Pittsburgh Gets Real

App developed to help connect customers with Black-owned businesses in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — Here’s a sobering statistic: Only 3% of all businesses in the U.S. are Black-owned, and in Pittsburgh, the numbers could be seen as even more discouraging.

But one local entrepreneur has developed what some are calling a “win-win” for other minority-owned businesses and their customers.

That includes Ujamaa Collective, a Hill District boutique that offers a collection of hand-crafted clothing, goods and beauty products. It’s a place local makers can sell their wares. The name of the business is based on the fourth principle of Kwanzaa, which means “cooperative economics.”

That’s something Art Robinson understands. By day, Robinson is the finance director for an engineering firm, but in his spare time, Robinson is trying to increase the odds for other business owners. He’s developed a customer loyalty app that is unlike anything that currently exists.

“It’s a great incentive for people who want to shop Black and they want to support Black businesses,” said Robinson. “Why not give them the financial incentive to do so?”

The app is called BLK DYMND Rewards. Users can download the app on Google Play or the App store and scroll through a list of Pittsburgh Black businesses to patronize. There’s also a list of popular brands that can be purchased at national retailers. Customers can scan a receipt from the businesses on their phones and they get points. Those points can be redeemed to purchase gift cards for Black-owned businesses.

For Khamil Bailey, it’s an idea whose time has come.

Bailey is the founder of Emerald City, a Black-centered co-working space downtown. Bailey calls herself a serial entrepreneur. This is her fourth business, and she knows she’s beating the odds.

“We’re about 1% of Black-owned businesses, despite our population being at about 8%,” said Bailey. “You also have historically Black neighborhoods being underbanked. So, people are not as comfortable going to their banker and saying, ‘I want to start a business. Can I get a line of credit?’”

Bailey says Black business owners can be resources for each other, connecting them with contacts and information.

Robinson says before he started, he did his homework on the $3.2 billion cash-back app industry.

“I do think there’s room for an application that supports this, this sector of society that wants to support Black-owned businesses,” he said.

For Ujamaa manager Frankie Harris, having Ujamaa Collective on the BLK DYMND app was an easy decision.

“We just wanted this to be successful because what we know is when I do better, you do better,” said Harris.

Robinson says he’s been testing the app for the past few months but will formally “rollout” the program later this month on Juneteenth.

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