There are apps for meditation and apps to order food. But what if there was an app that rewarded you for lending financial support to the 2.3% of US employer firms that are Black-owned?
Hailing from the world of finance and business, in 2020, Pittsburgh’s Art Robinson noticed a distinct lack of rewards programs for customers shopping at Black-owned or underserved companies. During this early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic when some folks were baking banana bread or singing sea shanties, Robinson founded BLK DYMND Rewards, an app designed to give its users access to hundreds of rewards when they make purchases at Black-owned businesses across the country.
Robinson recalled that credit card companies such as Capital One offer gift cards and/or points in return for their loyalty. Therefore, he told Technical.ly, he felt it couldn’t hurt to give people an added incentive to buy from businesses that are statistically less likely to receive venture capital and support.
“We’re really focused on bridging the economic gap that exists for Black-owned businesses, that were basically lost or had to shut down during the pandemic or don’t have access to capital or access to easy or low-cost marketing information,” Robinson said. “We want to provide them with space where they can reach customers very easily.”
Since soft launching in spring 2023, the free app has nearly 200 subscribers and features 170 businesses — some local, some not — such as the Mon Valley Kitchen, Allure Scents and the Everyday Cafe, and offers users rewards such as gift cards after they’ve earned a certain amount of points.
As the app itself is free in the Apple Store, BLK DYMND’s revenue is expected to come from the businesses that pay a percentage of sales for marketing and promoting their business on the app. Robinson is also in the early stage of fundraising for the company.
The rewards part of the app is still in development and will be up and running soon, per Robinson. Users also have the option of setting a monthly spending goal. So far, his staff of four has gotten mostly positive feedback.
“Right now we’re working on some long-term items that will allow people to scan the receipt and be able to find [spending limit-friendly] alternatives,” Robinson said. “It will give them a list of alternatives for their current choices, or their current spending. So it’s some user-friendly functionality that will really draw them into what we’re doing and enhance their experience.”
In the future, users can expect to see a referral program within the app so they could gain points for referring their friends.
Per Robinson, a few of the biggest highlights the company’s seen over the past year include participating in the 2022-2023 Ascender cohort, from which BLK DYMND received an undisclosed amount in grant funding; being named to Technical.ly’s 2023 RealLIST Startups list in Pittsburgh; and being featured as a speaker during Philly Tech Week 2023.
Ultimately, Robinson said, the goal of BLK DYMND Rewards is to give shoppers a tangible way to support Black-owned businesses.
“I want to bring that same type of benefit to underserved Black-owned businesses,” Robinson said. “We’re really working hard to bridge that gap.”
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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