Girard and Tracey Newkirk, two Wilmington business owners and entrepreneurs, saw a need in the community: a need to generate more exposure to the wide range of African American businesses in the Cape Fear region.
The husband-and-wife team, through Genesis Block, have started a new initiative, and are working to bring together community partners to develop the BlackBiz Listing, a tentative name, in an effort to launch and develop an online and mobile application platform to create a listing of African American firms.
Genesis Block is a community collaborative, including a coworking, event and social space, where people come together in a creative environment to work and attend events, according to the website
. The space is being planned
for the second floor of 5 S. Water St. in downtown Wilmington.
The organization is welcoming all members of the community to join a discussion about the new listing and to generate ideas during a virtual meeting from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Genesis Block Facebook page
Businesses can also conduct a survey to participate in the listing
, the Newkirks said.
The group was meeting with its development team Wednesday and aims to launch the website and mobile application, with all its features and testing, by late summer or early fall.
“In the short time that we have started, people have started sending things in. And I’m finding businesses that I never knew about. So I think that is going to be exciting for the community to see the broad stroke of different types of businesses that are out there in one place, where you can just go and look and by category,” Tracey Newkirk said.
The group seeks to work with partners to bring about a technology platform that helps to market and promote African American businesses and serve “almost with a Yelp-type interface,” said Girard Newkirk, who is also founder and CEO of Wilmington-based technology firm KWHCoin.
Other features of the listing might also include GPS positioning so that users can find individual businesses, and a ratings feature, he said.
Tracey Newkirk, in her role as co-founder of the Genesis Block organization and chair of the African American Business Council in Wilmington, said that there has been a lot of interest in the region in a list of African American businesses.
While there are such lists out there, the Newkirks felt that having a website and mobile application to promote African American-owned businesses, that could be updated frequently and easily accessible to the Cape Fear community, would be a benefit to the region. Tracey Newkirk is also the founder of the consulting business, UNEXO.
“Girard and I, talking about it, and him having a software company, we were like, ‘Let’s just put one together.’ It’s needed. Our whole goal with the Genesis Block being a community collaborative is to create solutions for needs in our community. And we felt like this was a huge need,” Tracey Newkirk said.
Part of the workings of Genesis Block is to take “a scientific approach” to how it develops and collaborates with the community, Girard Newkirk said.
“We thought that coming up with a mobile application and also a website and coming up with not only a listing but something that was an interactive tool, something that would encourage people to use it, something that would encourage organizations to use it as well, would be the best way to serve as a foundation for meeting these principles,” he said.
The majority of local African American businesses are sole proprietorships, he said. Building an ecosystem of support would help to bring visibility and accessibility to those businesses, many of which run lean organizations.
“We’ve been doing research on how we can grow and how we can develop black businesses in the community. And the African American gross domestic product in the country is about $1.25 trillion. But of that $1.25 trillion only 2% is spent with black-owned businesses. So, there’s a major opportunity … if we can set up the infrastructure to have more support for black-owned businesses locally," Girard Newkirk said. "This will be one of the key principles of driving economic prosperity and wealth generation for the future."
The group is now gathering all the outreach from those interested in being a partner, including community-based organizations, and is trying to raise capital for the effort, as well, he said.
"This is going to be a very clear expression of almost a new business model of how we use this interface with the community to connect with entrepreneurs, with technology developers, marketers, that are working all under one roof, or all under one umbrella, for one wonderful cause,” Girard Newkirk said.