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When it comes to celebrating women in tech, especially women of color, Dawn Dickson-Akpoghen is a name to know. In 2019, Dawn made history as the first woman CEO globally to raise a secure token offering (STO) over $1 million using equity crowdfunding under Reg CF the JOBS Act. The following year, Dawn raised additional funds, raising $4 million from over 5000 investors. In 2021, she also made the inaugural Forbes 1000 List, so it’s exciting to see what 2022 holds.

Dawn holds a B.A. in Journalism from The Ohio State University, and it was her studies in the IT program at DeVry University that sparked her career. She completed the Techstars accelerator program in 2017, and her companies Flat Out Heels and Popcom are revolutionizing the technology and lifestyle industries.

We spoke with Ms. Dickson-Akpoghen to find out what drives her success and how technology has helped her to fulfill her pursuits.

Our conversation, edited lightly for clarity, is as follows.

Newegg: What drives your success as a Black woman in tech. How did you get here, and what is unique about your journey?

Dawn Dickson-Akpoghene: I’m 43 now and I didn’t realize how everything that I’ve been from the time I was 19 has led me on this path. I went to school for tech in 2000— information technology. I was building computers, routers, doing networking and I could build websites.

I was very, very early [in my career] and I didn’t think of it like, ‘I’m in tech.’ I just went to school to learn information technology because I could tell it was the future and what was needed to be competitive in the job market and create the life you want to have.

At 20 years old, I was like, ‘you need to go and learn what this world wide web is… this is about to be big.’

I remember AOL sending around CDs to everybody to get on Instant Messenger.

I’m like, ‘what is this and what can I do? How can I get in on this?’

Dawn Dickson Interview

Image Courtesy of Dawn Dickson-Akpoghene

So, I went to school to understand it. Initially, I didn’t know I was going to be an entrepreneur. When I first started my career, I was working as a business analyst for Nationwide [Insurance]. I was working on user experience, and I realized I have this unique skillset that’s making the corporation that I work for a lot of money.

I didn’t even know the word “intrapreneur” until recently because it wasn’t a thing, but I was innovating and creating businesses and systems inside of this company when I was like 21, 22 years old.

How did you come to realize that technology was aligned with your purpose?

Dawn Dickson and colleagues

Photo cred PopCom

I knew I was aligned with my purpose when I look back [at my journey]. I mean, where did I get this from other than just divine guidance? And just being in alignment, tapped into what God wanted for me.

The universe wanted me to create a path for wealth and generational wealth for myself and for my community and people around me. And it’s like that technology is the way and I’ve always found a path, inner guidance, like GPS.

I’ve been an early adopter of many technologies, including blockchain and crypto. I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time just because I was led to it. I don’t even know how, it just found me. So that’s my journey. I think it’s just like I’m in tech because I was led to it. And I really understand how we can use technology to solve a lot of the challenges we have, not just regarding wealth, but just making our communities better.

You have a background in technology and software, but also branched into hardware when you founded Flat Out Heels and put shoes into vending machines. What was the technology needed to make something like that work?

PopCom PopShop

Image courtesy of PopCom

At 22, after four years of consulting and working with a lot of brands, I decided I wanted to do my own business again. So, I’m like, ‘what can I do?’ I was living in Miami, consulting with events, small businesses, nightclubs, and promoters. And that’s how the idea for Flat Out [Heels] came about.

Just being out in the club scene for years and seeing women walking barefoot [out of the club] and saying, ‘OK, there’s a real opportunity like to help women from walking barefoot.’ It seems simple, but it’s really, like, why? Why are we? Why is this a thing? Why can’t we have something for us to put in our purse just to, like, get out of these heels and walk?

I was at LIV [nightclub in Miami] and I’m like, if there was a vending machine, I could just put on these little slippers and just get to my car. I definitely couldn’t afford a valet back then, and parking was so far. Like all of my ideas, it came from a pain point that I personally experienced. The vending machine allowed me to get [shoes] to people fast. When people are thirsty, they can get a drink from a vending machine. Why don’t people sell more things in vending machines? Let me just try to sell shoes and see what happens….

That’s how my brain works, so in 2011-2012 I started researching what other products were sold in vending machines.

