These Black startups are groundbreaking on their own — and they have the added benefit of being founded by HBCU graduates.
Despite the lack of diversity within the tech industry, Black pioneers continue to set the industry on fire. Innovative approaches and insightful strategies provided by Black leaders in tech widen representation and opportunity for technological advancements.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have showcased great rapport for graduating Black students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). They play a great part in the success of Black leaders by providing support systems, opportunities, and resources for them to thrive.
And recent studies reveal that HBCUs are incubators for thriving Black talent. A study conducted by Bloomberg (via TurningPoints) reveals that Howard University produces the lion’s share of Black founders — which is why schools like Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman are receiving $1.5 million in grants to produce the next generation of startup leaders. Not to be outdone, a Thurgood Marshall College Fund is partnering with companies like NBA, Gucci, and Ally Financial to provide opportunities for aspiring Black entrepreneurs.
These signs all bode well for Black startups in the future — but these Black startups, founded by HBCU graduates, are defying the odds in tech today. Let’s take a look.
Shawn Wilkinson (Morehouse College) - Founder of Storj
Shawn Wilkinson is the founder of Storj.
After befriending a group of students from a private school in Atlanta, GA, Shawn Wilkinson learned how to code, which opened the door for him to receive clientele, The Atlanta Tech Village previously reported.
His development work continued through secondary education when he received a full scholarship to Morehouse College. Here is where he was introduced to the bitcoin world and conceptualized his startup company Storj, which creates a decentralized storage space similar to bitcoin, AfroTech once told you.
Jade Lockard (Spelman College) - Founder of inHous
Jade Lockard is the founder of InHous.
The Spelman alum founded a fintech startup that was featured in Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X incubator.
Now, she serves as a program manager for The HBCU Founders Initiative at Nex Cubed which was created to kick start amateur startups by providing resources, knowledge, and tools to catapult the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Nex Cubed’s latest initiative is to diversify the tech industry by planting The HBCU Founders Initiative across the states. Lockard recognized the disparities in tech and wanted to ensure Black students were not left behind.
The program currently has 350 students and offers virtual discussions and webinars to provide financial literacy and resources for students to develop their businesses across over 50 HBCU’s.
Desmond Wiggan and Aubrey Yeboah (Winston-Salem State University) - Founders of BatteryXchange
Entrepreneurs and fraternity brothers Desmond Wiggan and Aubrey Yeboah are the founders of BatteryXchange.
The portable battery rental company created in 2019, initially, serviced bars and restaurants. However, the pair knew their products would be essential at universities.
In 2020, the startup launched the Hercules kiosk, which features a 23-inch digital display to facilitate marketing and consumer engagement along with 24 portable batteries. The startup’s latest product Apollo is a larger model featuring a 43-inch digital display accompanied by 48 portable batteries. In August, the entrepreneurs struck a deal with their alma mater Winston-Salem State University, as previously revealed by The Business Journal.
Jewel Burks Solomon (Howard University) - Founder of Partpic
Jewel Burks Solomon is the founder of Partpic. Way before becoming the head of Google for Startups, Howard University graduate Jewel Burks Solomon worked at McMaster-Carr, an industrial parts distributor. She soon discovered discrepancies within their technologies, Forbes previously reported. Her time working at the distributor led to the creation of Partpic founded by Jason Crain, who previously worked at Google and Shazam. The tech company allows users to search for replacement maintenance, repair and operations by taking a picture of a part with a smart device. The software matches corresponding images with parts and relevant recommendations.
In 2016, the startup was acquired by Amazon and Burks became a product lead at the company under their Visual Search and Augmented Reality team to facilitate the incorporation of Partpic’s technology, CNBC previously revealed.
As a co-founder of Collab Capital, Burks is also on a mission to support and help fund more Black founders to propel the future of tech. As AfroTech previously revealed Solomon’s accolades also include the head of Google for Startups where her focus is to spur development for veteran, Black, and LatinX entrepreneurs.
Rodney Williams (Howard University) - Founder of LISNR
Rodney Williams is the founder of LISNR and has established himself as a world-class innovator currently heading one of the top companies in the Internet of Things (loT).
