through automation?
Empowrd actually manages our own elected data set of about 15,000 elected leaders. When we first started, we weren’t finding the kind of data that we wanted to, at least not in a way that was easily consumable for people. We have about 10 data points across each elected official including their next election day, their office phone number, their e-mail — all of that.
We built our own data management platform which actually helps automate the process of updating those elected leaders. It also informs us of when we need to make updates on our app.
How can organizations utilize Empowrd?
They can conduct surveys and send content. They mostly use it for mobilization. Because we’ve got elected official data and we have local jurisdictions of all our members, if an organization sends out to 2,000 notifications, people on the receiving end will see their respective elected leaders based on the call to action.
What’s the tech scene like in Atlanta? What made you want to set up shop there, as opposed to say, Silicon Valley?
When I left Oracle, I really got into the black tech ecosystem here in Atlanta.
I think what makes the most difference in Atlanta is just the access and peer support. Black founders are fighting the same fight in the same city. Rather than being overly competitive, it’s more like, “I can help you if you can help me.”
Empowrd is available for download on iOS and Android.
Remodelmate, the platform streamlining home renovations, is now partnering with SoFi to help people finance their updates.
SoFi is an app that helps people spend, borrow, and save money through its platform. Its interest rates range from 5.99 percent to 16.24 percent. The app’s latest partnership with Remodelmate will offer loans up to $100,000, with low fixed or variable interest rates.
According to Homeadvisor, the national average of home renovations is $43,206 for 2019. Now, Remodelmate users can apply online for a loan and expect a quick approval process.
Remodelmate lets users hire contractors, track renovation progress, and pay for services completely through the platform. The company said its partnership with SoFi helps it to expand these offerings, making it an all-inclusive app to facilitate major changes in a home.
Over the past year, Remodelmate has gained a lot of traction. The company partnered with Havenly to offer templated kitchen redesign and won AfroTech’s pitch competition back in November.
The Washington, D.C.- based company also offers a concierge service, where someone is hired to oversee all of the progress of renovation projects for a 10 percent fee of the total labor.
The company said it wanted to expand to Denver in 2019. AfroTech has reached out for comment on those updates.
SoFi’s financing will now give homeowners more leeway in building their own dream home.
“This partnership with SoFi brings us one step closer to becoming a one-stop home remodeling marketplace,” said Remodelmate’s co-founder Jon Amar in a press release. “No need to work with a bank, and no need for a HELOC, second mortgage, or other burdensome, complicated and outdated renovation financing options.”
Commuting is getting harder and slower as populations increase. Urbanization is having a huge impact on transportation systems globally. Now, Remix — a San Francisco-based startup — is helping cities plan ways to better their infrastructure and cut down on commuters’ strain.
Daniel Getelman and his three co-founders Tiffany Chu, Danny Whalen, and Sam Hashemi started Remix in 2014 during their time with Code For America. The four branched out after the program to expand Remix into what it is today.
The company’s latest funding round will help Remix assist in providing cities with tools to plan and manage the impact of newer transportation options like ride-sharing, e-scooters, dockless bikes, and autonomous vehicles.
“Transportation has changed more in the last 5 years than the previous 50–” Remix CEO Sam Hashemi said in a blog post. “No one knows for sure what’s coming next, but cities have to be ready regardless. The rapid pace of innovation in transportation is altering not just people’s movement patterns, but cities themselves.”
Remix offers tools for transit agencies and cities looking to revamp their transportation systems. The products are currently being used in more than 300 cities across the globe, including New York City, Dallas, and Sydney, Australia.
Using Remix, cities can design and plan roadwork, transit expansions and other changes that could impact commuters.
Energy Impact Partners, an energy technology firm, led the Series B round along with Sequoia Capital who also participated in the round. Sequoia Capital led the startup’s Series A round as well.
According to a blog post by Energy Impact Partners, as urbanization increases, so are travel times for city residents.
“Among their many strong qualities, the Remix team has impressed us with their deeply customer-centric mindset,” Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President of Research & Strategy at Energy Impact Partners, said in blog post. “Their software is easy to use and purpose-built for what cities need — which is good, because what cities need is becoming more complex.”
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Gofundme, and Indiegogo are important tools for entrepreneurs. When you’re looking to launch a new business or project, it can be an excellent way to help offset costs and raise capital.
