Celebrating Black History Month: Social Innovation & Leading Tech Entrepreneurs

Black History Month is an opportune time for me to reflect on the contributions from the African American entrepreneurial community. As a new marketing intern at Maker’s Row, I’m really excited about tech startups aiming to push the boundaries with fresh new ideas. Check out 16 entrepreneurs who are achieving amazing feats through the digital realm!

Angela Benton, Startup Incubator

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Entrepreneur, mother, digital design specialist, and developer, Angela Benton does it all. At the age of 29 Benton was the youngest to be inducted into Minority Media and Telecommunications Council Hall of Fame. The CEO of Black Web Media, a catalyst for innovation on the web for African-Americans, and founder of the NewME Accelerator, an intensive residential incubator for minority owned startups, has already helped entrepreneurs raise nearly $17 million from investors since the accelerator’s launch in 2011. The NewME Accelerator has leveled the playing field for entrepreneurs who can’t make the trek to Silicon Valley by giving them access to the same blueprint used by founders in the Valley. Benton has been recognized by Fast Company as one of the ‘Most Influential Women in Technology’ as well as in other publications like Business Insider, Ebony Magazine, and TechCrunch.

Corvida Raven, Technology & Social Media

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Corvida Raven is the founder of an award-winning technology blog, SheGeeks.net, delivering the latest tech news–in plain English. The twenty something technology blogger offers her readers all-inclusive reviews and scoops of the latest tech products and all things digital. Raven’s venture to demystifying the world of tech to millennials has garnered the attention of companies like Fast Company, General Motors, TED, and Intel where’s she’s played media consultant and catalyst. Her seriously cool social media curating skills has earned her a long list of accolades include recognitions from MSNBC, Time Magazine’s Techland Blog, Essence Magazine, Glamour Magazine, and more! Her next move? Securing more opportunities for youth innovators!

Kelle James, Food Supply Chain

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Mer-car-is, a name coalesced from two Latin words meaning market gathering and trade. Kelle James founded Mercaris, the market data service and online trading platform for organic, non-GMO commodities. The data service took off with big name customers like Whole Foods and Organic Valley. Designed to help producers, manufacturers, retailers, and members alike in the food supply chain, the platform allows buyers and sellers to meet online and trade physical commodities. Her honors include an impressive appointment in 2009 by President Barack Obama as a White House Fellow, Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine ’40 Under 40’ rising leaders, and Fortune’s ‘Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink’. James see’s a shift in the market for more production of organic and non-GMO foods.

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Matthew Burnnett, American Manufacturing

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Matthew is an award winning product designer, CEO and Co-Founder at Maker’s Row. Maker’s Row is an online network of over 5,000 manufacturers and 60,000 brands looking to create products in the United States. Matthew’s early career began as a timepiece designer for Marc Jacobs, Diesel, and DKNY. Before Maker’s Row, Matthew has founded a watch company and leather goods line carried by numerous retailers including Nordstrom.

Kimberly Bryant, Computer Programming

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Meet Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code, a nonprofit with a mission to introduce programming and technology to a new generation of coders who will become builders of technological innovation and their own futures.The nonprofit focuses on equipping girls 7-16 from underrepresented communities with computer programming skills through after-school courses on programming languages like Scratch and Ruby on Rails. She launched a successfully funded Indiegogo campaign in 2012 for a Summer of CODE program to close the digital divide between the next generations of tech leaders. Bryant has been recognized for her brilliant work in Tech Republic, by Oprah Winfrey, and has received a $50,000 grant from Microsoft’s Azure Dev community. Her advice for women in the tech industry? Reach out and provide mentorship to today’s youth and future coders.

Jamail Larkin, Aircraft Aviation

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Jamail Larkin started flying at the age of 12. Now he’s leading the aviation industry as the founder of Ascension Air Management, a startup that was inspired by a dream to revolutionize the way private aircrafts were bought, sold, financed, and operated. He’s been featured in Forbes 30 Under 30, Businessweek, Inc, CNBC, and more.

Jessica Matthews, Positive Energy Technology

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At 19 Jessica Matthews invented the SOCCKET ball, an energy generation soccer ball that provides off-grid power for the developing worlds. By 22, Jessica co-founded Uncharted Play, Inc., an award-winning social enterprise with a mission to disarm social ills by inspiring people to lead playful lives. In 2012 she received an invitation by President Barack Obama to represent small companies for the signing of the America Invents Act. She’s been recognized in Forbes 30 under 30 lists, Black Enterprise’s Innovator of the Year, and as one of the “10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs” by Fortune.

