Where are you based?Atlanta, GA, USA
What specific justice problem are you committed to solving?
Vngle is committed to combatting the growing crisis of news deserts that disproportionately leave communities ill-represented and informed. Over the past 15 years, the United States alone lost over 2,100 local outlets, leading to over 64% of U.S. counties, millions of people, having little to no access to daily original news on their area. With this, many local outlets have historically neglected intersectional communities of color, thus news deserts have exacerbated the representation disparity faced by underrepresented demographics (especially those that are urban, rural, & economically struggling). News deserts deprive communities of an essential institution for exposing wrongdoing, encouraging civic engagement, & holding law enforcement, & politicians accountable through verifiable local data.
We're solving how to best catalyze civic engagement in marginalized areas via verifiable grassroots news to promote community-driven narratives that allow law enforcement to become more in tune with the culture of the communities they serve. Through enabling cross-cultural communities to mobilize awareness around their underrepresented affairs and concerns, we're giving them a transparent platform to represent their culture and create public accountability around neglected narratives.
Over 2000 of the 3143 counties in America don't receive daily original news. The major factors that contribute to this are the demise of the centuries-old traditional local news model and the industry's inability to take new innovative approaches to cater to modern consumers. Because of this:
What is your solution?
Vngle is a decentralized blockchain-based grassroots news network that’s training local citizens with HD smartphones to bring verifiable nonpartisan video-based coverage to underrepresented communities. We tackle geographic and demographic news deserts by deploying a gig-economy platform that equips locals with the skills needed to serve as reporters & editors for the areas they live in. We recruit all cross-cultural backgrounds across cities to ensure our coverage is equitable and authentically reflects the needs of all constituents.
To create our verifiable processes, we’re leveraging blockchain technology to create a public ledger into our reporting by showing exactly where, when, & how our stories are captured. Vngle’s innovation lies in our ability to create more granular local news without the traditional brick & mortar costs. By merging new tech, journalism, & people-powered social organizing techniques, we’re creating real-time sourcing & distribution of vetted information from across cities while bringing attention to pressing underrepresented matters through the experiences of local residents.
Through scaling, we seek to make verifiable grassroots news mainstream, where anyone can check the origin of where, when, & how stories are captured through a public ledger. We believe every community should have holistic transparency into their local affairs from the grassroots level, and be able able to curate public accountability around pressing matters like improving public safety and reducing negative police encounters. Through our decentralized approach, we are able to bring that to any city by deploying community-driven tactics to create customized coverage that's unique to a municipality's needs.
How could your solution positively change lives if it was scaled nationally?
Vngle will bring new levels of truth & transparency to communities through uplifting all angles surrounding verifiable information. By creating new public sources of truth, we will help set American communities free from the grips of polarized misinformation, to move us towards having the hard & honest conversations needed to sow back the social fabric of the United States. Through effectively organizing verifiable cross-cultural perspectives around pressing topics like unnecessary police encounters, we are shedding light on underrepresented matters across American communities.
Vngle will help reduce negative police interventions and improve public safety by: (1) serving as a nonpartisan mediator in community conflicts by sharing all sides of verifiable community concerns; (2) acting as a community liaison to cross-promoting greater understanding across opposing sides; (3) facilitating ongoing discourse and community affairs to stimulate on-going interactions and the development of genuine community bonds. Through such, we will help reduce police interventions by establishing ourselves as the missing nonpartisan communication link between communities and police officers.
We’re building a consistent journalistic backbone for these communities, many of which have been unheard, forgotten, or inadequately served for too long. This truly grassroots coverage enables these areas to share their realities with a broader regional community and build local momentum around granular hyper-local topics. Through this, Vngle serves as an avenue for verifiable stories that cut through the noise and help the public engage with deeper local insights that would normally be swept under the rug.
What is your solution’s stage of development?Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Tell us more about your team (names, background, skills, and expertise, etc.)
Blake's passion for communities comes from working in them his whole life. He's been knocking on doors and registering people to vote since before he could vote himself. From being the son of a City Councilman and the grandson of a Freedom Rider from the Civil Rights Movement, he was raised seeing people from all walks of life who needed better representation. In college that was cemented after joining the NAACP to fight the injustices that were happening in Ferguson, MO, when he discovered the problem of news deserts 1st hand. After Ferguson, he split his senior year at Morehouse College researching the problem and working with the Founder/CEO of a blockchain company to understand how to implement Vngle’s technology.
This work earned him a full-ride to Columbia University to receive an MS in Strategic Communication. During grad school, as a Human-Centered Design Fellow, Stoner launched a 21 city concept study to become an expert in grassroots reporting (vngle.com/wwan/). After that, he earned another scholarship to learn Software Engineering at Flatiron School to lead Vngle’s development. (Fun fact: Blake's work earned him a certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the late Congressman John Lewis)
Jaime Warren Fernandez
Jaime is a law student pursuing his JD from the University of Missouri - Kansas School of Law. He holds an MS in Integrated Product Design & MS in Organizational Dynamics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He also holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. As a black man who endured negative encounters with police as a youth, juxtaposed with studying law as an adult, Jaime understands firsthand both sides of the problem revolving around negative law enforcement. With such insight, he's able to better mediate between opposing parties and achieve common ground around how to represent issues.
