If you’re an individual seeking to consistently support the black business community with your wallet, that can be a challenge, for there exists no centralized directory designed specifically to identify black-owned businesses.
At least, not yet.
Tuloko is a local start-up building an app and a site to serve that very purpose and is generating some buzz having recently won the Social Entrepreneurship Division of this year’s Minnesota Cup business competition.
“Basically you can think of it like a Yelp but specifically for black-owned businesses,” says Duane Johnson, a student at the University of Minnesota and one of the company’s co founders. “We’re taking the concepts of Yelp and Angie’s List, and combining them to where we can run a B2C model where we’re bringing customers to businesses.”
Johnson met his current business partner Sean Armstrong in Boston years ago, where the two volunteered together with the National Urban League. At the time, the organization was pushing a campaign that encouraged African Americans to spend 10 percent of their income at black-owned businesses (presently, that figure is estimated to be around 6 percent nationally).
The concept was great, but Johnson says there was no real follow-through on the initiative and it fizzled out because people didn’t know how to connect with the proper businesses.
Thus, the idea for Tuloko was born.
“We thought, what if we created a repository where people could go on, find businesses, review them and share them on social media networks so their friends and family could go on and support these same businesses?”
African Americans have proven to be among the most prolific mobile shoppers, so a mobile app is a natural way to engage this segment. By drawing attention to black-owned businesses and hopefully increasing their profiles within the black community, Johnson and Armstrong see a potential path to decreasing unemployment.
“Studies have shown the black unemployment rate would drop 4 points if African Americans reached 10 percent of their spending on black owned businesses,” he notes.
Tuloko is still in an early stage, but they plan to take the $20,000 in seed money earned with their Minnesota Cup victory and put it toward developing the technology assets.
“I think Tuloko really captured the judges imagination, ” explains division judge Connie Rutledge. “They seek to address a real problem around the country, but also one that hits particularly close to home.”
“We’re excited to have a stage in front of the business community here, win or lose, a lot of doors are already opening for us. It gives us even more motivation in doing our work,” Johnson says about the recent accomplishment.
In addition, winning the Social Entrepreneur Division places them in the final round of the Minnesota Cup competition, where they’ll have a chance at winning the grand prize of $40,000 on Sept. 6th. That bounty would certainly go a long way toward helping Johnson and Armstrong achieve their ultimate goal, which also happens to be their company’s slogan: “Make everyday Black Friday.”