Junity President Janoye Williams teamed up with friends Chiziterem Uwaga and Alula Shiferaw to create a mobile application and web dashboard that connects students with local scholarships, college prep, employment, and mentorship opportunities. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Janoye to learn more about the startup.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial or planned to start a business? What inspired you?
JANOYE WILLIAMS: Ever since I was a kid, I always thought I would be in business and I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I migrated from Jamaica to Florida at a young age and I grew up in poverty in a single-parent home.
A few mentors and people in my life were business owners and I was inspired by seeing how they had forged a path for themselves. I admired how they weren’t only financially independent, but also independent with their time and how they wanted to spend it.
In terms of entrepreneurship, I love the thought of being able to do something that you love. I love the thought of being in a position where you can be financially free.
NAN: How did you develop the business concept for Junity? And how did you connect with resources to support your startup?
JANOYE: In 2016, I was a part of the Leadership Greater Hartford Quest cohort. Our task force was focused on education, which I’m very passionate about. Our goal was to provide a solution for the issue of education disparity in Hartford.
Growing up in Florida I experienced a similar situation firsthand. A lot of the friends I grew up with were destined for failure because of their zip code. In Florida, schools were zoned based on how they performed on standardized tests, which determined how much funding they received. In my neighborhood, my school was deemed an “F” school. However, I was academically gifted and applied to attend a magnet school 20 miles away. Going to high school away from my hometown made my resources much more abundant than my friends.
The memory of that whole experience helped when we were thinking of a solution where students would have access to resources they may not necessarily realize were available to them. That was the initial beginning of the Momentum Foundation, which eventually evolved into creating the Junity app.
As we developed our team, I met with Chizi who does our product development and marketing, and Alula, who does our business development. Five years ago, we decided to start Junity as an app that would connect a youth—especially those in underserved communities who don’t have access to resources—to tools to help them propel in life.
After I graduated Quest, some things happened in my career and I got focused on work, but I always made time to work on the Junity project. Last year, we went through the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) pitch competition and we won $1,000 through Get Seeded. From there, we got introduced to the CCEI Summer Fellowship startup accelerator and UConn’s Innovation Quest (iQ) program. It’s been a fun ride since then.
NAN: Aside from funding, what’s been the biggest challenge to get this startup up and going?
JANOYE: Really understanding what the problem is. I’m emotionally tied to it because I lived that problem, but really understanding if that problem exists at a macro level and then trying to ensure that our solution aligns to the problem.
I can’t tell you the amount of times we’ve pivoted, we’ve made changes, we thought we had it right. We thought we could charge resources to use Junity. We thought we could do so many things to help sustain the app, but then those solutions were tied for our own emotional makeup. Even today, as we continue to refine and think about launching the app, we’ve been focused on how do you truly validate that this is a problem? And how do you truly validate that, at minimum, your product meets the customer’s problem—and that you’re serving them in all capacities that you intend to?
NAN: What’s next?
JANOYE: We’re finalizing the design of Junity. We’re doing some usability studies, basically testing how people interact with the visual makeup of Junity. The next thing is to code it. So, we have our front end of the app done and our back end pretty schematic and drawn out. Coding is the next challenge. We have to raise some funding to do that. Once we code the app, we’ll do some alpha and beta functionality testing. Our soft launch is planned for some time in June. Basically, we’ll look for a cohort of students—we’ll probably work with a school to do that, and hopefully involve some guidance counselors and some resource providers to make that happen.