Triangle-grown social media: The story behind Durham’s SpokeHub and its five African American founders


Version two of SpokeHub — a social media and chat room-like communication application— hits Apple and Google Play stores this week.

It’s the brainchild of five Durhamites with a long history in the region. Between the five of founders—Richard Berryman III, Robert Hartsfield, John York, John McAdory, and Terry Johnson, they’ve worked at some of the most well-known Durham-based startups from Channel Advisor to Bronto,  and several were even educated in Durham Public Schools.

SpokeHub

The idea behind the app—to create a space where people could chat about shared interests— even came to co-founder John York while attending a local high school basketball game. When the referees made a call the fans didn’t agree with. York naturally wanted to chat with others throughout the gymnasium about the play and subsequent call but knew his social media network didn’t align with those in the room so posting on Facebook or Twitter would have confused his friends and not provided the conversation he sought.

It was then the concept behind SpokeHub came to him, a room or channel where people with shared and similar interests or who are at the same events can engage meaningfully with each other.

But the SpokeHub team didn’t want to just build another social media app. Rather, they wanted to build something that would “inspire the next generation.” Specifically, they hope to inspire the next generation of North Carolinians and minority populations—as they’re all North Carolinians and African-American—a fact that distinguishes them from startups and founding teams across the country but is increasingly more standard in Durham, where startup teams and their leadership are increasingly more diverse.

They take pride in the fact they’re building their business in Durham, and say the Durham community is “embracing SpokeHub 100%.” Local businesses have supported the team by providing feedback on their product, sharing their networks with the team, and adopting or spreading the word about the app.And they’ve actively sought opportunities region’s opportunities and support from the entrepreneurial community too.

SpokeHub team with Brand Ambassador and TV Star George Lopez. Pictured from Left to Right: George Lopez, John York, Robert Hartsfield, Taylor Glymph, Richard Berryman III (in the back), Kerianne Enderline & Yolanda Rodgers Howsie (sitting down.

 

For example, they were one of 12 teams who participated in in the first Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange: Black Founders program  in 2016 hosted by the American Underground, and they’re currently housed at the Frontier —the coworking and office space for startups in RTP. They also have assembled an impressive board of advisors that contains serial entrepreneurs like Donald Thompson, owner of the High Country Grizzlies and President of Creative Allies, and Terrence Burroughs, President and owner of The Burroughs Health Care Management Group.

The founders admitted that navigating the fundraising process has been challenging, but identify the the difficulty of the process—not their race—as the root of that challenge.

To navigate the process, the team leaned on Lori Jones Gibbs, a Senior Vice President of Community Development Banking at PNC Bank who has offered the team advice, and introductions to the region’s investment community. The advice payed off—they’ve raised $140,000 of their planned $500,000 seed round to date.

And the team plans to pay the goodwill shown them by the Durham community forward to the next generation through their app and support.

Hartsfield feels one of the best ways to inspire the next generation is through SpokeHub itself. He says, “it’s going to change the way people are going to communicate,” and that the platform enables youth to have real, two-way conversations that they couldn’t have outside of SpokeHub. They also want to inspire entrepreneurship and careers in technology among Durham’s youth by exposing them to their stories and educating them on the opportunities. The founders believe that by sharing their story as Durham-raised entrepreneurs that are now competing with social media giants, the SpokeHub team can encourage young students to view entrepreneurial and technology careers as “cool and attainable.”

SpokeHub’s logo appears in “Marshall” promotion.

It’s a big vision, and their vision for the future of SpokeHub is equally as big. At the recent premier of the movie Marshall where SpokeHub participated as the social media partner, their logo appeared alongside the logos of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This image perfectly encapsulates their vision—that SpokeHub would be spoken of in the same breath, become as as pervasive in our culture, and seen as or more useful a tool as the three social media giants.

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