The great thing about crowdfunding is that it’s accessible to anyone, but a new study has revealed how racial bias impacts the support Black people receive on crowdfunding platforms.
Black entrepreneurs are less likely to meet their fundraising goals and, if they do make a product, people won’t pay as much for it, according to a series of studies from Northeastern University.
The authors of the study — Venkat Kuppuswamy, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University, and Peter Younkin, from the University of Oregon — have dedicated a lot of time to understanding the role racial bias plays in crowdfunding.
“I began researching crowdfunding platforms in 2011, when they were just beginning to gain popularity,” Kuppuswamy told Afrotech. “Since they were relatively new, I conducted a lot of qualitative interviews with actual/prospective crowdfunding entrepreneurs and heard on more than one occasion that minority-led projects may face additional hurdles.”
This inspired Kuppuswamy and Younkin to do some of their own research. In their original 2017 study, they found that “African American men are significantly less likely than similar white founders to reach their fundraising goals” and people “rate identical projects as lower in quality” when they see the founder is Black.
This made Kuppuswamy and Younkin wonder how that bias impacts another important aspect of business: product pricing. In their latest study, published this year , they looked into it by creating three different founder pages for the same product.
For the product, they picked a wooden tray with a charging jack attached that’s designed to also hold your cellphones and keys. It’s an actual product that can be found on Kickstarter.
One page included a picture of a white man as the company founder, while the other had a picture of a Black man. On those pages, the researchers included identical text from the founders.
However, they also created a third page. It was pretty much the same as the Black entrepreneur’s page but, on this one, they switched up the text a little. According to Northeastern University, the text now included: “I wanted to provide finely crafted African-American made products…” and described the founder as a “Black industrial designer and former high-end furniture designer.”
The researchers wanted to see what would happen when a founder put explicit emphasis on their own race.
Then, the researchers recruited 326 U.S. based participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk. They split participants into three experimental groups to decide how much they’d be willing to pay for a product. When the product was thought to be made by a white entrepreneur, the first group recommended $29.11 as the price. The second group, who thought the entrepreneur was Black, suggested $22.99.
The third group suggested $25.21 when looking at the founder who emphasized they were Black. A smaller gap yes, but it’s clear that when a product was thought to be made by a Black person, people were willing to pay less. That original six dollar difference may not seem like a lot, but it’s a 21% drop and it has consequences.
As Kuppuswamy summarized, crowdfunding is becoming a ‘proof-of-concept’ platform, “where success can lead to subsequent venturing financing from more traditional sources”, like banks. Black people who are hit by this price penalty may miss out on those additional benefits of crowdfunding.
The researchers found that, if a product page includes material costs and the labor involved, then people were less likely to suggest different prices.
“We find that much of the pricing bias is because the crowd assumes Black entrepreneurs to have a lower cost of production,” Kuppuswamy said. “Highlighting the cost of materials, the timeline of the project, and the various tasks involved once funds are awarded would certainly help mitigate this penalty.”
Platforms themselves can help combat this bias by encouraging people to include as much detail as possible about their products, like the specific use of funds.
Crowdfunding is used for more than potential businesses, though. People use sites like Gofundme to raise money for medical expenses and personal emergencies.
Although Kuppuswamy and Younkin haven’t conducted their own research into that area, their studies suggest that racial bias might impact those fundraisers, too.
Teri Johnson spent years running a travel blog on Instagram before setting off to launch her own luxury candle company. After graduating from Florida A&M University with an MBA, the Houston native set her sights on New York City.
Johnson released her first candle in 2014 and now has nearly a dozen scents that pay homage to figures and significant locations of the Harlem Renaissance. Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, and Duke Ellington each have candles dedicated to them. Her most recent release pays tribute to James Baldwin’s novel “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
One of Johnson’s missions is to connect her products with the community. The Langston Hughes candle was even launched in the home of the late poet.
AfroTech caught up with Johnson to talk about how she brought her creation and vision to life:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get into the candle industry?
I really love beautiful fragrances. I’ve been a consumer of luxury candles for a really long time and if I if I wasn’t making them I would still be buying them. I happened to just meet an incredible perfumer who has made fragrance oils for other candle companies. So I met him and we just talked a lot about different fragrances. Probably a year after I met him, I asked him if he had some candle fragrances that I could use because I wanted to make candles for Christmas gifts.
