In July 2023, ten hardtech startup founders kicked off their six-month journey in the 2023 mPOWER Black Founders cohort.
mPOWER programs are designed to support startups building physical products launched by underrepresented founders. By providing access to mHUB’s ecosystem and a structured hands-on program, founders are given the tools and access to take their products through proof-of-concept.
During their six months at mHUB, these founders will build community, work through customer discovery and market validation, define their value proposition and product design concept, assess the viability of their business, and so much more. mPOWER programming is supplemental to mHUB's shared workspace membership, combining group learning and targeted resources to build on mHUB's existing world-class resources. This includes group workshops and a speaker series, product design support and training, dedicated Experts in Residence, access to non-dilutive capital, and a lifetime membership with program partner NSBE Chicago.
Read on to meet the 10 founders of the 2023 mPOWER Black Founders cohort and how you can connect with them as they progress through their startup journey at mHUB.
Born in Chicago, Kelsea Abrams-Haggard has been passionate about beauty since childhood. She dedicated 12 years to honing her expertise in all aspects of the industry, starting with obtaining her cosmetology license in 2010 and marking the beginning of a remarkable career that has since evolved.
Extensive experience in the beauty industry has taught her the importance of staying current with new trends and developments. As such, she created Silk Hair Therapy, an innovative hair tool and product line that transforms hair with unique formulas that care for scalp and hair needs.
Kelsea has always pursued and embraced new opportunities to learn and develop her skills. After several years of success as a service provider doing makeup, body waxing, and hair styling, she transitioned to e-commerce. Through Silk Hair Therapy, Kelsea aims to help women achieve silky, frizz-free strands, making it easy to achieve a salon-worthy look from the comfort of their home, regardless of hair type and texture.
Sybil Berry is a native Los Angelina and former educator having worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has worked in entertainment as a marketing professional for Home Box Office and Time Inc., and in education/educational video production at WNET, the PBS flagship in NYC. She later established the education and outreach departments for WYCC PBS Chicago. She is a Walter Kaitz Fellow in the Cable Industry. Sybil has a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California and an M.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon University in Theatre/Playwriting. She is a co-founder of the Alumni of the Negro Ensemble Company, A.N.E.C., and was the co-founder of JOAM, a grassroots organization for theater professionals, also in NYC. Sybil became the founder to her cane company, Lemonaide, Co after a car accident from which she would later require an assistive walking device.
Stephanie Booker is a senior at the University of Illinois Chicago working towards her bachelor's in industrial design. She is also the founder of Daphne – a health tech startup focused on women's health and wellness. Stephanie is currently working on the Daphne Watch, an eclectic-style women's fitness watch to help women increase their physical activity without compromising their style. After noticing that many watches are not designed for women, Stephanie was inspired to design a watch that blends in with the aesthetic of modern-day women. Daphne Watch is tactile for ease of use and has convenient device storage. Stephanie is fascinated by health tech and looking forward to growing her career in that industry.
Cydia Simone Flowers is a Chicago-born interdisciplinary designer, filmmaker, and founder of Maison Dia. At just 14 years of age, she was a summer student research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania's odontology laboratory before venturing into the world of design and storytelling. She received her Bachelor's degree in Film and Psychology from Howard University, of which she grasped a deeper knowledge in storytelling, set design, color theory; as well as cognitive, developmental, and neuropsychology. During that time, she also began an early career as a freelance designer and spearheaded the visual storytelling and brand development for small and large companies.
After graduating, she studied acting at Yale University's Summer Conservatory and subsequently performed professionally in Chicago while producing and directing projects and continuing to work as a creative brand strategist for budding companies. Throughout the pandemic, Cydia merged her scientific and design background to create Maison Dia, an interdisciplinary design house with an intention to develop sustainable products that inspire holistic wellness to the home and mind. These products are designed to help customers cultivate a sense of purpose and joy in their daily life, with a particular focus on exploring the connections between style, wellness, sustainability, and community.
Meet Coquie Hughes, an indie showrunner with a passion for making things happen! With an impressive track record as an accomplished independent filmmaker, she has successfully produced over 20 films throughout her career. As the Founder/CEO of VRMOVX, an innovative media tech startup, Coquie is on a mission to revolutionize the movie-going experience using specialized augmented reality equipment. Her vision is to redefine the way audiences consume media beyond traditional cinemas, providing them with immersive and interactive encounters.
Beyond her role as a filmmaker, Coquie also shines as a talented playwright and stage director, having brought to life a multitude of captivating stage-plays. Balancing her artistic endeavors with her responsibilities as a devoted single mom, she takes pride in nurturing her two children, ages 17 and 15. With her creative spirit and determination, Coquie continues to inspire and pave the way for the future of entertainment.
