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By Allen Collins, Black Tech Street
“I think Tulsa can really benefit from looking at itself as a Black Mecca.”
GREENWOOD Dist. — This aspiration is something co-founder and CEO of DUKAPAQ, Mbaluka “Luka” Michael Mutinda, is fighting for.
DUKAPAQ, a community-wide rewards program and digital marketplace, creates tech solutions for African businesses of all types. Their platform offers a suite of digital solutions that make it easier to manage your operations. Their aim is to be right there with you as you grow your business.
On this edition of the “Revival series,” where we amplify the story of a Black Tech entrepreneur in Tulsa and their companies, we elevate the story of Luka and his journey to Tulsa that led him to build DUKAPAQ.
The Birth of DUKAPAQ
Born in Kenya, Luka’s family immigrated to Dallas, TX at age nine. Luka recalls his introduction to entrepreneurship via family in Kenya.
“I remember every time I’d visit I’d always gravitate to wanting to help my relatives that had businesses,” said Luka. “That was an outlet to get out there, interact with strangers and practice my Swahili. I was always a very eager cousin, that if you run a shop, can I work in the front, can I stock some stuff in the back.”
While Luka doesn’t view himself as a conventional entrepreneur, he touts his curiosity, desire to learn and love of organizing as helping him become an entrepreneur.
Soon After graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University with a Bachelor of Science in 2013, Luka accepted an opportunity to flex those muscles.
“After I completed University I did a fellowship with Amnesty International,” said Luka. “Right off the bat I was into training to organize things and people. A lot of people don’t necessarily consider that business but I think it’s very much entrepreneurial.”
At the conclusion of the fellowship, Luka landed in fintech. He fondly reflects on his stint at Thrive PoS, a Texas based point-of-sale company.
“It wasn’t like Square but it was big enough to see how an organization is functional but small enough to pinpoint if I was curious about how we do our finances, installs or support, I could really delve into that. It was a good experience for me to have that,” said Luka.
Gathering broad industry understanding led to Luka’s confidence to take the entrepreneurial leap.
“It’s a very old school way of doing business, figuring out the ins and outs of the space you’re trying to get into,” said Luka. “I can guarantee you if I had worked only a year or two in PoS, I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I have because a lot of this stuff you accrue over time, especially in my experience.”
Luka credits business knowledge utilized at DUKAPAQ to his time in corporate America.
“I learned a lot because in that route you learn this is how formal businesses run this,” said Luka. “Structurally there are some things that you just have to know how they’re done well to be able to do that for yourself, your organization or for your business.”
By 2019, he worked his way up to key accounts and was running 60-70% of the business by the time he left Thrive.
“When you’re in these spaces you get to a certain point where you’re like, I can do this on my own,” said Luka. “It turned from that to I’m already tapped into this huge market that I already know exists outside of America by virtue of me growing up in an immigrant household and visiting Africa frequently, I wasn’t scared of it.”
Joining Black Tech Street
Luka has proudly only lived in 3 places: Kenya, Texas and Oklahoma. He relocated to the city through Tulsa Remote in 2019 and vividly remembers his first time on Greenwood Avenue.
“I got chills because you are literally in the same exact place where these people literally built such an incredible output in an era in which it wasn’t easy. And obviously the fall out, it’s devastating,” said Luka. “That’s a part of the city’s history, the state’s history and the country’s history, even the global history. I’m very invested in seeing Black history outside of borders.”
Neville Lusimba, co-founder and CTO of DUKAPAQ, was integral in the groundwork that allowed DUKAPAQ to enter the market in Nairobi as Luka established a base in Tulsa.
“My co-founder and I were doing a bunch of research in Kenya and here in Tulsa,” said Luka. “I started experimenting around a rewards and loyalty program. We got a pebble grant from Builders and Backers, $5,000 non-dilutive for 90 days.”
Luka values the accelerator’s model.
“It’s more like, we’ll give you the tools and you do what you’re going to do with it, so I just ran with it and I really did as much as I could,” said Luka. “I tapped into the local business, commerce space.”
From the motherland to Little Africa
Aware of Africa’s economy, growth potential in population and consumer needs, Luka notes DUKAPAQ’s positioning as a strong point.
“We’re Tulsa-based fintech with operations in Africa and our goal right off the bat was global,” said Luka. “For us, it’s worked pretty well because it hasn’t necessarily been an add-on, it’s very much built into our core vision.
The most powerful outlook Luka has is the realization of what Black Wall Street means in the African diaspora.
“Tulsa occupies a very unique space for Black people globally and the diaspora,” said Luka. ”I think the thing we haven’t really tapped into its full potential, is really bridging those two on a business and economic level.”
The nature of the DUKAPAQ’s founding that lives on their website has piqued curiosity in Kenya.
“Our customers in Kenya, they would see that and ask us questions. We’re building that into part of our product, for them they’ve never even heard of Black Wall Street or let alone even Tulsa, OK,” said Luka. “I’m still very much interested in Black people telling our own stories among each other and ensuring that sense of community and learning than I am the optics of the outside people looking in.”
Connecting with DUKAPAQ
As DUKAPAQ grows, the narrative and new developments of Black Wall Street will now grow in the motherland too.
“It’s been injected into our product journey because a lot of our early ideations were in the city and Black Wall Street is something that you can’t ignore if you’re a Black founder in Tulsa,” said Luka.
Luka recognizes the space Black Tech Street and Founder and CEO, Tyrance Billingsley II, hold as an organizer for Black Tech in Tulsa.
“One of the reasons I really respect what Tyrance is doing is, what you’re doing, the team, is that in many ways, Black Tech Street is the phoenix rising from the ashes from what is left of Black Wall Street,” said Luka.
“The current ecosystem really allows entrepreneurs to ideate and build businesses not only for themselves but for the overall economic development that’s happening in the city. I’m a testament to that.”
To check out the DUKAPAQ website, click here. To learn more about DUKAPAQ on LinkedIn, click here. To connect with Mbaluka “Luka” Michael Mutinda on LinkedIn, click here. To learn more about Black Tech Street, click here.