Charles Hudson, Mobile Gaming & Venture Partner

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Charles Hudson is a permanent fixture in Silicon Valley with a fortune of experience in founding successful startups. In 2010 he co-founded Bionic Panda Games, an Android-focused mobile game studio in San Francisco, CA. Aqua Pets, the startups breakthrough hit, amassed several million installs across iOS and Androids. He’s made his mark in the gaming space as the founder of the Virtual Goods Summit and Social Gaming Summit, conferences that focus on the intersection of gaming and social media. Now, Charles is a Venture Partner at SoftTech VC, one of the first ‘super angel funds’ for Internet and mobile startups, where he helps identify new and interesting companies.

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Tristan Walker, Health & Beauty Products

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Tristan Walker is a rising star in Silicon Valley. After previous stints at Twitter and Foursquare, Walker founded the startup Walker Company & Brands, a consumer centric health & beauty products. He’s received more than $2.4 million in funding from noteworthy venture capitalists like Andreessen Horowitz. The bold entrepreneur has been featured on USA Today, Fortune, CrunchBase, Business Insider, Fast Company and more.

Rakia Reynolds, Media & Public Relations

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Rakia Reynolds founded Skai Blue Media, a multimedia public relations agency with an all-star roster of lifestyle, technology and fashion clients. Reynolds is sought after by companies to provide her expertise in a wealth of subjects and projects such as media and art direction, branding and strategic planning, creative development, and producing content for television outlets such as MTV networks, TLC and print outlets such as Lucky magazine.

Jodie Patterson, Beauty Products & Skincare

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Jodie Patterson is setting out to catch up the beauty industry to cities like New York, where the ethnic diversity and cultural mixes showcase a true representation of America. She co-founded DooBop, an online shopping destination that mirrors the ethnic diversity spotted daily on the streets of New York City. Patterson donates $1 from every sale to underserved and at risk teens through a New York-based organization called Community of Unit. Her entrepreneurial accomplishments have been lauded on Huffington Post, the Dell Inspire 100 List, Into the Gloss, Refinery 29, and W Magazine.

Marcus Troy, Lifestyle & Fashion Journalist

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Marcus Troy is a leading lifestyle journalist and cultural curator. He launched his career online when he realized there was a huge audience interested in apparel and tech. Marcus Troy, the platform, is an exciting digital space for lifestyle, fashion, and the cutting edge of culture. He’s garnered coverage from GQ, Hypebeast, Ebony, and Complex Magazine. The tastemaker has landed digital collaborations with heavy weight brands like Timberland, Puma, and NikexNFL, Levis, and more.

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Kenji Summer, Social Entrepreneurship

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Kenji Summers started the Passport Life, formerly Passport Project, to make travel more appealing to his generation and help American youth travel beyond their borders. The organization helps under-funded fellows obtain their passports to participate in global culture. Summer’s has been featured on Mashable, Black Enterprise, the Huffington Post, and most recently, on Dells 100 Inspire List of world changers in entrepreneurship and philanthropy who use technology to empower others. Summers also co-founded the Marcus Graham Project, a network for emerging entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

Su Sanni, Nonprofit Crowdfunding Service

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In 2011, Su Sanni quit his daily job and co-founded WeDidIt, a startup that’s helping nonprofits crowdfund projects and go digital with their fundraising efforts. Sanni realized that the traditional method nonprofits used to raise funds wasn’t cost effective and required excessive paperwork. The startup launched a mobile payment app designed for nonprofit fundraising. Major organizations like Amnesty International have signed on to the platform. Sanni’s mission is to help organizations focus less on asking for money and more on making an impact. The startups philanthropic venture has gained features on Business Insider, Mashable, Inc, Tech Crunch, and more. WedDidIt’s mantra? “No Man is an island, and nothing great was ever achieved alone.”

Kathryn Finney, Startup Accelerator

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Kathryn Finney, founder of Digital Undivided, an incubator + accelerator hybrid, provides training in startup methodologies, access to experienced mentors, seed funding, and the social support necessary for diverse founders to thrive. FOCUS Fellows in the incubator have raised over $10 million in Angel and Venture funding for their projects. The Digital Undivided’s success has prompted praise from Wired, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Fast Company, and Inc and partnerships with tech giants like Pandora, Facebook, Google, and Uber.

These entrepreneurs are on our radar for their innovative ideas and philanthropic visions. Who else do you think is leaving a powerful mark? Leave a comment below with more entrepreneurs who deserve the spotlight!

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