Aaron Israel is an engineer and Chicago-native. Like many other African American families, he has roots in places like Louisiana. One of Aaron's fondest memories from his childhood is the cuisine, which is why he appreciates the art of cooking good food. One of the most important factors for a dish to be successful is the ingredients. SiFarm/SiPharm is a startup using science and engineering to connect family-owned producers of high- quality ingredients to talented chefs. SiFarm/SiPharm is also a Chicago-based, eco-friendly, and socially responsible enterprise with a dual mission to fight the scourge of health food insecurity in rural and inner-city communities.
Preston Njapa is a Product Design & Development Engineer with a rich heritage from Cameroon and a strong presence in Chicago. Preston founded In-Form to support safe and effective resistance training. Drawing from his engineering expertise in biomechanics and prototype development, Preston is merging musculoskeletal health and technology. Through In-Form, Preston is crafting devices that offer therapeutic support while also providing real-time training feedback. By monitoring motion during resistance exercises, Preston integrates unique data insights with his passion for exercise and rehabilitation, redefining muscle and mobility training.
Driven by a lifelong passion for technology and a steadfast desire to make a positive impact on the world, Jude Prophete is a dynamic individual whose journey has been nothing short of inspiring. From a young age, Jude discovered a deep love for robotics, igniting a curiosity that would shape their future endeavors.
Jude proudly served in the Marine Corps, a chapter of their life that instilled discipline, leadership, and a relentless work ethic. Notably, their exceptional dedication led to being selected for advanced training in satellite communications, an intricate field that demands precision and adaptability. Jude’s trajectory then led them to cellular technology at Dish Wireless, where they now shine as a 5G field engineer.
Leveraging their expertise in cutting-edge technology, Jude thrives in the fast-paced world of telecommunications, contributing to the evolution of connectivity and communication systems. What sets Jude apart is not only their technical prowess but also their unyielding commitment to solving global challenges. Throughout their journey, they have demonstrated a remarkable knack for approaching problems with innovative solutions, fueled by a passion for creating a better future for all. As an advocate for progress and a visionary problem solver, Jude continues to embrace opportunities to drive change through technology. Their story exemplifies how determination, a love for robotics, and a heart dedicated to serving others can truly shape the world for the better.
Kheperah Ray (pronounced Kuh-pair-uh) is an Electrical Engineer influenced by design and music. Raised on the south side of Chicago, Kheperah has cultivated a deep passion for music and modular technology that intertwines with his engineering expertise. Before receiving his B.S.&A at the University of San Diego, Kheperah worked as a full-time events photographer, honing his design abilities sensibilities while introducing him to the world of graphic design, which eventually evolved into his mastery of UI and UX design. This newfound appreciation for user-centric design propelled him into a career as a freelance web developer and graphic designer.
As the son of two ardent music enthusiasts and skilled DJs, Kheperah forged his identity by immersing himself in music production. Kheperah's journey began in the elementary school's drumline. This foundation later led him to explore the realms of music creation using tools like Frooty Loops (FL Studios) and Ableton's Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Upon graduating, Kheperah embarked on a transformative journey at Cisco Meraki, providing invaluable support for their networking engineering hardware. A short time later he ventured into Floreo Labs, a dynamic incubator that blends creativity, technology, and education. Over the span of four years, this endeavor allowed him to explore diverse interests.
Today, armed with a rich fusion of skills including electrical engineering, design thinking, full-stack web development, and UI/UX design, Kheperah stands poised to forge his own path. Kheperah's aspiration is to innovate and craft groundbreaking products that seamlessly integrate technology and artistry, encapsulating the essence of his multifaceted expertise.
Cassidy Stratton's mission is to create spaces, experiences, and products that make people feel seen.
At age 10, Cassidy was buying her own purses and writing daily journal entries—all while trying to hide her thriving MySpace account from her parents. While she eventually got caught, Cassidy’s love for self-expression and pursuit to engage with the world digitally didn’t end there. It led her to study the ins and outs of strategic communications at Elon University and eventually obtain her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from Northwestern University.
While she loves being in the classroom (and considers herself a lifelong learner), Cassidy believes experiential learning is the sweet spot. Over the past seven years, she has used her professional experiences to explore the intersection of people-first design thinking and community building (virtually and in-person) through events and marketing activations. Now, she applies that long-standing interest to her work as a social media manager in tech, a freelance project manager, and more recently as the founder of her eyewear company Framewrks, which designs with the underrepresented needs of BIPOC folks in mind.
Cassidy resides on the Southside of Chicago - where she was born and raised; yet cherishes the perspectives and experiences gained from living in Washington DC, North Carolina, and Japan. While travel is a passion of hers, Cassidy is also known to be an eclectic self-preservationist with a love for cooking, embracing community, and getting lost in a new book.