| The Columbus Dispatch
Inspired by the Marvel film “Black Panther,” entrepreneur Maurice Womack was motivated to build an educational ecosystem for Black learners.
Embracing the mantra “knowledge is power,” Womack, 42, and his wife Erica, 41, developed a communal learning platform called the Wokanda App.
Like the fictional African country of Wakanda (but spelled differently), Womack said the platform’s primary function is to provide educational resources and encourage lasting personal and professional relationships.
“When you think of Wakanda, you think of Black excellence at its peak in every way, especially from a technology standpoint,” the East Side resident said.
“(We’re) really trying to creating a long-term community resource around learning and around the topics that matter to us from leaders around the community who are important to us as experts,” Womack added.
Womack, who works as an engineer, said the new application came together after the failure of Oasis, his and his wife’s STEM education consulting company, last year. Oasis was aimed at bringing children in under-resourced areas science and technology-based coursework.
With the effects of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the business was halted as in-person learning was suspended. They regrouped, and following months of preparation, the couple launched Wokanda on Feb. 1.
The platform houses a group of industry experts dedicated to educating members on topics such as entrepreneurship, finance, healthcare and other areas through BLCK Talks, which stands for “Bite-sized Learning & Community Knowledge.”
Like TED Talks, BLCK Talks are delivered as live learning events that are recorded and archived in an online library for on-demand access to members. The website also includes online networking spaces and a link to become a Wokanda expert.
“People are accustomed to using Zoom now because of the pandemic, so it’s not as hard of a sale,” Womack said. “But these experts happen to be Black people, and they’re teaching culturally responsive topics in a way that’s familiar to us.”
Upcoming talks include “Stock Market 101” on Feb. 24; “Learning to See: A Lean Approach to Business” on Feb. 26; and “The Black Smart City” on March 9. Generally, Womack said there will be 10 to 12 BLCK Talks each month.
Experts include poet Barbara Fant, attorney Evelyn Sullen Smith, Olympic gold medalist Mary Wineberg and Ervan Rodgers, chief information officer for the state of Ohio.
James Ross III, who runs Columbus-based Legacy Power Investments, a stock market and investor trading company, said he’s excited to help members work toward becoming more financially empowered.
But beyond his personal interests, Ross, 40, said he envisions Wokanda becoming a gateway for people to expand their minds and livelihoods through the platform..
“I think it’s a perfect marriage between people’s lifestyle and interests,” Ross said.
The Wokanda business model involves users creating an account, which ranges from free to paid subscriptions — $14.99 for current students and $19.99 a month for others. No mobile app has been developed yet, so visitors can access the website at wokanda.app.
In his short time as a Wokanda member, Ricardo Wilkins, 46, said he’s enjoyed the collaborative campaign for knowledge and networking as well as the user-friendly set up of the website.
“This feels like it will help someone like me reach audiences I might not have been able to find previously, especially these days when being virtual is often needed,” the Westerville resident said. “I’m also excited about the opportunity to learn about a variety of topics.”
Since the launch of the website, Womack said the company has attracted nearly 200 members who have engaged largely around the BLCK Talks.
Womack said the original goal for him, Erica and the nearly 20 Founders Club Members, who all have equity in the company, was to acquire 1,500 paying members by the end of 2021. But as they began developing the app, they agreed to add the free membership option to build on the communal aspect of the site.
“It’s a good start and base for us because once we have them on the platform, we can try to get them to access some of the more premium features,” Womack said.
As the pool of experts and members grows, Womack said there’s opportunity for the app to expand to other major cities.