HAMPTON, Va. (WVEC) -- It's been a great day for Aazia Mickens-Dessaso. The White House invited her to Washington because they believe she's one of five "Global Emerging Entrepreneurs".
"It is a tremendous, personal honor," Aazia said. "It feels kind of awesome. It's still sinking in."
The White House and the Small Business Administration wanted to bring together emerging entrepreneurs from across the U.S. and the world to highlight the importance of investing in women and young business people.
They wanted to highlight their stories in an event designed to create innovative solutions to some of the world's toughest challenges, including poverty, climate change, and access to key information, education and health care.
Here's what the official White House press release said about Aazia and the company she started called, "FreePing:"
"FreePing" is a software company launched in 2014 that provides free streams of utility information to prepaid mobile phone subscribers in emerging markets. Aazia developed the concept while observing the intersection of social movements and technology in Brazil as a U.S. Department of Education Foreign Languages and Area Studies Fellow. It was there that she discovered the benefits of easily-accessible information on personal and organizational productivity, and observed the ways Brazilians used their phones to interact without using prepaid credits. FreePing has been incubated by a Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition recipient, through which her business has received business acumen, access to capital, and mentorship. Currently, FreePing has a presence in Brazil, South Africa, and Kenya. As a young African American woman in the tech industry, Aazia has led efforts to connect under served groups to programming and engage, inspire and celebrate women and minorities in entrepreneurship. She organized this year's International Space Apps Challenge, the first her hometown organized in the challenge's four-year history, to allow local coders to access NASA's open data and solve the Agency's mission-related challenges, and to encourage girls in STEM. Aazia seeks to give voice to a startup ecosystem that is reflective of the country's rich demographic makeup to produce solutions and products.
As part of her experience in Washington, Aazia got to explain "FreePing" to some other special guests, the cast of ABC's Shark Tank.
Here's what she told Shark Tank cast members during the special panel event: "We would deliver utility options to empower people's daily lives. It would be real time bus schedules, market conditions so farmers can know where to sell their crops."
"It's a cool idea," said Mark Cuban, of Shark Tank. "And then you sell ads and everything around it."
"Yes, we sell ads," Aazia said.
Aazia hopes to use her Washington experience to grow her business and to send a message out there to women, young people and minorities to dream big and be your own bosses one day.
"I was told many times along the way that I couldn't do a lot of things because I was a woman," Aazia said. "But one of the traits that's really essential in entrepreneurship is grit. You kind of have to work passed the no's, you have to turn the 'Nos' into 'Yeses' everyday."