He gave me some different fragrance oils and I made some candles. I made about 50 of them for friends and family and gifted them and everyone went crazy for them. They absolutely loved them. My friends and family really encouraged me to start a candle line because everyone who knows me knows how much I love fragrances. I have since I was a child. I used to experiment with making my own perfumes when I was a kid.
I have a pretty good sense of smell where I can smell something one or two times and never forget it. I’ve helped my friends choose the best perfume and cologne for their body chemistry. I love doing it. So it was just kind of a natural thing.
You made perfumes as a kid?
Oh, everything that I felt smelled good, I would just mix it together. My bathroom was like my laboratory, so it would be a combination of things from my mom that I kept. She was basically like ‘Alright, you can have that, you can play with that and with that.’
So the combination of mixing different old perfumes that my mom didn’t want anymore or even things from the kitchen like different spices. I just love creating beautiful things.
Have you ever taken candle-making classes or is this something you taught yourself how to do?
The perfumer I was working with, he knows how to make candles so he told me the basics but I also I looked at YouTube, read a lot online. You know it’s such a process, so there’s a lot of trial and error language.
You’ve done a really good job of getting your name out there with your marketing strategy. The Langston Hughes launch is a good example of that. How did that come about? How did you even come up with the idea to host it at his house?
Well I have a friend who knew the woman who lives in the house. He made the introduction and I was like ‘Oh this is perfect’ because I’m releasing this new candle and I would love to do a launch party and there’s no place better to do it but at the house of Langston Hughes. It was kind of serendipitous.
How long did it take to kind of make that launch happen?
It took maybe about eight or nine months to develop. That’s just going back and forth with the perfumer about the fragrance, doing research to kind of understand what fragrance notes I saw that reflected those strong symbols and in Langston Hughes life. And also those fragrances that I felt like Langston would really love. I wanted to create a candle that was his candle.
If he was still alive what candle in the collection would he like? So there’s notes of tobacco and It has really nice incense notes. I wanted a sort of a fragrance note that kind of captures the after-hours experience. So that could be a mix of just coming from a jazz club. A little smokiness and it’s a little incense, elements of leather and then vanilla.
Check out Harlem Candle Company’s full selection here.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduates Shawna Davis and Tiffany Mickel have put a twist on traditional playing cards by printing pictures of history-making black women on their faces. Say goodbye to your typical two through 10, jack, queen, king and ace. Instead, players can find the faces of Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Madam C. J. Walker, Nina Simone and more.
“Cards are a staple in Black households, but we don’t have our own kings and queens on our decks,” Davis said of the duo’s inspiration. “We wanted to create a movement that empowers the African American community of the greatness, [through learning] our past culture and history, and helping players realize the endless possibilities and potential of just being born into the Black culture.”
Each woman on the Heiritage playing cards has a story that coincides with their card’s corresponding number. Bessie Coleman, for example, is displayed on the eighth card, which pays homage to the eight-meter biplane she learned to fly in.
The founders’ creative style was bred from their degrees in material science, which focuses on the creation of new materials or improving upon existing ones.
“While we preserve the four original French suits, including clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades, we reengineered 12 cards within those suits to have fitting Black American legends as a reflection of our interests and legacy,” the founders said. “With Heiritage, each card has a unique identity.”
The cards already released are considered “first edition,” but future decks will include more contemporary figures like Serena Williams, Beyoncé and Issa Rae. Both Davis and Mickel are self-proclaimed “die-hard Insecure fans,” and their excitement built when they saw star Yvonne Orji playing with their deck in an Instagram story.
“Having women like Yvonne engage with these cards with their tribe of friends, lovers and family members ties directly into our whole vision for the cards: To further tradition of faithfully honoring one’s inherited legacy and courageously realizing one’s infinite destiny,” Mickel said.
Heiritage cards are available for $23.99, and, according to Davis and Mickel, a men’s deck is in the works and will be launching this Spring!
Across creative industries, low representation of Black people is often met with the same excuse, “I don’t know any!”
Now, Black designers are working together to make sure they don’t have to hear those words ever again with the creation of Blacks Who Design, an online directory of Black designers.
