When Nicole Kenney returned to her native city of Philadelphia in 2016 after years of working with the NAACP in Washington, D.C. she had an idea for a platform that could bring multiple generations of Black women together to grow the community in a hyperlocal way.
She began working for herself, building a social impact consultancy — It Starts With Me, LLC — focused on communications to help programs, nonprofits, companies and colleges improve their health, social and economic outcomes. In 2018, Kenney attended the Northstar Conference in Philly, and it was the first time she said her eyes were opened to the way technology could help entrepreneurs achieve their goals.
The conference only lasted one year, but the impact was deep for Kenney.
“I never knew I could use tech as a platform to create equity,” Kenney told Technical.ly. “From that moment, I was obsessed.”
She got more embedded in the tech community here, working out of Cambridge Innovation Center, attending Venture Cafe events every Thursday and meeting other technologists. Then, in 2020, as the pandemic raged in Philadelphia, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia put out a call for millennial-focused health solutions through the Well City Challenge.
Kenney’s sister encouraged her to apply, and with her years of brainstorming about a platform to bring together different generations of women together, she formulated a pitch. Hey Auntie! was born. After months of programming, Kenney won Well City’s $50,000 grand prize.
Hey Auntie! is an online platform that connects intergenerational Black women in Philadelphia around mentorship, and professional and life development. Kenney is formulating the platform to be a safe, authentic, culturally sensitive place for connection and resources “with wiser and more seasoned women.”
“We want to help you build community with your peer group. We are built on the power of multigenerational connection, and the wisdom goes multiple ways,” Kenney said. “For me, I’ve been concerned about that life cycle, finding more people to do life with. There seems to be a gap in social media where we think we’re connected to people but it isn’t really facilitating the deep connections that we need.”
With the $50,000 seed money she won in the challenge, Kenney is building the platform with some contractors and a network of tech advisors. Heyaunit.io currently houses some information about the forthcoming platform and a place to sign up for updates. Kenney hopes to get it officially launched by early 2022.
When it’s live, the platform will be a place where Black women can connect with others in their community, and seek out advice or counsel from “Aunties,” trusted and vetted women who have information to share about business, professional development, family structure and other topics. The platform will ask for feedback and evaluations on the interactions and host places where women in the region can connect with each other on a broad range of topics.
“It’s not therapy — although we’re big advocates of therapy — but it really is a network, a place to connect,” Kenney said. “And it’s important that it’s feeling physically safe and culturally safe, so it doesn’t feel transactional.”
Kenney is currently searching for women who are willing to be Aunties in this network. They’d be unpaid for their participation to start, but eventually, Aunties will receive compensation, she said. If you know an Auntie in your life that you think would be a good fit, you can even nominate one to win a stay at bed and breakfast through Sept. 6.-30-