The Howard grad became inspired to launch the startup after spending four years at Procter & Gamble Co as AfroTech previously reported.
As Forbes previously reported, Williams’ newfound success encouraged him to seek more opportunities and develop new ways to create more effective marketing strategies. He reached an epiphany moment at lunch when he realized sound would be the key to the future of marketing to consumers. Williams’ confidence propelled him to reach out to his only connection in the start-up company at the time which led him to partake in a three-day start-up competition for South by Southwest.
The company was received well by investors and LISNR was crafted in 2012. The company is an ultrasonic protocol providing a new industry standard to connect any device with a speaker or microphone. LISNR also offers contactless methods for mobile authentication and mobile payments to create a more desirable experience for customers.
Jamarlin Martin (Morehouse College) - Founder of Nubai Ventures
Jamarlin Martin is the founder of and CEO of Nubai Ventures. As a leader in the digital sphere, the Morehouse alum created a platform to invest and create content catered to tech, entrepreneurs and thought leaders which can be found on The Moguldom Nation.
The platform became a media powerhouse and Martin sold three brands to Urban One NASDAQ: UONEK in 2017. Furthermore, without equity capital the pioneer scaled a $6 million investment to $20 million, as per company website. The Moguldom nation continues to promote journalism targeted toward Black Americans free from the bias of political parties and corporate America.
Janice Bryant Howroyd (North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University) - Founder of Act One
Janice Bryant Howroyd is the founder and CEO of Act One, a staffing agency that also provides workforce solutions such as background checks and screenings.
She began her business with a $900 loan granted by her mother and turned it into a one-billion-dollar revenue, The Los Angeles Times previously reported. Howroyd became the first African American woman to create a company that generates one billion annually as AfroTech once told you.
Howyard’s success has compelled her to continue to give back to others. She currently serves at her former school at North Carolina A&T State University as a board of trustee where she can provide financial resources and opportunities to students. In 2016, former President Barack Obama appointed Howyard to an advisory team for HBCUs.
Earl G. Graves Sr. (Morgan State University) - Founder of Black Enterprise magazine.
Earl G. Graves Sr. is the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine.
He attended Morgan State University with only $50 dollars to his name earning a degree in economics. As AfroTech previously reported, after landing several unrelated jobs, he applied for a $250,000 loan to launch a publication catering to Black businesses, thought leaders, and professionals.
The publication has received the FOLIO award: a prestigious award for editorial brilliance. In 2006, Graves retired as the chief executive for the publication but remained a chairman until his death last year. Graves will forever be remembered as an authoritative leader in business.
Diishan Imira (Hampton University) - Founder of Mayvenn
Diishan Imira is the co-founder of Mayvenn created in 2013.
The Hampton alum went to Silicon Valley to pitch Mayvenn, a hair brand focused on Black women to investors, CNN previously reported. Despite his initial uneasiness, the company has since racked up 36 million in fundings from Trinity Ventures and Andreeseen and individual heavy hitters such as Serena Williams and Jimmy Lovine, as of 2019.
The company, co-founded with business partner Taylor Wong, was crafted to allow salons and hairstylists to become the point of sale for customers to purchase hair extensions, weaves, and wigs, made from human hair. Mayvenn has accumulated over 50,000 stylists receiving up to 25 percent in commission for each hair bundle sold AfroTech once told you. The company has generated over 80 million dollars.
Damon Lawrence (Howard University) - Founder of Homage Hospitality Group
Damon Lawrence is the co-founder of Homage Hospitality Group created in 2016.
He attended Howard University where he learned the foundations to succeed in hospitality and business. Lawrence’s time at Howard inspired him to launch his business due to the diversity and entrepreneurial spirit the university promoted, per Howard University’s website.
Alongside co-founder Marcus Carey, the pair opened the first Homage Hausotel in New Orleans. The hotel’s infrastructure showcases important moments that shape Black culture while honoring the heritage of New Orleans. The boutique home has event programming capabilities to encourage visitors to become more familiar with the community.