Tech Trends: digitalundivided’s Demo Day shines bright light on black, Latina startup founders

By Esther Surden
Newark | May 11, 2020 at 4:39 pm
Tech Trends

(Editor’s Note: The event took place before social distancing measures were implemented across New Jersey.) 

Recently, digitalundivided held its BIG Demo Day at the company’s headquarters in Newark. The organization focuses on nourishing startups that have black or Latina female founders. For nine months, digitalundivided had mentored the founders who presented at the event, helping them build their businesses.

Kathryn Finney, digitalundivided’s founder and CEO, noted that her organization helps founders get from an idea to the point where they are ready for an accelerator. All of the startups that the founders pitched had a tech component.

The first part of this article, which covered Lifesaver, SpiritList and Tapisserie, ran in ROI-NJ’s last issue.

Michelene Wilkerson, founder of Dropt

The struggles and challenges artists face when trying to make money are very real, Michelene Wilkerson, founder of Dropt, told the audience at BIG Demo Day.

Dropt is a portfolio platform where artists can showcase and monetize their projects.

“We are creating a space where artists can grow their careers doing exactly what they love doing. We are creating a space for them to discover and get discovered, apart from bloggers and influencers. We are providing space for artists to showcase their work beyond three-inch by three-inch grids,” she said. “And we are creating a clear and intuitive path for artists to monetize their work that doesn’t require them to have a five-figure social media following in order to attract brand sponsors or other opportunities. We are connecting them to an audience that is passionate about creativity.”

Wilkerson said that the platform’s real magic is its concentration on marginalized talent, particularly people of color, as well as women. The platform will focus on visual artists and photographers, building relationships with high-potential emerging talent and mid-tier talent that is overlooked, but has the potential to grow, she said.  

The business model involves taking a commission for all works sold on the platform. Dropt also will sell brand partnerships, particularly for live events the company will hold.

Shannon Jones, founder of Rest Assured

Most people don’t like to talk about death, but Rest Assured founder Shannon Jones addressed that taboo head-on in her presentation. Faced with having to help plan three funerals in one year, Jones began to help others with their funeral arrangements.

Shannon Jones, founder of Rest Assured.

“I was astounded at how antiquated the funeral planning process is. Paperwork, faxing, taking a check to the office, flipping through pictures of caskets in a notebook — I couldn’t believe that this is how we are planning a funeral in 2019,” she said.

When attempting to develop a solution to this problem, she thought that family members who were funeral directors could help. But she then began to look at the issue in a different way. 

“I’m a second-time founder and owner of a marketing agency. We work with brands in entertainment and we are experts in figuring out how consumers interact with those brands. What if we were to apply those same principles to how people think about death?” Jones asked. “Can we use marketing content and thought leadership to change how people interact with the end of life?”

Rest Assured, which is in beta now, will be a simple turnkey platform that lets people plan for the end of life, for themselves and their loved ones, she said. It will also provide discussion guides on how to broach the subject of death and planning with family members or others. And it will deal with the challenges that may crop up after the fact, such as difficulties with siblings about what Mom would have wanted. It will all be there in the app. The startup plans a secure digital storage solution, so that users can keep everything in one place.

The business model will involve a freemium arrangement: There will be a set of features that everyone can use to get started, but more-specialized features, which require more time and attention, will be handled through add-on services. An affiliate model will be used for service providers and other resource people to use at the time of a death, Jones said.

Angelica Jackson, founder of Strata

After telling a story about an overwhelmed, stressed-out mom she knows who had a stroke, Angelica Jackson, founder of Strata, said she knew she had to do something. Thus, Strata was born.

Strata founder Angelica Jackson.

Moms are overworked, overwhelmed and stressed out, Jackson said, adding that most moms think they don’t have any time for themselves. However, “time for millennial mothers does exist, and Strata finds that time and automates the process. Strata is a personalized, automated scheduling system for self-care,” she said.

Strata exists at the intersection of parenting, productivity and wellness, Jackson explained. The Strata app asks moms questions such as, “In the real world, what is relaxation for you?” They answer, and the calendar is populated with schedules that include “self-care activities that they will love.” In a beta test, moms told Strata that they were no longer stressed and were increasing the time they spent on themselves. Also, “our moms are enjoying being there for their families, their careers and their friends,” she said.

Parenting, productivity and wellness are all large markets, Jackson said. Parenting alone is a $46 billion market, and moms are 85% of that market, she added. The startup launched its beta test with five women, and now has over 300 women in its pipeline, both in the U.S. and in Nigeria. To get Strata known, the company is already partnering with mom bloggers and lifestyle influencers. It plans to partner with national brands and parent-teacher organizations to get the app into the hands of moms.

“The women on our team are women of color and moms,” Jackson said. “We have experience at Google, Microsoft, Redfin” and elsewhere, and all have strong educational backgrounds, she said. She also mentioned that the company wants to raise $500,000 for development, with an 18-month runway.

Claudia Steer, founder and CEO of Rentid

There are 43 million renters in America, said Claudia Steer, who describes herself as an interior designer, renter and proud founder and CEO of Rentid, based in New York. Renters are told that they can live in a space, but they can’t make it home. So, they buy decor and furniture they don’t really care about, or they fall prey to the “West Elm effect,” in which everything looks alike, Steer told the audience.

Rentid founder and CEO Claudia Steer.

Rentid is an online service that allows renters to feel as if they belong in spaces they don’t own. How? By infusing a little soul, she said. What does she mean by soul? 

“We are talking about getting to the essence of who you are,” she said.

The vision for Rentid is to hold a virtual consultation, during which the startup gets to know the client and everything about the space. 

“We leverage all of that data and use our algorithm to come up with what we call an ‘ID focus,’” she said.

Clients then log into an online design studio to review concepts and choose the items they want to use. Rentid will handle the shopping and payments, and “we store those items as they roll in one by one, and handle the delivery all at once, at your convenience.”

The business will make money in three ways: commission on furniture and décor, a design fee per room and a commercial option. What is the commercial option? Property developers can offer Rentid as an amenity when they are renting out apartments. White-glove delivery will be available for an additional charge.

“Our competitive advantage is really about deep personalization at scale,” Steer said, but the startup has also focused on renters’ pain points. To that end, it will offer a “reversion” service, “where we uninstall everything we’ve installed for you at the end of your lease, so your security deposit is safe and secure.”

The startup plans to begin by offering its design services to renters in New York City.

Read Part 1 here.