And I realized there’s so many products sold in vending machines in other countries, not just in the United States, but in Japan and China…everything you can imagine in the vending machines, and they had a whole system set up with QR codes and it was just so advanced you could buy anything. And here, it just wasn’t set up for that so I couldn’t find any company willing to work with me to sell my shoes and vending machines. That’s when I realized, wow, I have another problem that I can solve.

And that’s where Popcom, Inc., your automated retail company comes in…

PopCom PopShop

Image courtesy of PopCom

You really need to understand the performance and your sales and your data to grow this into an actual, profitable business. You can’t grow a profitable business and scalable company without any type of data on your performance in any type of customer metrics.

I decided to start Popcom as a software technology company to innovate automated retail and build software that can help vending machines and self-service kiosks. Unattended retail machines collect customer data very similar to what Google Analytics and Shopify does for websites.

I had to pick between my two companies because, at this point, I have a software company which has a big problem to solve that definitely falls in line with true technology, and I can raise millions of dollars. Then I have this woman’s shoe brand that’s really a lifestyle business. I had to choose.

So, I stepped down as CEO from Fall Out [Heels] in order to go build what the company needed in order to grow. It was stuck. I had to step down and go build what my other company needed.

So the vision of 2011 just happened last year, ten years later in 2021. I figured, if I can solve this problem for myself, how I can sell shoes and vending machines, I can help a lot of other companies. I launched the vending machines in Atlanta airport.

That’s when I realized it’s more than just getting a vending product and a vending machine, and just putting it somewhere.

Popcom was one of the first to start implementing blockchain into vending machines. What inspired that?

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Since 2017, we’ve had the blockchain component integration for identity management. Today’s retail trends are all around automation. We integrated [blockchain] because we started out building vending machines for cannabis and, you know, legislation wise, it’s still federally illegal.

There are many states where [cannabis] is legal but we still have challenges with payments. So, we built [payment] technology first. We use blockchain to be able to verify identity and upload your ID which is stored on the blockchain.

You scan your face and you get a verification QR code. Any time you need to verify that you’re of age to purchase something from our system, whether it’s 21 to purchase alcohol or verifying that you are you to buy cannabis to track your daily purchases.

According to state laws, we can do that, but the market wasn’t ready for that technology. We’ve been sitting on this technology for some years now. It’s there. We have three customers that are using it, early adopters in alcohol and cannabis.

They’re just waiting for the market to open up and when it does, we are definitely in position.

What is going to be the next big thing?

PopCom PopShop

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Electric vehicles and smart cities. How EV is getting rid of combustion vehicles on the road. It doesn’t matter about your personal beliefs or political views around what’s happening to the climate, with the just number of things we’re putting into the environment from these vehicles with these combustion engines and how much gasoline these things take.

Do you still have a home PC setup? What does your tech setup look like? And what are some tech must-haves that have contributed to your success and peace of mind?

Dawn Dickson with colleagues

Image courtesy of PopCom

That’s a good one. I don’t have a desktop setup or even a monitor. I’m always on the move, so I have my MacBook, and that’s like, everything. I obviously have a lot of remote things happening now, so these days, I keep some ring lights and make sure we have a good virtual background. But all my tools, what I really rely on, are software that really help me with my business, whether it’s managing your company’s communications and teams or managing payroll.

I believe in lifestyle design. I live the life that I always wanted to live. I didn’t know how I was going to be a traveling person and make money, but now the world allows that, for me to be on the road and have my virtual set up and be in my office. I have my green-screen wallpaper in the back (laughs) or I go with the blur. So that for me, that’s it. I’m not really into gadgets or hardware. I’m really just like the ultimate digital nomad at this point.

Also, a good VPN is a must-have, virtual private network. I like to use Windscribe—they don’t pay me to tell you this. Just always protect your IP address, especially if you’re doing any financial transactions especially if you’re in a crypto space. I travel internationally, so a hack is to log into your IP address in the United States and get all of the Netflix and Hulu shows with VPN. Everybody needs one in general, not just for content, but definitely to protect your information from hackers.

Learn more about Dawn and her journey by visiting her personal website or following Mrs. Dickson-Akpoghen on Twitter @thedawndickson and Instagram: @dawndickson.

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Author Ronnia Cherry

Ronnia Cherry is a writer and Black girl gamer with an affinity for technology, communications and programming. When not playing The Sims, mobile Monopoly or Peak brain games, she also enjoys arts, entertainment and nature.

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