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Ontario Tech alumni develops ultimate GPS app for Black and allied-owned businesses

May 10, 2023

Global Black Alliance and RealOnes team

Community, allyship and inclusion. When Joe Harry—Founder of the Global Black Alliance (GBA) and RealOnesstarted developing his business, there were three main things he wanted it to reflect. A solid mission, need for change and to celebrate Black excellence.

“We wanted to create a space where allies and members of the Black community could promote their businesses, connect with others and be the ultimate GPS app for local businesses.” Joe Harry, BOIT 2010, Ontario Tech University.

GBA and RealOnes is an entirely free GPS app for Black owned businesses and allies of the Black community. Users can apply for their business to be on the platform and from there, anyone who downloads the app can immediately see where they are located. Business owners can send updates and announcements through the platform and connect with users in real-time. This app was designed to promote Black excellence, learn about different cultures and build a strong community of allies. 

For Joe Harry, community has always been important to him, and Ontario Tech played a significant part in that. His university journey started in the Commerce Program, before transferring to the Bachelor of Information and Technology Security program and graduating in 2010. Throughout his undergraduate years, Joe was an active member of the university community, working in the Registrar’s Office, Office of Student Life and Residence. 

Justin ArthurGBA’s Quality Assurance Testerstarted out in the Information and Technology Services program at Ontario Tech and later transitioned into the Game Development and Entrepreneurship program, also graduating in 2010. He is the Founder/Owner of the consulting company, QANet Inc. 

Student Life had the pleasure of interviewing Joe and Justin to learn more about the GBA and RealOnes, and their journey and experiences as Ontario Tech students. 

When meeting with Joe and Justin, they were asked about how the GBA team came to be and what sparked Joe’s reasoning behind the development of his business and mission. Behind any great idea or business, is a strong team. The GBA team is made up of strong leaders, forward thinking individuals, and members and allies of the Black community. They built a friendship during their years at Ontario Tech, as many students do. Joe, Jamal and Justin would actively meet up for half-priced wings or at Shagwells (2200 North) after class. Even after graduation, they remained close and kept in contact. 

It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that Joe felt a strong need for change. Between the protests over killings of black men and women in North America, and the ever changing and defeating effects of the pandemic, Joe knew something had to be done. He wanted to help non-profit and Black owned businesses where it was needed most. The idea of creating an alliance of people with businesses, skills and diversity to bring light back into our communities, became an even bigger thought. Joe reached out to his multifaceted school colleagues and proposed the idea of working together to figure out a way to support Black excellence. 

When developing the business and app name, Joe said the team focused on the significance of each word:

Global - Wanted the app and our mission to be shared globally and become a worldwide movement.
Black - To build a company and brand that is inclusive and centered around the Black experience.
Alliance - For everyone to feel welcome, involved and become allies in our communities.
RealOnes - When you say someone is a “real one” and that they always have your back, that is what we wanted our app to embody.

As a team of mostly Ontario Tech alumni, who are now working professionals and business owners, they were asked about how their journey at Ontario Tech helped them get to where they are today. Joe said, “This university holds a special place in my heart because I got to build strong relationships with staff by working in the Registrar's Office and Student Life. I saw that people took a genuine interest in me and my success and that resonated with me and where I am now, being able to do that for others.” 

For Joe, university meant more to him than just getting his degree. He argues that there is the education side of things and also the aspect of community when you attend university. At Ontario Tech, Joe had the opportunity to interact with different people, different cultures and got to see how everyone worked together. His sense of community at Ontario Tech had a large impact on his mission of building community through his business. 

The programs that both Joe and Justin took in university helped them learn essential skills and hands-on experience in creating a business and using their degrees and courses to their highest potential. Justin stated, “When I started at Ontario Tech, it taught me the business and technical side of gaming. The hands-on aspect sparked my interest in creating my own business and marketing myself, which is why I took a large interest in the software testing side of my program. When I was younger, I used to find bugs in the video games I would play and email the creators about it. I enjoyed this side of software so much that it ended up becoming my career.” 

As a student who might be interested in following the same type of path that this team has carved out, Justin argues, “The biggest piece of advice would be to network and utilize the resources available to you. Attend any job fairs or career events where you can speak with employers and market yourself. Putting yourself out there, even by volunteering, will assist you in getting more experience in the fields you want to work in and get you more comfortable in a work environment.” Justin also expanded on how getting involved in mentorship programs and leaning on other students who shared similar experiences as he did, helped him throughout his undergrad. 

“I was feeling burnt out academically and the peer mentor I had for a few years during my undergrad told me to reduce my course load by dropping a few classes and taking them during the spring/summer semester instead. Looking back, it was the best decision I could’ve made. It helped me stay on track and get by.” - Justin Arthur 

Another piece of advice that Joe touched on was utilizing the resources available to you as a student. He said, “When I was a student here, I used as many services as I could, whether that was by going to the library and learning about study tips or having my resume reviewed. I still use the same resume format I was taught in my undergrad to this day.” 

Near the end of the interview, Student Life wanted to know what is next in store for GBA and RealOnes and how current Ontario Tech students can get involved and be part of GBA’s initiative. Joe stated, “To take the app to the next level, we want to do translations into French and enhance the user interaction side of our app. We want to reach out to different communities, get more businesses registered, spread the word out there and receive more funding to make RealOnes the ultimate resource for small businesses and users trying to shop local and support diverse groups with their wallet.” 

For students interested in learning more or getting involved with GBA and RealOnes, there is no shortage of work to be done, that’s for sure. You can reach out on jointhegba.com, download the RealOnes app or follow their socials. Once GBA gets additional funding, Joe says, “I want to come right back here and have students do co-op and internships with us. Ontario Tech is a place I call home and I would love for this school to be a part of GBA’s journey.” 

Ontario Tech is a university built on inclusion, diversity and equity. GBA and RealOnes are an extension of the efforts and success we want our students to achieve. By being active members in the school community, working towards your passions and career goals, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. It was an honour to sit down with Ontario Tech alumni—Joe and Justin—and learn more about GBA and RealOnes mission, vision and values. To hear more from the GBA team, check out our Student Life Instagram page.

By Daniella Petralito