Recap: The Whitney M. Young Conference's New Venture Competition
This year, myself, along with my two Co-Vice Presidents: Issa Saunders and Lauren Davis, planned the Wharton School’s African American MBA Association’s (AAMBAA) New Venture Competition (NVC) as part of the organization’s 47th Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference. The NVC was launched to showcase the next generation of Black innovators, inviting early-stage startups from around the world with at least one Black founder to apply for a chance to win in-kind and monetary prizes from a pool of $175,000. We received over 160 applications, representing a diverse slate of businesses in geography, industry, and company stages.
Keep reading to learn more about the 10 startups that participated in the Finalist Round of the competition on Friday, February 19, 2021 at the conference.
Winner of the Crowd Favorite Award: Hairtelligence
Founded by Wharton MBA Candidate Isoken Igbinedion, Hairtelligence is a computer vision-powered solution for customizing hair products for Black women. Today, many pain points exist within the customized wig and hair extension space. These include: poor cap sizing and extension fit, minimal texture variety that may not meet customer needs, easily-damaged products, if customers try to customize the products themselves, and exorbitant prices for the high-quality, customized products currently available. Hairtelligence solves for these issues by offering a faster more affordable solution that enables customers to customize hair products online by simply uploading a photo. The platform then generates a 3D model of the product, allowing the customer to visualize the results in real-time.
Winner of the 1st Place Prize: OjaExpress
OjaExpress is a digital marketplace that unlocks economic opportunity for cultural grocery stores, by providing them with a forum to sell products online, increasing access to immigrants, foodies, and those seeking to build cultural bridges. OjaExpress aggregates thousands of ethnic grocery stores onto one online platform, and conducts grocery deliveries on behalf of these stores. This relieves small-store owners from the burden of creating their own e-commerce site and organizing delivery operations, and provides more visibility to potential customers. The company is currently launched and running in Chicago.
Winner of the 2nd Place Prize: Dollaride
Dollaride is a mobility company for communities underserved by public transit. The company has a simple model, offering van carpooling along any route for only $2 a ride. The idea developed after discovering the substantial “shadow market” that existed for dollar vans and shuttle rides in New York City. These existing vans and shuttles serve to fill a transit gap in the market, by transporting customers to otherwise underserved areas of the city. Dollaride’s digital platform improves on these shadow market transit opportunities by including a map of the nearest vans and an estimated time of arrival in real-time. Payment is also seamlessly integrated in the application.
Winner of the 3rd Place Prize: Crop2Cash
Crop2Cash makes formal financing accessible to smallholder farmers in Africa. Crop2Cash’s two main products today are CashCard and SupplyBase. CashCard provides smallholder farmers access to banking services, without them ever having to confer with a bank. The card enables farmers to receive digital payments and pay for needed inputs on credit, so that they can scale their farms and increase production. These payment activities also help farmers build their financial identity, akin to a credit score in the US, so they may secure funding from conventional financial institutions in the future. SupplyBase allows users to track and manage crop production, delivery, and payments. By capturing this data the platform is able to better predict future crop yields and payments, so that businesses can improve outcomes and increase efficiency.
Tradeblock is both a marketplace and social community geared towards sneaker enthusiasts. The platform was built specifically to combine sneakerheads’ economic activities (buying, selling, and trading) with the social validation and connection they get from sharing their passion with other like-minded collectors. Users of the platform create wishlists, browse each other’s collections, and can opt to make a swap if they find a suitable trade.
Founded by Delila Kidanu, Koa enables users of existing technology to better save and manage their finances. The platform can be embedded into other tech solutions or financial services apps through its API. Koa offers a seamless experience for consumers through a goal-based interface, potential awards, as well as through integration into their existing services. The company aims to provide its customers with access to savings and investment services that 60% of consumers in sub-Saharan Africa currently do not have, due to high costs, lack of visibility, and inefficient distribution channels.
Freeman Capital is an investment app that simplifies the wealth management experience into a personalized, easy-to-use application offered via a monthly subscription. Freeman launched with the intention of targeting people of color, who are often left out of the current financial system. Today, they offer a digital platform as well as dedicated wealth management advisors at an affordable price point.
Sporty serves as a business marketing advisor to athletes. The platform provides athletes with the analytical insights needed to quantify, build, and monetize their brands. Large national ad campaigns and marketing endorsements are generally only awarded to the top five percent of athletes, resulting in companies missing out on the other 95% of the market that may have a following and could benefit from such a platform. Sporty is currently working with the NFL Players Association composed of 2,800+ athletes who they plan to assist with their solution.
Tuverl is a public transportation app that seeks to make public transportation cheaper and more accessible to millions of commuters across African countries. Late to school almost every day due to inefficient public transportation, CEO and Co-founder, Hope Ndhlovu, conceived of Tuverl. Tuverl’s digital platform helps public transportation operators optimize routes, to in turn reduce operational costs and increase revenue. The full application was launched in the summer of 2020 targeting mini buses in Zimbabwe.
Views is an online, no-code platform that empowers restaurants to manage their delivery operations. Many restaurants still rely on PDF menus that are difficult to manually update. These restaurants can use Views to manage menus and data across multiple platforms (GrubHub, Ubereats, etc.) to better understand the sources of orders and identify higher-traffic channels. The company’s vision is to replace manual processes, in order to help restaurant clients become more efficient and scale. Views has already found high success - they currently serve over 300 restaurants.