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How these black women startup founders are using blockchain

In the blockchain and crypto community, there’s a major gender imbalance that’s even more pronounced for black women. These two entrepreneurs are trying to change that.

How these black women startup founders are using blockchain
Dawn Dickson [Photo: courtesy of Popcom]

As blockchain technology continues to transform financial services and seemingly every other new startup, it faces a major challenge: how to fix a major gender imbalance, one that’s even more pronounced for black women. While the technology itself has revolutionary potential, it’s remained very traditional when it comes to inclusivity. Only 8.78% of individuals in the blockchain and crypto community are women, according to CoinDance. The data was not broken down by race, but there are major racial disparities in employment in the financial services and tech sectors between white women and black women.

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Though their numbers may be low, there are a few black women in blockchain working as entrepreneurs and corporate leaders who are looking to bring more black women into the industry. Here are two of them, offering their advice for incorporating the technology in business.

Eliminating friction within the self-service retail space

Dawn Dickson uses her influence to engage with the blockchain community, inform people who are interested in the technology, and fundraise for her company, Popcom, an automated retail technology company. Popcom develops software and IoT-connected hardware for self-service retail, including vending machines and digital kiosks used to dispense products and perform transactions.

“Our goal overall is to reduce the friction and transactions in automation in the retail setting and then allow retailers to collect data from and about their customers,” says Dickson. “It’s very similar to what’s currently being done in the e-commerce environment, from Google Analytics and other platforms like Shopify.”

The data collection and metrics were largely unavailable for the self-service retail space until Dickson created the software. The idea started after she began to grow her first business, Flat Out of Heels. “Blockchain came into play around protecting customers’ data and identity. Since we use facial recognition, it was important for me to keep the data secure and only release the information for the retailer that the customer wants to share,” she says. Her new software will use facial recognition to purchase regulated retail products like cannabis, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals to be sold in vending machines and digital kiosks.

This software is turning customers’ images into a biometric hash, “which is a series of numbers and letters that represent that person’s identity.” Dickson explained that the biometric hash would be stored on the blockchain with their unique private keys as the only way to unlock any types of data associated with that profile.

Helping companies incorporate blockchain solutions

Natasha Bansgopaul is the cofounder and COO of DarcMatter, a global fintech platform for alternative investments. The company creates fintech solutions to make the process of raising capital easier for fund managers and smoothing the way for investors to access deal flow in the alternative space. Now that the company is in its fourth year, they launch a blockchain division called Konstellation, focused on creating blockchain solutions for the global financial services industry.

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Natasha Bansgopaul [Photo: courtesy of DarcMatter]
“We’re thinking about taking that next step of fintech and using blockchain feed supplements that apply both broad and specific sectors of financial services. Knowing that this is where a lot of the foundational blockchain innovation is needed, we want to continue to embrace this industry and take it to the next stage,” shared Bansgopaul.

Blockchain was always a part of DarcMatter’s product road map for a launch in 2020, but due to the excitement and interest in the technology, the company accelerated the plan to launch Konstellation in 2018. Since the launch, they’ve leveraged partnerships within traditional financial services on a global scale. “We also provide access and exposure within the blockchain world for more established institutions looking to figure out how to incorporate blockchain solutions in their companies as well,” she says.

Be intentional when exploring blockchain

Although it’s a great time to explore blockchain and the need to get more black women in the industry is urgent, Dickson and Bansgopaul believe that entrepreneurs should be wary of jumping on the bandwagon. “If you don’t have to use blockchain, it makes no sense to spend the $100,000 it takes for developers to integrate it into your product,” says Dickson.

Dickson, who has pitched herself to investors, knows all too well that many entrepreneurs are pushed by investors into business strategies that won’t work for their business. She was once told that Flat Out Heels should be a subscription box service because her company was not tech. “If blockchain is applicable, if it is the best solution, absolutely use it, but never make any business decisions based on what investors want, because [many are] bandwagon jumpers. They love one thing today and tomorrow they don’t,” she says.

Given the expense and novelty of the blockchain industry, Bansgopaul also agrees that it’s not a requirement for all companies. She believes the traditional path of securing loans and investors is still a viable option for most companies.”There’s an influx of people just trying to take advantage of the financial gain opportunity or the lack of understanding from investors, and the immaturity of the market. There’s a lot of people coming in and trying to do stuff and putting the name ‘blockchain’ on things,” Bansgopaul says.

Funding your blockchain projects

If you are looking to attract investors with your blockchain project, she suggests you learn more about it by spending time with blockchain developers and joining blockchain community meet-ups or attending conferences. “The technical aspects of the project are what drives a community of investors to support blockchain projects, and this is a community that has become professional at identifying the technological ideas that will be core to the development of the industry as a whole,” Bansgopaul says.

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Dickson is raising money in the form of an STO token, and she promotes her token sales on social media. Right now she does not see any black women raising money with STOs, and she’s hoping to change it. “I do encourage black women to tokenize a cap table and use a security token to raise money, because that’s just a great way to raise money and allow for your investors to get liquidity. It also allowed me to raise money from the general public through equity crowdfunding under the JOBS Act Title III Reg CF,” Dickson says.

Although the blockchain and crypto world was created for anonymity, what’s unique in its growth is the willingness and eagerness for people to meet, learn, and engage with one another. Groups and organizations like Black Women in Blockchain Council, Stealth Mode, and many other communities for people of color in blockchain offer the connections to more black women in the industry.

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