Generally, one of the challenges black entrepreneurs face is raising money to either scale up their business or keep it afloat. In addition to that, many black entrepreneurs depend on their savings to start their businesses due to a lack of venture funding. Black entrepreneurs have historically faced disparities in securing VC funding and usually receive less than 2% of overall dollars each year, according to data cited by CNBC.
Despite persistent funding challenges, Iddris Sandu, now 26, never gave up when he started Spatial Labs, a web3 infrastructure and hardware company that launched in 2021. Sandu started Spatial Labs in a bid to create products and shopping experiences using augmented reality, according to Tech Crunch.
“The metaverse to us is not a virtual space that people go to spend time in. It’s a world in which we can add more context to your real world and make your real world more enjoyable,” Sandu told the platform. “We’re going to be responsible for catalyzing a completely new generation to be more conscious of their environment; more conscious of how they spend and how they buy.”
Spatial Labs early this year successfully raised $10 million in a seed round led by Blockchain Capital with participation from Marcy Venture Partners, the firm co-founded by Jay-Z. In 2022, the company caused in a buzz in the industry by launching microchip-embedded clothes called Gen One Hardwear.
The microchip called LNQ provided consumers with the item’s provenance and ownership history, seen, naturally, on the blockchain, TechCrunch wrote. According to the outlet, the LNQ functions like a QR code. Tapping the LNQ chip with a phone unlocked online and in-person experiences, such as virtual concerts.
“The chip, for example, allows brands to add loyalty programs directly into their products rather than, say, signing someone up for an email list. To gain access to the loyalty benefits, all consumers must do is bring their phone within proximity to the chip sown into the item they purchased from the brand,” according to Tech Crunch.
The funding round makes Sandu one of the youngest black entrepreneurs and solo founders to raise a double-digit seed round. Sandu plans to expand Spatial Labs by scaling its blockchain-enabled technology and venture into other industries, such as media and entertainment. “We’re also thinking about reducing the barrier of entry into web3 and augmented reality using our chip technology,” he noted.
Sandu shot to fame when he developed a mobile software that would later gain the attention of former U.S. president Obama and land him at the White House, where he received the honorary presidential scholar award when he was in high school.
The software engineer considers himself a “cultural architect” and said he aims to “level the playing field” between Silicon Valley and young communities of color. Born and raised in Harbor City, California with parents from Ghana, Sandu would never forget a harrowing experience he had when he was eight – his father had wanted to take him on a trip to Ghana.
“But on the fourth day of the trip, he abandoned me in this village, took my passport and came back to the States,” Sandu told Oxford University’s Music and Style Magzine, adding that he was abandoned for almost nine months before getting into contact with an NGO which helped him travel back home.
He got back to the U.S. when the first-ever iPhone was unveiled, and this started his journey into the tech world.
Just 10 years old then, Sandu started learning programming on his own for the next two years at a public library and this was where he got spotted by a designer from Google, who offered him an internship opportunity at the company’s headquarters.
At age 13, he got his first experience with programming and worked on many projects such as the initial Google blogger, Google Plus, among others. Yet, Sandu was determined to affect change, hence, at the age of 15, he designed an app for his high school that gave students turn-by-turn directions to navigate their classrooms.
Being the only school in California that had an app made by a student, Sandu received wide acclaim that would later afford him a meeting with former President Obama. During that same period, Sandu wrote an algorithm that he would go on to sell to Instagram, and by the age of 18, he was already consulting for Snapchat before landing at Uber, where he created software (Autonomous Collision Detection Interface) for its self-driving cars. From encouraging the study of STEM subjects in schools and at higher levels, Sandu, in 2017, met rapper Nipsey Hussle at local Starbucks, and in three weeks, they had transformed an abandoned storefront in Los Angeles into the Marathon Clothing Store.
Sandu’s vision is to build Spatial Labs to become one of the fastest-rising unicorns.