By Tara Bozick
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).
The founder of a Hampton-based startup was one of five “emerging global entrepreneurs” grilled by the “Shark Tank” TV show investors at the White House on Monday.
Newport News resident Aazia Mickens Dessaso launched FreePing (formerly HeadCount) at the Peninsula Technology Incubator last year. Dessaso presented FreePing’s concept to cast members of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran and FUBU Founder and CEO Daymond John.
“It sounds like a great idea,” Cuban told her.
FreePing provides free streams of news and other information to prepaid mobile phone subscribers in Brazil and other emerging markets. To keep the content free, users sign up for alerts using a “missed call” process. That triggers a text message paid for by either advertisers or by organizations that subscribe for access to prepaid cell phone users, who don’t need data-consuming smartphones.
The software firm also plans to develop its own streams of information, and is currently piloting its model in Brazil, South Africa and Kenya to give users info like bus schedules. Dessaso told the panel the company still needs to attract a “critical mass” of users to get major brands involved.
The idea formed after Dessaso studied in Brazil as a U.S. Department of Education Foreign Languages and Studies Fellow, according to a news release. She also organized local participation in the International Space Apps Challenge to encourage local coders to access and use NASA’s open data.
The #SparkTheStart White House event was organized to highlight the need to invest in women and young entrepreneurs in developing solutions to the world’s challenges with the goal of recognizing the impact of U.S. government-led initiatives, according to a White House news release. The Peninsula Technology Incubator is a Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition recipient.