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Black business owner wins seed capital during Essence Festival

14th July 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

New Orleans, long known for its food, festivals and fun, is poised to become a hub for minority entrepreneurship if a handful of local visionaries, backed by angel in­vestors, are successful in using this year’s celebration of the Essence Festival as the backdrop for spurring business growth among a select group of Black entrepreneurs visiting New Orleans from across the country.

PowerMoves.NOLA, a three-day event promoting business development in communities of color, this year awarded $30,000 to two Black female business owners at the Morial Convention Center, July 5. Cheryl Contee, co-founder of the electronic marketing firm, Attentive.ly; Delali Kpodzo, co-founder of We Are Onyx, an online resource for cosmetic information; Nichelle McCall, founder of the BOLD Guidance college application platform; and Boomie Odumade, co-founder and vice president of the Nexercise fitness app competed for the dollars awarded from audience participants and a panel of judges as part of the city’s Essence festivities.

Attentive.ly uses email and social media techniques to increase revenue captured through marketing campaigns for businesses, while BOLD Guidance employs online tools and apps, complete with deadline information and other requirements, for high school students applying for college admission. Both firms were lauded for their use of innovative techniques and branded as having high growth potential as marketing dollars continue to migrate away from traditional platforms and venture online and the college admissions process continues to be competitive nationwide.

But audience members voted resoundingly to back Kpodzo’s idea of warehousing every detail pertinent to physical beauty for millions of Black women in America under one roof at www.weareonyx.com. “I was 29 when I realized that I didn’t know how to wash my own hair,” Kpodzo said, after a last-minute cancellation from her beautician left her with few options to care for her hair. “I tried to Google information about how to wash my hair, but there was too much information online and much of it conflicted with information I found in other places. That’s when I realized that Black women needed to know a few basics about beauty products, which is knowing the right product; knowing how to use the right product; and knowing where to buy that product.”

We Are Onyx is the result of Kpodzo’s experience and comes as Black women continue to be the leading demographic group for the sale of beauty products. “In 2009,” Kpodzo said, “Black women spent $7.5 billion on beauty products and made up 34 percent of the hair care market, accounting for $9 billion in revenue. But our site is not just about hair or simply provides general guidance, We Are Onyx is a place for everything Black women need to know about beauty.” Kpodzo’s presentation, backed by audience approval, earned her a $5,000 check from Power­Moves.NOLA.

Actress and comedian, Sherri Shepherd, moderated a panel of judges who awarded $25,000 to the firm projected to have the most growth potential in the near future. “I am so excited to be a part of this process,” Shepherd said, as she introduced Alejandra Castillo, director of the Minority Business Development Agency; author and small business expert, Melinda Emerson; Chevron executive, Michelle Long; and Erik Moore, an investment expert and entrepreneur.

“We are looking for a business idea that solves a problem; has large growth opportunity; is different than its competitors; and has an entrepreneur at the helm that is capable of making the idea successful,” Shepherd said, and after each of the entrepreneurs’ six-minute presentations and a series of questions from the judges, the panel selected Odumade’s Nexercise application to receive the lion’s share of the investment dollars granted to the entrepreneurs.

“In 2013, Americans spent $63 billion on weight loss products, with two-thirds of those still overweight,” Odumade said. “Surveys show that 78 percent of people planning to exercise lack the motivation to do so. Our app provides tangible rewards for people to complete their workouts.” Nexercise allows product makers to provide items to consumers for free who sign up to workout through the app. The company then earns revenue from companies for the low-cost marketing. “In the last 30 days,” Odumade said, “we have logged 750,000 workouts through our app.”

Nexercise has raised close to a million dollars in funds from eager investors, Odumade said, and is earning more revenue than the amount of capital the firm has raised, figures that were both impressive and attractive to the PowerMoves.NOLA panel of judges. Nexercise is also the first Black-owned tech firm to be accepted into the TechStars international business incubator.

This article originally published in the July 14, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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