Why You Need to Know About These Black Founders Building Tech to Fight Injustice - Fast Forward

February 22, 2023 | Tech Nonprofits

Why You Need to Know About These Black Founders Building Tech to Fight Injustice

If you’re reading this, chances are you care about the future of the social sector. Meet five Black founders who are writing that future. Black entrepreneurs are redefining how we harness tech to fight injustice. All alumni of our Startup Accelerator, the founders below have each gained traction and are poised to scale in exciting ways. Read on to learn about their impact and how to support their missions!

Adrian Devezin & Rejoice Jones, Co-Founders of Empowr

Adrian Devezin was working at a call center when he took a step that changed his life: he taught himself how to code. After launching his own app and landing engineering jobs at top tech companies, Adrian realized the tech industry was missing out on the untapped potential of millions of Black youth like himself. So he launched Empowr.

Empowr founders Adrian Devezin and Rejoice Jones are equipping Black high schoolers with the coding skills they need to launch careers in tech

Today, 50% of Black students don’t have access to STEM classes that will get them college and career ready. Empowr teaches STEM and core coding skills to Black youth via its digital learning platform. It utilizes peer programming methodology so students can code together. To set them up for success, Empowr equips each student with a MacBook, headphones, and internet access. 

Empowr’s model works. After completing a paid engineering apprenticeship with one of Empowr’s tech partners, 100% of Empowr graduates have received job offers at tech companies. Fueled by grants from Sony and Slack, Adrian and Rejoice are poised to bring Empowr to more schools. Empowr’s impact extends beyond the classroom. By giving Black students a path to tech careers, the tech nonprofit is closing racial wealth gaps.

Learn more about Adrian and Rejoice and how to support their work here!

Idris Brewster & Glenn Cantave, Co-Founders of Kinfolk

Imagine this: you’re walking down the block, and with a few taps on your phone, you’re suddenly standing in front of an augmented reality monument of Shirley Chisholm. Or Frederick Douglass. Or Pauli Murray. Important Black leaders like these are wrongfully left out of our historical narratives; Kinfolk is writing them back in.

Meet Idris Brewster and Glenn Cantave. They’re political activists, artists, and movement-builders. Frustrated by how American history is conceptualized, Idris and Glenn joined forces to launch Kinfolk. Kinfolk enables anyone to learn about underrepresented leaders through AR monuments. Users can place a monument anywhere in their environment, plus listen to a narrated biography about their legacy. Through support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, they plan to grow Kinfolk from six monuments to over 100. 

Idris and Glenn are also launching the Kinfolk National Tour, a series of events gathering communities to uplift local history through the Kinfolk app. After kicking off in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the tour is set to make five additional stops across the U.S. To top it all off, Kinfolk will be featured in an art exhibit at the MoMA called New York, New Publics, which highlights innovative projects changing the landscape of NYC’s public spaces. We’re inspired by the way Kinfolk is bridging the digital and built environment to center underrepresented voices.

Learn more about Idris and Glenn and how to support their work at Kinfolk here! 

Briane Cornish, Founder of finEQUITY

30% of formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. have no credit score whatsoever. For those who do, their scores are at least 50 points lower than those with no experience with incarceration. The result can be devastating. Returning community members with a low credit score or no credit at all can’t access housing, internet, and affordable cell phone plans. Recognizing this pressing need, lawyer turned economic mobility activist Briane Cornish founded finEQUITY. finEQUITY helps formerly incarcerated community members establish credit, navigate debt, and become financially independent. 

Briane is building finEQUITY, a digital lending and engagement platform helping formerly incarcerated community members build financial power | Santiago Leon

Community members use finEQUITY to access $150 loans that help them establish credit, find resources to address debt, and receive financial coaching. It’s an exciting time for Briane and finEQUITY. finEQUITY is piloting its tools to residents of the Bronx, and is poised to expand its reach. Thanks to recent funding from The Robin Hood Foundation and Capital One, finEQUITY plans to scale its solutions to 14 additional states. 

Briane’s life’s work is to open up pathways from prison to prosperity. This isn’t her first justice-focused organization. Previously, Briane founded Cleanslatedc.com, an initiative within Code for America, that offers software to determine eligibility for criminal record sealing. Today, riding off the recent momentum, Briane is excited to expand her team. She’s looking for technologists, researchers, and marketers to accelerate finEQUITY’s impact. Interested in learning more? Sign up to be the first to hear about career and volunteer opportunities with finEQUITY.

Learn more about Briane and how to support her work at finEQUITY here!

Diana Wilson, Founder of Black SiS

Nearly half of Black women drop out of STEM majors by sophomore year. Diana Wilson was one of these women. After she dropped out of her program at the University of Virginia, the support of a community of Black women helped her graduate and land an internship at Google. Diana founded Black Sisters in STEM (Black SiS) to help Black women launch careers in tech. She is on a mission to see to it that her story is not the exception. 

Black SiS founder Diana Wilson pitches at Fast Forward Demo Day 2022

Black SiS is a digital community for advancing Black women in tech. From culturally-relevant education, to job searching and placement, to career growth, Black SiS supports college women through each step of the STEM pipeline. In addition to learning technical and leadership skills, fellows gain access to curated professional opportunities with the organization’s partner companies. 

To date, Black SiS has transformed the lives of 7,000 Black college women from 33 countries. Thanks to the education and networking they’ve received from Black SiS, fellows earn an average salary of $90,000. Diana has plans to build on this momentum. With newly secured support from ServiceNow and the Techstars Accelerate Equity Program, Black SiS is on the path to reach – wait for it – 100,000 Black women by 2026. 

Learn more about Diana and how to support her work at Black SiS here!

Kiah Williams, Co-Founder of SIRUM

One in four people in the U.S. (that’s 50M Americans) don’t refill the prescriptions they need due to cost. This is a health equity crisis, and Kiah Williams is tackling it head-on. Kiah is the co-founder of SIRUM, a digital platform that connects low-income Americans with unused, surplus medication. So far,  SIRUM has redistributed over $175M worth of prescription drugs to more than 230,000 patients across the country. 

Here’s how it works. SIRUM partners with drug manufacturers, pharmacies, wholesalers, and health facilities to secure unused prescription medicine. Then, SIRUM redistributes this surplus medicine to clinics and community-based organizations that serve low-income patients. 

SIRUM has redistributed over $175M worth of prescription drugs to more than 230,000 patients across the country

Kiah has seen a spike in need for SIRUM’s solution during the pandemic. As people lost their jobs and healthcare, SIRUM made sure folks could still access their medications. Now, Kiah plans to take SIRUM to new heights. More states are adopting medical donation laws (like Illinois). SIRUM is jumping on the opportunity to help states act on this legislation. Everyone deserves access to the medication they need. Where our current healthcare system fails, Kiah and her team at SIRUM are stepping in.

Learn more about Kiah and how to support her work at SIRUM here!