Tech Women Tuesday’s the latest by The Plug to highlight Black women-led companies and initiatives. Each Tuesday, The Plug is highlighting entrepreneurs listed within our latest members-only database available here. This crop of five Black-women entrepreneurs have managed to build successful education centered apps and online platforms. Alongside those in mental health and peer-to-peer coaching initiatives.
Tiffany Dufu – The Cru
Tiffany Dufu is an author, public speaker, founder, and CEO of The Cru, a platform where women are matched based on their personalities, values, and goals. In 2018, Dufu launched the peer coaching platform. The Cru currently has 1,800 members and has seen a 450% growth since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company announced in January 2022 a partnership with the Fearless Fund and the Tory Burch Foundation to provide grants, resources, and peer coaching services to women of color-led businesses.
Dufu’s goal of advancing women and girls has always been at the center of her work. Prior to launching The Cru, Dufu worked as the CLO of Levo, an online professional networking startup aimed to elevate young women in the workforce. She was a part of the 2012 launch team for Lean In, an initiative to help women achieve their ambitions and create a more equal world. After four years as vice president, in 2010 she was named president of The White House Project, a non-profit dedicated to increasing women’s representation in American institutions.
Dufu is also known for her storytelling and keynote speeches on women’s leadership. She has been featured on multiple platforms, podcasts, and TEDxWomen. In 2017 she released Drop the Ball, a memoir and manifesto that shows women how to cultivate the single skill they really need in order to thrive: the ability to let go.
Dufu and her work have been featured in The New York Times, ESSENCE, O, The Oprah Magazine, and NPR. She currently serves on the board of Simmons College.
Kristina Jones – Guardian Lane
Kristina Jones is an author and the founder and CEO of Guardian Lane, a children’s mental health platform that provides access to grief counseling using on-demand video projects, community, and telecounseling. Her first book, My Forever Guardian, published in early 2020 about grieving the loss of a loved one, caused Jones to notice a lack of resources for grieving children and teens. Her research led to the launch of Guardian Lane in January 2021.
In just one year, Guardian Lane has grown to not only serve individuals, but also more than 1,300 schools nationwide. Jones and Guardian Lane are looking to expand from grief therapy to include therapy for divorce, bullying, children separated from parents in the military and foster children. In addition, Guardian Lane won the inaugural MedTech Color Pitch Competition in 2021.
Jones started as an art director for advertising agencies in both California and Florida where she created campaigns for San Diego Tourism, Disney SeaWorld, Walmart and Kaplan University. Jones used her background in advertising when she and her husband James Jones Jr. co-founded Court Buddy (now Law Champs). Jones handled the company’s advertising, marketing and social media. Their legal services website, courtbuddy.com, matches people with attorneys based on their case and budget.
Jones helped Court Buddy raise more than $7 million in venture capital before leaving the company in 2019. She joined the board of directors for Experience Camps in 2020. Her work with Court Buddy and Guardian Lane have been featured in Essence Magazine, Black Enterprise, Vanity Fair. Jones was also listed on Forbes 2021 The Next 1000 list.
Joanna Smith-Griffin – AllHere
Joanna Smith-Griffin is the CEO and founder of AI-powereded mobile messaging app AllHere. She launched AllHere in 2016 after teaching middle school math and working as Director of Family Engagement at Excel Academy in Boston, seeing firsthand the effects of chronic absenteeism and truancy on her students.
In a recent op-ed, Smith-Griffin emphasized the importance of schools taking an empathetic approach to student attendance instead of the more typical punitive approach. She argued that the adage that students must be physically at school or physically present to learn has been proven false in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to AllHere’s website, their approach is “proven to increase student participation in school, reduce the dropout rate, and build school engagement with students and families, all while reducing staff time, so they are able to focus on the highest-impact engagement activities.”
The company’s initial investment of $5,000 has grown with the help of Smith-Griffin, who has raised $8 million of venture capital to fund AllHere. Investors include Spero Ventures, Rethink Education, Gratitude Railroad, Potencia Ventures and Boston Impact Initiative. In a recent interview, Smith-Griffin revealed that participating in the Harvard Innovation Lab’s Venture Incubation Program and the AT&T Aspire Program led to connections and eventual large investments. The Harvard grad has also helped AllHere grow to reach more than two million students in 34 states across the U.S.
Tanya Van Court – Goalsetter
Tanya Van Court is the founder and CEO of Goalsetter. Van Court credits her daughter’s ninth birthday wishes for investment money and a bike. The former Nickelodeon executive used her knowledge of creating engaging content for kids to develop the fintech platform. Goalsetter’s financial services include baby savings plans, game-based financial literacy quizzes for kids and teens, and gift cards.
Under Van Court’s leadership, Goalsetter has grown to more than 250,000 users and nearly $20 million in venture capital. Since 2016, funding from Morgan Stanley has been joined by other large investors like Mastercard, US Bank, PNC Bank and Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures. Seed investors Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Robert F. Smith have also contributed funding to the company. In December 2021, the company closed on a $15 million Series A that included Seae Ventures, Fiserv, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Anderson.
In October 2021, Van Court partnered with investor Robert F. Smith to launch the One Stock, One Future program to help one million Black and Latinx youth become shareholders in public stock. Goalsetter also launched a business to business platform partnered with companies like HP, Twitter and Fiserv to offer Goalsetter as an employee benefit to Fortune 1000 companies. Recently, Goalsetter was named the 2022 “Best Personal Finance Product” by the Fintech Breakthrough Awards.
The double Stanford University grad started in Silicon Valley as an engineer before transitioning to media and entertainment in New York City. Van Court served as Senior Vice President of Partner Marketing at Discovery Education, where she launched digital textbooks for schools across the country. Prior to Nickelodeon and Discovery, Van Court served as Vice President of New Media Products for ESPN, where she led the launch of ESPN3.
Van Court was named to the Forbes 1000 list in 2021 and is featured in many publications and news outlets. She also serves as President of the Board of the Institute of Play.
Edna Martinson – Boddle Learning
Edna Martinson is the co-founder of Boddle Learning, an edutech startup she launched in 2018 with her husband Clarance Tan. The game-based learning platform focuses on improving children’s math skills in kindergarten through sixth grade. Boddle Learning was firsst developed in Kansas City before relocating to Tulsa, OK in 2020.
Boddle Learning is amongst a growing group of Black-owned and founded tech startups in Tulsa and its historic Greenwood District. The city’s Build in Tulsa program provides entrepreneurial resources, tools and access to funding for their companies. Ugandan-born Martinson knew little of the history of Tulsa or the “Black Wall Street” before visiting the area and eventually deciding to relocate.
In 2020, Boddle Learning received a $100,000 grant from AT&T that helped them offer the platform at no charge to parents and students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinson and her team saw a growth of 2000% in usage as schools shut down due to the pandemic, now counting with over one million registered users.
Martinson and her team have also participated in multiple pitch competitions and cohorts including Google For Startups and the Founders of Color Showcase. They have also acquired funding from sources like Rise of the Rest, The Black Founders Fund and Pharrell Williams’ non-profit initiative, Black Ambition.
Martinson and Boddle learning have been featured in Inc., Fast Company and We are Teachers. In 2021, she was also listed on Forbes’ The Next 1,000 list.
If you know of a business that should be considered for inclusion in this database please email interim managing editor, King Williams at email@example.com.