This Lab Doesn’t Require Goggles
Seeing a pair of marketers in lab coats on a website might initially strike a potential client as out of place. In the case of one Wilmington media company, that impression would be wrong.
Not only is one of Influencers Lab Media’s founders, Malcolm Coley, a chemist, but along with his partner Newton “Newdy” Felton, the pair creates STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities for young Wilmingtonians, along with business and learning opportunities for Wilmington’s black and brown children and adults.
Felton, a Howard High School and Delaware State University business management and marketing graduate, holds the title of Director of Business Development at The Lab. He (correctly, based on this author’s knowledge) feels his strength is as an influencer and connector.
A nearly-native Wilmingtonian (born in New Jersey but raised here), Felton described what is often referred to as the Delaware Way, “People always call me, and think I can get them anything, or get them in contact with anyone.”
Coley was born and raised in New Jersey and his chemistry degree came from Seton Hall University. Prior to The Lab, he co-founded Loc Nation, to support and celebrate the natural hair movement with a focus on locs, and it has amassed over 250,000 followers on social media.
He said, “I’m a digital guru for the most part. I’m the real tech-head. If it’s a digital strategy needed for social media, I’m the guy. Newdy is the offline punch, and I’m the online punch.”
The Lab’s broadest current initiative is Spending Black Matters. It is a Facebook group with over 24,700 members as of the date of this article. It has seen 2,625 posts from its members in the last month (over a hundred posts some days) and 140 new members in the last week. Its membership consists of business owners and entrepreneurs.
Felton said, “We created the group, in part, as a response to Covid. Like other businesses, we had to pivot when
Covid happened, so we went online. We were already planning that space, but we really had to move forward.”
Lamenting the already disproportionate Covid-driven loss of black-owned business, he added, “We felt we needed to come up with something to circulate black dollars in our community. Spending Black Matters is a space for black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to utilize as a marketplace, and we promote it. We started it in May, and to date, a lot of these businesses have made thousands of dollars.”
Members might see Chef Dana Herbert announcing his new DETV cooking show, or contribute to a thread of possible birthday cake bakers in Dover, or learn about a Newark coat drive.
The Lab hasn’t just created a space for people to broadcast their services. They’ve focused on educating group members on how to deal with the crisis of the pandemic, on marketing, and on how to play in a digital space. Their goal is to help businesses overcome Covid challenges through business development and creative strategy. Many such small businesses don’t have websites, and The Lab not only provides the group wall for use as a B2B, B2P and person-to-person resource, they are also working on a collective website where the members can sell their goods and services and join a business directory.
This is important since there is economic data that, to many, suggests a lack of longevity of “the black dollar” within the black community. It is said that the black dollar only circulates within the black community for four to six hours before it is spent elsewhere, compared to a dollar in the Asian community that circulates for 28 days.
Furthermore, Author and founder of MaggiesList.com, Maggie Anderson noted that a Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management study “proved that less than 3 percent of [black Americans’] $1 trillion in buying power makes it back to our community via our spending with our businesses and the companies that engage our businesses.”
Felton said, “We are not alienating any group, but we are so far behind, we have to teach our community how to spend with each other.”
Another project The Lab principals are passionate about is a partnership with Tamara Varella called The WIN Factory. This riverfront coworking space at 300 Martin Luther King Boulevard has a half dozen offices, all fully occupied by over seventeen entrepreneurs.
The initiative's motto is: “When one WINS, we all WIN.”
The Lab says the partners saw disparities in the inner city community they could address, in addition to providing work space, conference space, and event space. There were motivated individuals who had little to no access to resources and funding for their business ideas. The Lab introduces WIN members to their network, complementing these introductions with social media and email blasts. WIN offers multiple pricing levels for businesses of various sizes.
WIN also hosts The WIN Factory Wealth League, which is a type of weekly master class featuring experts in entrepreneurship, real estate, and investing. A recent speaker’s online session included approximately 50 participants, and the events often reach up to 70 people. Past speakers have included serial entrepreneur Derrick Reed, Lori Grayson of GGA construction, La Mar Gunn of Gunn Wealth Management, Jeff Flynn from Wilmington’s economic development office, and even a professional from Wilmington’s licensing and inspections office (offering expertise on things to look for to save money when buying property – since obstacles like brownfield and superfund sites can cost green investors dearly).
Felton said, “You would usually have to pay thousands of dollars for this kind of professional advice, and WIN members are getting it for free. WIN provides so much value with the Wealth League, and we probably did about 60 sessions through sessions we called ‘Camp Corona’.”
At the time of the interview, The Lab was preparing for a session for members on safety, including making members aware of their Second Amendment rights and how to apply those to protect their families.
Another area of interest for The Lab is video games, which is the basis of the group’s STEM work. They formed Futures First Gaming with partner Stephen Sye.
Coley said, “We are a black-owned gaming, low- and high-end competition and e-sports, STEM-accredited company. Our main focus is to really show black and brown kids what opportunities there are in STEM education and entrepreneurship. 83% of all black kids play video games and it’s a $159 billion dollar industry.”
They conduct a number of programs including War Zone Wednesdays and Fortnite Fridays, as well as tournaments, but also educate participants. They have a gaming competition, Pandamonium, coming up December 12 and 13 and another league that will offer cash prizes starting in January.
Their first learning cohort, in partnership with the Teen Warehouse, graduated ten kids. Each spent two hours coding, two hours learning entrepreneurship and financial literacy and two hours of open play gaming.
Coley added, “Kids and adults come into our ecosystem. We are trying to be a pipeline for colleges.
With so many fingers in various community pies, one might wonder if The Lab is a nonprofit. It is not.
Felton said, “A lot of our work is passion about our community. Of course we want to monetize it, but more important is ‘how do we help change the lives of people in our community that didn’t have access to resources?’ We are really good at getting into rooms. We network up and network down.”
The Lab takes pride in bridging the gap between “the streets and the corporate world.”
Felton noted, “There are very talented people in the streets, and we want to give them a platform for making money…not just person-to-person, but person-to-business.”
Coley noted there are grants involved when FFG works with nonprofits, adding, “We are 100% for-profit, but what we have done is partner with nonprofits in order to really push the gaming culture forward and also getting into these communities to teach these kids what opportunities there are for them. By partnering with Teen Warehouse, we could fund the projects but stay for-profit.”
Spending Black Matters is not yet monetized and is currently reliant on the sweat equity of the principals.
Politics is an arena where The Lab has also seen success. They worked on Tizzy Lockman’s successful 2018 campaign, focusing on grassroots and social media marketing, and Alexander Hackett’s non-winning, but nonetheless admirable and record-breaking, independent party run for City Council in 2020.
That direction all started when The Lab promoted a stage play, Black Jobs Matter, in 2016. The sold-out crowd at the Baby Grand was peppered with elected officials, thanks to the influence of playwright Gregory Morris, a Los Angeles filmmaker who moved to Wilmington nearly twenty years ago and now plays a role in the Wilmington Mayor’s office.
The play led to extensive press coverage, including two separate articles in Delaware Business Times, and Morris earned significant support from the corporate community, with business leaders helping him get the play off the ground.
Felton said, “That event got political eyes on us.”
The Lab also has a clothing line and encourages its constituents to view merchandise as an important stream of income for businesses. The Lab’s clothing often reflects a science theme designed with urban youth swagger. A Spending Black Matters merch line featuring financial literacy cool is in the works.
Filed Under: Living In Wilmington