Tuloko locates black-owned businesses

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2012 - 8:29 AM

A new website aims to "make every day Black Friday" in the Twin Cities. But Tuloko has nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving, massive markdowns or stampeding customers.

Instead, the site (www.tuloko. com) serves as a guide for those who want to support businesses owned by black entrepreneurs. The aim, co-founder Duane Johnson said, is to create "an African-American version of Yelp," the review-heavy, social-network-y website.

For 15 months, Johnson and partner Sean Armstrong aggregated and verified listings of local businesses, from restaurants and soy-candle outlets to law firms and auto repair shops. "There were some resources out there," Johnson said, "but a lot was outdated."

The site also lists events, nonprofits, and historical landmarks pertinent to the African-American experience and allows users to write Yelp-like reviews.

The site was launched Feb. 1, not coincidentally the first day of Black History Month. Johnson, who is pursuing a master's degree at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said it drew 700 unique visitors in its first week.

Some were going beyond just seeking a place to get a good haircut, thanks to the site's "wiki" nature. "People can see what's there," Johnson said, "and go, 'Oh, this is missing, that is missing' and can upload businesses they know of that are African-American-owned."

They now are expanding Tuloko to other cities and hope to release a smartphone app within six months and have a loyalty rewards program by next year.

And the name? "I wanted something that had meaning, but that wasn't too obvious, like Belp," said Armstrong, an insurance-company manager. Upon learning that Tulsa, Okla., was one of the richest black communities in the 1920s, he had his name, with at least one other meaning: "to locate."

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