4 Black Tech Founders Talk About How They Built Businesses To Be COVID-19-Proof

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
COVID-19-proof
Four Black tech founders share how they built COVID-19-proof firms in finance, energy, education, and healthcare. Pictured are Christopher Gray, founder and CEO at Scholly; SaLisa Berrien, founder and CEO of COI Energy; Theodore Harvey, co-founder and CEO of SynsorMed; and Calvin Williams Jr., founder and CEO of Freeman Capital.

As the coronavirus continues to shake the world economy, companies are having to adjust to what all hope is a temporary situation.

Shelter-in-place orders are typically reserved for chemical, biological and radiological contaminants released in the environment, according to OSHA. People everywhere — not just in California, New York and Illinois, where these orders are in place — are seeing the economic effects of what Bloomberg estimates to be a worldwide $2.7 trillion loss.

Businesses and neighborhoods are forced to stop operating. The financial effects are devastating.

While some businesses such as restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues are shuttering, others are still operating and growing. Whether you categorize their business as COVID-19-proof or recession-proof, the trajectory of their revenue remains positive and they look to maintain their pace for innovation and use by their private and public customers.

Moguldom spoke with four Black tech founders who are in industries most businesses and consumers need, no matter what state or country their customers live in. All are focused and prepared to weather the coronavirus financial storm. These founders represent the financial, energy, education, and healthcare sectors. They shared their business models and tips for other founders.

  • Calvin Williams Jr., founder and CEO of Freeman Capital, a personalized debt payoff-plan app
  • SaLisa Berrien, founder and CEO of COI Energy, a renewable energy startup that allows its users to monetize their energy-efficient buildings
  • Christopher Gray, founder and CEO at Scholly, a personalized scholarship search app
  • Theodore Harvey, co-founder and CEO of telehealth company SynsorMed, a telehealth services company that helps doctors manage patient volume.

Why do you believe your business is positioned to succeed amid the COVID-19 crisis?

Theodore Harvey, co-founder and CEO of telehealth company SynsorMed:

The SynsorMed app is a digital solution that enables patients with COPD lung disease to take charge of their care and helps them remain healthy and avoid hospitalization. It also allows care coordinators to connect with patients and intervene before a hospital or emergency room visit becomes necessary.

“We offer telehealth services for doctors. This is a key solution that helps doctors manage patient volume more effectively.  With the recent government announcements, our patient monitoring and video platform are even easier to implement into current healthcare organizations,” Harvey told Moguldom

The use of telehealth in hospitals has grown rapidly, according to the American Hospital Association’s Fact Sheet: Telehealth report. The FCC’s Rural Health Care Program looks to help those without adequate broadband to access telehealth. The ability to safely manage healthcare patients during a pandemic allows SynsorMed to be a provider to medical professionals and patients.

SaLisa Berrien, founder and CEO of COI Energy:

On a mission to make the world more energy-efficient, COI Energy is improving building energy performance and grid optimization, according to its website. The company helps utilities and businesses to optimize energy performance while monetizing unused power.

SaLisa Berrien told Moguldom she believes COI Energy is a recession- and COVID-19 proof company. The premise of the company is to improve the bottom line of businesses using their existing energy infrastructure, optimize the electric grid, and protect the environment.

During the COVID-19 crisis, traditional energy companies have been adamantly pushing ways to reduce energy usage. This will save costs for the users and also reduce strain on energy companies’ resources so they can continue providing energy. Shifts in what resources will be available may be coming. The ability of COI Energy to help companies “save money, make money and protect the environment,” will be important as businesses look to reduce expenses.

Calvin Williams Jr., founder and CEO of Freeman Capital

Freeman Capital is the first Black-owned automated wealth management platform in the country that is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Calvin Williams Jr. set out to target millennials and help them buy stocks with a minimum of $1 through Freeman Capital.

No one can foresee the future, but Williams knew he created a company able to be sustainable during global crises.

“Black households have begun to see an increase in household income. Freeman wants to take the large income surge and transfer it to wealth to catch up to whites and close the generational wealth gap,” Williams told Moguldom.

“With the current uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, our focus is on empowering our customers with the knowledge and resources they need to build generational wealth.”  

More than 85 percent of Americans believe the coronavirus will negatively impact the global economy, according to Investing.com. Those who are invested in the stock market and retirement funds will be looking at ways to save their progress in setting themselves up for financial success in the long and short term.

Christopher Gray, founder and CEO at Scholly:

Scholly is an app that has helped 3 million high school, college and grad students with the process of applying for scholarships. Collectively, Scholly users have won $100 million in funds to attend colleges and universities.

For his personalized scholarship search app, Christopher Gray built a sustainable business model. “As an entrepreneur, I focused on making Scholly profitable and sustainable rather than a company that relies on venture capital funds to succeed,” Gray told Moguldom.

“Scholly’s service is evergreen. At this point, students will always need money for college to reduce debt and pay off student loans if they have any. Yes, some politicians are promising to cancel student deb. We would not recommend anyone hold their breath waiting for that.”

Canceling student debt as a way to boost the GDP has been much talked-about during the current election cycle. Not only can Scholly help with the students’ immediate needs for a no-to-low-cost education, but it can help affect the GDP for years to come.

Looking beyond the crisis

Each of these four founders already embraces the use of technology to communicate with their team members and work remotely if needed. Any forced shelter-in-place orders will not affect their teams from performing unless they are personally affected with the virus.

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Looking beyond the current crisis, Harvey says he and his team are “working on those long-term relationships that will last beyond this ‘momentarily’ time. We want people to recognize we tried to do what’s best for our customers, partners, and employees during this difficult time. To me, we will be positioned well after this subsides.”

Berrien says, “COI Energy is committed more than ever to supporting our communities, local businesses, the energy grid, and our climate with solutions that make a difference.”

When asked what advice they would share with other founders during this time, Williams said, “The greatest advice I can give to other entrepreneurs is to never give in. Your plans may have to adjust, so be willing to be flexible, but find a problem you are passionate about solving and write out all the ways you can utilize your knowledge and resources to provide the best solution. Be nimble and give your team the creative flexibility to develop innovative solutions.”

Gray said, “Now is the time to look at your numbers, focus on profitability, cut non-revenue generating expenses and explore new revenue streams.”