Aishah Augusta-Parham’s tech platform has a goal rooted in impact: help business owners become more mindful of diversity, equity, inclusion efforts in their day-to-day operations — better ensuring their customers do business with companies and brands that embody shared values.
“We are the Yelp of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Augusta-Parham said, detailing the mission behind SEPOW — a psychology-rooted tech offering she’s designed to mitigate instances of discrimination in everyday places.
“It’s a revolutionary idea to look at diversity, equity, and inclusion from the perspective that we’re taking,” she added, explaining how the SEPOW platform works — allowing users to offer feedback and ratings (for all to see) on their cultural experience with a business or retailer — and what it stands to bring to a world that craves solutions to pressing and ever-complex social problems.
“Allowing users to have quick and easy access to a platform [where they can] input their experiences — and then to have those organizations have access to that in real time … we haven’t seen that on the market yet,” Augusta-Parham emphasized.
Click here to further explore the SEPOW platform or to get updates on its development.
“I’ll take you back to the summer of 2016,” she detailed, revealing personal experiences with discrimination that saw her traveling 30 minutes to the grocery store just to feel like she mattered.
“I loved the way I felt when I walked into this grocery store versus [others.] That feeling is what SEPOW is going to be able to bring to the world.”
To begin making an impact, SEPOW — which recently received funding from Digital Sandbox KC — needs to make its way to market, Augusta-Parham stressed, noting she and her team are currently working to build and introduce the startup’s minimum valuable product (MVP).
“We would love to have people who are just as passionate as we are join our team. … Donating time and money would be great as we build out our technology,” she said of ways the community can support SEPOW as it launches.
“If we can get that accomplished as quickly as possible, then we can hit our milestones a lot quicker and get this out to the market as fast as we can.”
“Fast” to Augusta-Parham looks like the end of summer 2022, the two-year anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd and a summer of unrest that further fueled the importance of DEI work.
“It validated that everyone in Kansas City, everyone in the Midwest, the South, the East Coast, and throughout the world needs a product like this,” she recalled, adding the product was initially developed after the police killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.
“[SEPOW] started in 2016 at the beginning of my PhD program at KU,” Aishah Augusta-Parham recalled.
“That summer before classes started, there was a lot going on socially. The death of Micahel Brown in 2014, pivotal things that happened. There was kind of a build up and some questionable experiences that I had that summer.”
All of which resulted in a single question for the budding psychologist: “How can I fix this problem of discrimination?”
“Classes started and I got underway with research — and really interested in figuring out how microaggressions and those experiences [of] people of color and individuals and individuals who identify with the LGBTQIA community, affect them psychologically, emotionally, and financially.”
“I was passionate about it and curious from my own experiences. That was the genesis of this idea.”
As a trained psychologist, Augusta-Parham has always wanted to help people, she added.
“As I learned about the socioeconomic and external factors — or systems, if you will, that also impact an individual’s wellbeing, I became interested in, ‘How can I create something that can solve that issue internally,’ when you’re thinking about how the individual and their identity is impacted by discrimination, but also the system that interacts with them.”
“[When the events of 2020 unfolded] It was invigorating to know that me and my team are sitting on something that can help with this issue and that can take the load off of those activists that are out there putting their bodies on the line to fight for something that they care about so deeply,” she said.
“SEPOW is going to be able to lift the burden off their shoulders.”
The platform could also serve as a much needed guide for businesses that find themselves looking to respond to such events, Augusta-Parham added.
“This is going to give them the opportunity to have that real time validation, but to also meet with experts who’ve done the research and can figure out what tools and techniques are going to be helpful to solve their unique problems,” she explained.
“Maybe at Company X, gender equality is not that much of a concern. Maybe it’s religious issues or sexual orientation. Having that tailor-made specificity is going to save them a lot of money and a lot of time. [DEI] is not one size fits all.”
Industries that could benefit from the power of SEPOW aren’t limited to main street businesses. And Augusta-Parham is hopeful she can bring awareness to the plight of Black and brown founders (as well as people of color who are employees, customers and members of the public at large) while pitching the startup to investors.
“I think the biggest challenge that we’re facing is [me] being a founder of color, a Black female.
And I know statistically that investors tend to invest less money with Black founders, especially females,” she explained.
“But I think the biggest opportunity is the fact that what SEPOW is bringing to the tech world is an idea that is incredibly needed. It is a novel idea. We are one of the first to do this and it’s a really great opportunity for investors to bet on a Black owned business.”
“I see my role being to introduce them to SEPOW — but also providing tons of education about the kinds of barriers that exist for myself and for an organization like SEPOW.”
Not only does the platform allow companies to better understand their blindspots, it can also reveal organizational strengths.
“This is going to communicate to them things they’re doing right, like, ‘We’re knocking it out of the park related to this. Let’s talk about that. Let’s get that out into the public,” Augusta-Parham explained, noting the cultural impact celebrating such data can have on employees and public relations.
“I have the opportunity to build a business that’s scalable. That’s going to help individuals and help organizations and to do the best that I can in my lifetime to make the world a better place,” she said of the work of SEPOW so far and what she hopes it can accomplish in the future.
“I want to encourage organizations, businesses, and corporations who have similar ideas and goals for their organization to reach out to SEPOW. We’d love to connect and partner with organizations — even in our early stage.”
Click here to connect with Augusta-Parham directly.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.