(Editor’s Note: This story was published prior to the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing measures.)
A group of “incredible founders who just happen to be black and Latina women” presented at digitalundivided’s first Newark-based BIG Demo Day recently.
That was how Kathryn Finney, digitalundivided’s founder and CEO, introduced the cohort of women who had been working part-time for months on their companies.
“They spent more than nine months, building, creating, sweating, crying maybe, as they built their companies. We are so excited and proud to have them,” she said. One of the founders had already been accepted into and completed Techstars, and several founders were well on their way to raising their first preseed rounds, she added.
The women spoke to a packed-to-capacity room at digitalundivided’s new headquarters, in Newark’s Hahne building. The organization moved from Atlanta to Newark last year.
Karen Rios, co-founder and CEO of Lifesaver
First up to present was Karen Rios, co-founder and CEO of Lifesaver, based in New York. Lifesaver is designed to enable anyone to discover the “perfect bank,” a trusted partner on the path to financial wellness. Lifesaver steers applicants away from banks with low interest rates for savings accounts and high fees for accounts and services. It also provides an up-to-date digital experience for customers, which is much-needed in the community banking industry.
Rios explained that, when she started looking at community banks and credit unions, she found the high interest rates for customers and no-fee policies she was looking for, as well as on-site customer service that excelled, “but, when things got digital, that’s when the wheels fell off.” Banks spend nearly 10% of annual revenue on technology that doesn’t work, she said.
With most banks, customers can’t even open an account online. Lifesaver works with banks to make opening and applying for new accounts easy, so the banks can onboard new customers at “10 times the speed of tier-one institutions.”
Lifesaver offers an engine that matches customers to banks, as well as a back-end enterprise-ready system that allows banks to onboard new customers in one step. When banks and credit unions use Lifesaver, “consumers don’t have to choose between a great digital experience and high-touch customer service,” she said.
Nehemoyia Young, founder of SpiritList
To start her pitch, Nehemoyia Young, founder of SpiritList, based in Brooklyn, told a story about how, when struggling with anxiety 10 year ago, she looked for a holistic health provider, and found a broken system.
“Back then, I found practitioners on an information board at my dad’s studio,” she said. They had no websites, and “we emailed back and forth before finally booking an appointment by phone.”
After a decade, the process hasn’t changed much, she told the audience. As service industries become more digitized, holistic health has been left behind. Practitioners are wary of managing their own websites and using social media, she said.
Young’s solution is a practice-management platform that helps providers scale their practices online. SpiritList helps them to be found more easily by setting them up with a fully SEO-optimized SpiritList page, so they don’t have to worry about managing their own websites. The startup is also working on a smart recommendation algorithm, to match clients with holistic health providers who are searching for them.
“And, lastly, we help practitioners get paid, baby,” Young said.
She noted that this is a $33 billion market, and, of that $33 billion, half is spent on practitioners like those who will be found on SpiritList. They are herbalists, acupuncturists, spiritual counselors and others. SpiritList’s business model is to charge a monthly fee to practitioners, and a transaction fee for each booking.
Krychna Baker, founder and CEO of Tapisserie
Presenting next, founder and CEO Krychna Baker pitched Tapisserie, based in Newark, which offers a better way to find hair products that suit the needs of women with textured hair.
Baker noted that there is a bewildering array of choices for people with textured hair, and that they often resort to YouTube videos, friends’ recommendations and influencers when making their choices.
“We interviewed over 150 women with textured hair, and they all said the same thing: ‘I don’t know what works for my hair,’” she said.
Tapisserie’s solution is to provide an electronic boutique for hair care within a social community. The platform is powered by a proprietary algorithm that matches people to the right products after they take a hair quiz.
“You download our app, you do a hair quiz, and the algorithm populates a boutique experience of products, videos and stylists — all on one platform,” she said.
Tapisserie’s solution has some attributes of YouTube, some of Facebook, and some of Instagram, with picture posting, she said; and, “we meshed them all together and married them into one gorgeous platform for women with textured hair.”
Baker talked about how Tapisserie will target smaller niche brands to get them in front of its audience. She and her co-founder plan to go to trade shows to develop face-to-face relationships with the smaller brands. They also plan to use social media marketing and micro-influencers, who have a smaller, but more engaged following than influencers.
“They have more credibility,” she said.