Let’s Talk Tech: BlackStartup.com
Elgin Tucker, an environmental activist, Chris Hollins, a business consultant, and Nathan Fleming, a newly-elected U.S. Representative for the District of Columbia, come from varying backgrounds and have divergent goals personally, but as a team, they are all in the business of making dream’s come true. After meeting at Yale, the guys became disheartened when they learned more about the state of black business in this country.
They were aware of census figures, which confirm that Black-owned businesses increased by 70 percent from 2002 to 2007–a figure that is three times the national rate. But they also knew that black businesses were more likely to fail due to lack of access to capital.
So they joined forces and in May 2013 launched BlackStartup.com with the hope that they could do something to help. They believe that if more people know about evolving companies and aspiring entrepreneurs in their neighborhoods, then more people will donate or invest in these institutions. They’re hoping that crowdfunding—a digital service used to engage networks of people to financially support a specific endeavor—will be a salve to heal economically depressed neighborhoods that are predominantly minority and low income.
Although their tech company, BlackStartup.com is the platform they’re using to make the magic happen, they all realize that mobilizing communities is where the real innovation occurs. “We like to say: We are a community with a platform and that is what makes all the difference,” says Tucker, the team’s Chief Operating Officer. Based on their individual merit and their common goals as entrepreneurs, JET Magazine chose to include the trio on our first annual 2013 40 Under 40 list. JET spoke at length with team members Tucker and Fleming, the CEO, about how BlackStartup.com will work and what their individual goals are for the future.
JET: Why was this endeavor necessary?
Elgin: Access to capital is difficult. It particularly plagues the African American community for a host of reasons. African Americans start businesses at a higher rate than any other demographic. We thought Crowdfunding would be a great option to get their projects in front of a host of people
Nate: We as a group we want to use our education and skill-sets to address systemic problems in our community. Technology has the power to solve and disrupt problems that have been around for years. BlackStartup.com is a value proposition to form economic alliances.
JET: Which campaigns have been your most compelling and successful to date?
Nate: MIT alumnus Robert Jones raised $3,000 to fund a STEM program in Mount Vernon, NY. He wanted to increase the pipeline of black students to engineering schools.
Elgin: Another interesting project: Make Music Count. Developed by a music teacher in Atlanta raised $980 even though they were only looking for $500. The program teaches mathematics but pairs it with music.
JET: How does BlackStartup.com Work?
Nate: It is a pledge to give later. BlackStartup is an all or nothing deal. So unless you reach your goal none of the pledges are processed. Our platform is also different from other crowdfunding platforms because we offer support in helping you to craft and edit your campaign.
JET: What makes a successful crowdfunding campaign?
Elgin: There are a host of things. It needs to be something that speaks to the community, and interacts directly with a variety of relationships on the ground and a variety of people in need. Being able to see pictures and video are extremely important to convey your message. Crafting a compelling campaign and being able to show you have a strong team to implement your plan is also important.
Nate: Social Impact projects have the highest degree of success. Those have a wider reach in the African American community and incentivize giving. Individually, you’ve each got a lot going on.
JET: Tell me what goals do you want to achieve before 40?
Nate: By 40 I hope that I could have made some level of substantial impact in D.C., my hometown, and nationally. It is the job of our generation to carry on the unfinished legacy of the civil rights movement and give it new meaning. I want to strengthen, maintain, redesign and renew the institutions of the 20th century that advance the cause of African Americans.
Elgin: Our goals are similarly aligned. I view the Civil Rights Movement to have evolved. One of the fights that have never been championed is our right to a healthy environment, to drink clean water and to breathe clean air. I’m incredibly interested in environmental justice with particular regard to underprivileged, minority communities. My goal is to bridge that knowledge gap and expose members of the community to the resources they need build a more sustainable environment. I started a small nonprofit called Creyahtion that informs people about sustainability and the green jobs movement so they can be a part of the larger picture. Finding my place and voice in the environmental justice movement is where I’d like to find myself.
To see the entire #JET40Under40 list pick up a copy of JET Magazine on newsstands until September 23, 2013.