How One LA-Based Phone StartUp is Helping Black and Brown Entrepreneurs

ZmBIZI, a minority-owned company, launched a pilot program to support diverse business owners in Los Angeles

Since launching their phone company ZmBIZI — which pays customers for simply using their mobile device — co-founders Alpesh Patel and Benjamin Aubin have centered their mission around supporting other Black and Brown entrepreneurs. So when they were given the opportunity to collaborate with Visa on a pilot program this month, their approach was no different.

In October, the Los Angeles based phone company selected five Black and Brown small business owners including a food truck owner, a barber, and the founder of a retail shop in L.A. to test out their Z1 Android smartphone for free. The ZmBIZI founders wanted to give them first dibs on using the phone, which includes Visa’s TAP and PAY, a feature that accepts payments by just tapping a debit card on the back of the device.

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, many entrepreneurs have been forced to convert to accepting contactless payments— if they weren’t already doing so. With this in mind, Patel said the ZmBIZI team wanted to offer their smartphone to diverse entrepreneurs in their community who may not otherwise have access to these tools.

“Who are the guys that are cutting the grass today? Who are the guys that are washing cars? Who are the guys who are cutting hair? These are not white corporate guys. These are our people from [our] communities,” said Patel, who has worked in the technology industry for more than 15 years as the former director of sales at Motorola in Africa and founder of Mi-Fone.

He added, “We’re starting with our members of the community.”

The new pilot program comes just a few months after ZmBIZI teamed up with Visa on their Tap to Phone pilot program, which focused on 50 Black businesses, primarily owned by women, in Washington D.C. That initiative, which began in June, is still ongoing, Patel said.

With their latest pilot program, Patel said he wanted to focus on L.A. which is filled with a wide range of diverse entrepreneurs and gig workers who run businesses ranging from food carts, to mobile manicure shops, and personal fitness trainers.

For Jontate Vinson who runs a celebrity-favorite food truck business called ‘Wings and Waffles, simplifying his card payment process for his customers was a constant quest. He’d already tried using other services such as PayPal’s Square, Quickbooks, and other portable readers, but often had issues with the devices that he would regularly have to replace. But since implementing the ZmBIZI phone, he’s been able to resolve those issues, he said.

“If you can’t be as quick as possible, a lot of people won’t even book you these days,” said Vinson, who regularly parks his two food trucks at conventions, festivals, and other events throughout L.A. and elsewhere. “People only [have] like 20 or 30 minutes for lunch so they can’t be standing at your line forever waiting on a charge to go through. So the faster the better, and the more money you’re going to make overall.”

Contrary to Vinson, Dayana Asadoryan who runs a retail store in Glendale said she was hesitant about joining ZmBIZI’s L.A. program because she doesn’t consider herself to be a “tech person.” But the 21-year-old owner of No Apologies Collection—a Glendale-based store which sells one-size basics, loungewear, and formal wear—eventually decided to try out the phone after continuously experiencing connection issues with her previous checkout system.

“The beauty of the [phone] is that it’s connected to Wi-Fi, and if not Wi-Fi, then it’s connected to the data that’s already on your phone,” said Asadoryan who is among the first ZmBIZI pilot program vendors. “So it pretty much makes it impossible to lose connection.

That saves businesses so many times because so many things can go wrong with the Bluetooth connection,” she added. “I’ve never had a problem of not being able to check out a customer with the [ZmBIZI] phone.”

Isaac Martinez, the owner of True Barbershop in Northridge, said his customers have appreciated the ZmBIZI payment feature because it alleviates time. “[ZmBIZI] has just made our life a lot easier,” he said.

Martinez also said that he would recommend the smartphone, which retails at $296 for the Z1 edition and $550 for the latest Z2 version, to other entrepreneurs so they can do all of their business needs on one device.

“I just think it’s something for us younger entrepreneurs that is really going to take it to the next level,” the 26-year-old entrepreneur said.

He added, “So it’s kind of like the new day and age. It’s really going to change the game for a lot of us.”

ZmBIZI, which will eventually extend the pilot program to Atlanta, is still looking for Los Angeles vendors—who fall within a few merchant categories—to be a part of the initiative. Those who are interested in applying for the program can email the company at [email protected]

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