His expertise in product strategy and management spans over a decade of experience in the consumer products space, where he's led teams in the end-to-end delivery of new products and services (hardware and software in nature) for the likes of Microsoft and Philips Sonicare. As a 2L law student with an emphasis in entrepreneurship/tech law, he aspires to serve as an advocate for the underrepresented and disenfranchised, helping to craft new innovations to solve their unique problems.
Kenneth is a software engineer, product designer, human-computer interaction researcher at the University of California San Diego. As an ex-ServiceNow Quality Engineer Intern and current Slack Software Engineer Intern, Kenneth has extensive experience in delivering full-stack, production-ready, and battle-tested software technologies that meet the stringent expectations of today’s software consumers. With his past experience working with student startup teams and leading UC San Diego’s premier engineering student organization (Triton Engineering Student Council), Kenneth has the ability to work with collaborators to achieve vision alignment and product delivery. In addition to his expertise in technology and engineering leadership, Kenneth’s involvement in the UC San Diego Design Lab, founded by renowned researcher and designer Don Norman, equips him with the necessary UI/UX design skills to identify the core needs of potential stakeholders through rigorous user research, create user-centered solutions that meet such needs and continuously collect feedback needed to evaluate and improve existing products.
In high school, he contributed to the development of web authoring tools as an (unofficial) UROP participant at the MIT CSAIL and is actively conducting research with the UCSD Design Lab to develop novel social computing systems that better facilitate community-driven design and inspire solutions that account for the nuances, perspectives, and experiences of the underrepresented and disenfranchised.
Devante "Don" Griffin
Devante's passion for reducing negative police encounters and increase public safety stems from his family's encounters with police and his own 1st hand experience being detained without reason less than 100 feet from his home.
After returning to his apartment behind Morehouse College after work, he left out to get some snacks from the store at the end of his block. When walking back home, an officer stopped him and asked who he was and where he was going. After giving his name and pointing to his home, the officer looked him up yet couldn't find him in the system, then proceeded to detain him because he couldn't identify him. The officer called backup (other black men), they suspected him of being who he wasn't, and tried to bring him in. After Devante pleaded to call his roommate to bring his wallet, he was released after the officer realized he didn't use the accent on the last e of his name on his government ID.
Devante shares this story to highlight how unnecessary encounters like this are way too common for black men. He makes a point to show how harsh police encounters go beyond race and highlights a systematic problem overall. He realizes his insight from the inside of these situations gives him an ability to help serve in creating better rehabilitation between community and police interactions. Along with this, through being the son of an entrepreneur and working with dozens of companies himself, Devante has garnered a reputation for superb customer service leadership. He deploys this skill to serve as an excellent community liaison through Vngle, able to connect with people from all walks of life and understand their unique needs when it comes to equitable representation.
Please list the name, title, and email address of any additional team members who would be interested in participating in the Incubator with you.
Jaime Warren Fernandez
Partnerships & Biz Strategy Lead at Vngle
Frontend Engineer at Vngle
Devante "Don" Griffin
Special Operations at Vngle
Are you seeking additional team members? If so, what are you looking for in terms of background, skills, and expertise?
From a technical perspective, we will need some of the brightest engineering minds to pull off this operation. Our immediate needs in this area are recruiting a Backend Developer and a Designer. We need this talent to expand our product across platforms (e.g. mobile) to enable viewers to engage with us across any medium.
We are also seeking to find more civic and policy-minded people who are familiar with local municipal government operations and can help mold our strategy to connect with and work alongside police departments, city halls, etc.
Is there anything else you want us to know?
Vngle is a finalist for MIT Solve's Global Challenge: Antiracist Technology in the US.
We’ve launched in our city beta College Park, GA (gained 1000+ local subscribers), developed a passionate community of supporters, and further developed our mission with the support of DivInc’s Social Justice Innovation Accelerator, Mozilla’s Fix-the-Internet Incubator, and the Envision Accelerator. Overall, we’ve kicked off operations in Georgia and built ties with local and state government to partner in bringing our grassroots coverage to the underrepresented in their districts. Our team also landed an exclusive partnership with a National Science Foundation sponsored blockchain project that provides proof of authenticity for content captured on smartphones.
Now we are aiming, to exapand our service to the 15 cities that make up Fulton County, Georgia. We are working on a partnership with the Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commisioners to do so. We're also in talks with the President of the Georgia Municipal Association who wants to see us grow in districts across the state moving into 2022.
The cities in Fulton include: Atlanta, College Park, Alpharetta, Chattahoochee-Hills, East-Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain-Park, Palmetto, Roswell, Sandy-Springs, South-Fulton, and Union-City.