The project was founded by designer Wes O’Haire, who has worked for companies like Hudl and Dropbox. O’Haire was inspired after starting a Slack group for Black designers and finding a lot of people wanted a site like this to exist.
Back in 2014, designer Maurice Cherry posed the question: Where Are the Black Designers? In a post for the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Cherry wrote, “Design-driven companies in Silicon Valley like Twitter report only single-digit percentages of American employees of color.”
The AIGA conducted a survey of the industry in 2017 and found things hadn’t changed a lot. According to their survey, only 3.4% of the industry is Black.
So, for O’Haire, it was important to build a platform highlighting Black designers specifically because there tends to be low representation of them in companies.
“What I keep hearing is ‘I don’t know any Black designers!'” O’Haire said. “This site solves that exact problem.”
The goal of Blacks Who Design is to inspire new designers, diversify feeds, and help people find individuals to join their teams. The site itself is also easy to use. On its homepage, users are immediately greeted by a Twitter directory of Black people working in the design industry.
For the purpose of the project, “design industry” is a pretty vast term. On the site, people can filter by categories like: product designers, freelances, UX designers, writers, and more. O’Haire boils it down as, “Really, it’s about people who are creative problem solvers.”
Wes O’Haire, Founder of Blacks Who Design
When asked what inspired the project, O’Haire identified the work of Jules Forrest’s Women Who Design and Pablo Stanley’s Latinxs Who Design. Both sites are also shouted out directly on Blacks Who Design.
“They both had similar problems that we were trying to solve, so I sought them out for guidance and inspiration,” O’Haire said. “It’s been really amazing to have their support and bounce ideas off of them.”
So far, the project’s been a success. In just a few weeks, people have already started getting invites to speak at conferences and more recruiters are hitting them up, all thanks to the site.
To O’Haire, the project extends past only helping those already in the industry. For him, Blacks Who Design is also a way to inspire more Black people to do design work.
“If people see the site and see thriving designers that look like them, that could be enough inspiration for them to sign up for a class or apply for a job” O’Haire said.
Although Blacks Who Design is still pretty new, its team has already identified how they want the project to expand. In the future, they’ll focus on three key areas: jobs, community, and skill development.
“Since creating better representation is one of our goals, our first project that we’ll likely work on is connecting our community with companies that are looking to hire,” O’Haire said.
If you’re a Black designer interested in getting on the site, or know someone who should be, the process isn’t complicated. All you have to do is fill out a nomination form.
It’s no secret Atlanta’s hair scene has been booming for decades. Now Debra Shigley, the founder of Colour, is taking a dive into the industry with her app. Colour is a “beauty concierge” service that allows users to schedule hair and makeup appointments through its platform.
According to a 2018 report by Mordor Intelligence, the haircare and beauty industry hit $95.45 billion last year, and is expected to reach $116 billion by 2024.
Shigley calls her app the “Uber for hair” because the app pairs users with hairstylists. Users choose from a list of services they want including specific hairstyles, color treatments, and children services. Clients are then matched with a stylist who is in the area and available to complete the work.
Colour is geared towards women of color; however, stylists are trained to work on all hair textures and curl patterns. Clients pay their stylists through the app once their services are completed.
“Black women have this inability to move about the world without thinking about what we’re going to do with our hair,” Shigley said.
Although clients cannot choose specific stylists, they can request names in the notes of their appointment. Colour recently created a feature that allows users to add additional services through the app.
Shigley started her career as a journalist and lawyer before diving into the world of business. She first got her idea of Colour after moving to Mexico with her family.
After returning back to the United States and finishing beauty school, Shigley began her journey to make the app a reality.
She said that creating Colour reminded her of her days in law school and that “it wasn’t what she thought it was going to be.”
“My first day of law school I left crying,” Shigley said. “I thought it was going to be like a hobby where I could do my day job and go to school at night.”
However, the reality of law school prepared her for what was to come.
“It’s kind of like jumping off a cliff into four years of crazy work and your whole life becomes consumed by it,” Shigley said. “It’s very similar to starting a startup.”
Now, Shigley juggles being an author, a mother and a businesswoman making her mark on both Atlanta’s beauty and tech industry. She said making the leap into entrepreneurship took pep talks from friends and the courage to “just do it.”
“Stop with all the business plans,” Shigley said. “You just need to start.”