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Black Innovation Alliance is Using $10K Grants to Highlight the Importance of Tech-Enabled Small Businesses

By: Alesia Bani

KEY INSIGHTS:

  • Black Innovation Alliance partnered with Google to give away a total of $50,000 to five Black-owned businesses.
  • In Philadelphia, Black and Mobile, a delivery service that exclusively delivers for Black-owned restaurants, received the $10,000 grant.
  • If the number of Black-owned businesses reflected the makeup of the Greater Philadelphia Region, there would be 30,924 more Black businesses in the area.

The Black Innovation Alliance (BIA) recently partnered with Google to launch the Back in the Black Tour, a new initiative to award five grants of $10,000 to business owners who have leveraged technology to scale their businesses.

“This was really born out of the pandemic’s effect on the Black community, the Black economy, and also what we learned about just the Black community’s relationship with technology and tech enablement,” Clarice Redding Louis, director of programs at BIA, told The Plug.

“Not only was there this huge disproportion in terms of resources being allocated to small
Black businesses, but we also learned a whole lot about broadband equity, the digital divide,” she said. “These issues were really impacting how the Black community not only used but just view technology as a whole.”

One of the goals of this initiative is to investigate the technological divide among small Black-owned businesses — when and why it developed — and to display the impact funding can provide to mitigate this gap. 

Although the grants could be considered small, they are meant to be a launchpad for a larger-scale project. The goal is to track the grant recipients for a year and study how they were able to use only $10,000 to scale their ventures, Louis said. The case studies will then be presented to BIA’s support organizations.

The Tour selected businesses from four of its regions — Philadelphia, Macon, Twin Cities and San Diego — as well as a national recipient.

BIA members and leading innovators in the Philadelphia ecosystem Garry Johnson III, Tanya Morris and Nefeteri Strickland were selected to lead The Tour in Philadelphia.

From left to right, BIA Philadelphia members and founders Nefeteri Strickland, Tanya Morris and Garry Johnson III, at the town hall. (Janai Garrett Photography)

On Sept. 15 the three leaders hosted a town hall to announce Black and Mobile as the winner of one of the grants.

While working as drivers for food service apps like Postmates and Caviar, twin brothers and co-founders David and Aaron Cabello noticed difficulty identifying Black-owned restaurants in Philadelphia. Their solution: start a Black-owned delivery service that exclusively promotes Black-owned restaurants on its platform. The startup launched in 2019 and is now also in Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York.

“While many of us unplugged waiting to see how the pandemic would play out, Aaron and David were keeping restaurants in the community afloat,” Neferteri Strickland, founder of TEACHERS&, told The Plug. “They say they’re doing it for the culture, and we believe them.”

Black and Mobile charges the restaurants on its platform 10 percent. Competitors like Uber Eats normally charge restaurants up to 30 percent. Additionally, restaurants don’t have to compete with chains and corporations — Black and Mobile users are looking for local Black-owned restaurants.

Co-founders of Black and Mobile, David and Aaron Cabello, accept the $10,000 grant from BIA at the town hall.
(Janai Garrett Photography)

The Philly BIA leaders selected Black and Mobile for articulating how they have used tech and how it translates to a public good.

“Like many of the applicants, Black and Mobile is underfunded, but they continue to get up and deliver,” Strickland said.

The startup has primarily been bootstrapped aside from a loan from Shopify, a grant of $25,000 from Daymond John, an investor on Shark Tank, and now, the grant from BIA and Google. Before seeking venture capital funding, Black and Mobile is planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign.

“We [want] to give back to the Black community first and give them an opportunity to invest,” David Cabello told The Plug. “We want to be able to educate people and then also let them reap the benefits because the people that are supporting us are the restaurant owners, the drivers, the customers, the people that follow us.”

The Black and Mobile team plan to apply the grant award to operational costs like redesigning their website. 

The other Back in the Black Tour recipients are Open Heart Leaders from San Diego, Black Family Blueprint from Twin Cities, Ava’s Apples from Macon and national winner Eat N’Cake out of West Palm Beach, Florida.

The Philadelphia BIA leaders believe supporting Black businesses in the Greater Philadelphia Region (Philadelphia PA, Camden NJ, Wilmington DE) is vital to the region’s economic strategy.

There are 3,052 Black businesses in the region which accounts for three percent of employer businesses. If Black businesses accounted for 22.9 percent of employer firms, equivalent to the Black population of the area, there would be 30,924 more Black businesses, according to the Brookings Institute.

Additionally, if the number of Black businesses matched the population size and employees per Black business matched the average business, it would create 767,928 jobs.

BIA recognizes the $10,000 grants are not going to make or break the five businesses, but they are a step in the right direction to bridge this parity and stimulate economic growth.

“This is just really step one,” Louis said. “I’m hoping that we can funnel millions of dollars into the Black ecosystem after this.”

Alesia Bani

Alesia Bani is a writer and journalist from Philadelphia and The Plug’s Innovation Reporter covering the Black tech ecosystem in Philadelphia. She previously worked for the Institutional Diversity office at her alma mater Temple University and has a background in reporting on identity, DEI and local government.
Contact: alesia@tpinsights.com

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