Hustle Mindset

Meet The Co-Founders Behind Arbit, An AI-Powered Sneaker Resale Price-Prediction Startup That Has Raised $1M In Funding

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Venita Cooper’s passion for sneaker culture has led her to become an entrepreneur-turned-tech-founder.

In 2019, Cooper opened Silhouette Sneakers & Art in Tulsa, OK, after working as a K-12 educator in the Mississippi Delta through Teach for America. She was brought to Oklahoma because her parents decided to retire, Cooper told AFROTECH™ in an interview.

With no entrepreneurial background, the thought of launching her own business never crossed her mind until 2018, when the idea of opening a sneaker store was presented to her.

“At first I thought it was crazy ’cause I was like, ‘I’m not an entrepreneur. I’ve never done anything like that before,’” Cooper said. “One of the things that I’ve learned is that to start a business and to run a business, to me, the No. 1 skill is the ability to make good decisions consistently and quickly. I always ask investors and other founders who have successful companies, what is the characteristic that they can identify as that No. 1 characteristic for a successful entrepreneur, and aside from obviously not giving up, it’s just the ability to stack good decisions essentially. Working in education taught me that.”

Silhouette Sneakers & Art has maintained its presence in the Greenwood neighborhood, otherwise known as Black Wall Street, with Cooper selling shoe releases from Nike, Jordan, and Adidas, among others. Additionally, it has prioritized selling apparel products from local Black-owned and native businesses.

However, after more than four years in the business, Cooper announced in March 2024 that the store would be transitioning to the hands of Kellen James, a third-generation Tulsan, Market Place reports. The pair had built a relationship over several years.

“Silhouette, from the moment that I opened it, I always felt like it was something that I hoped I would be able to pass on to ideally a native Tulsan, ideally a Black native Tulsan with roots in the community,” Cooper expressed. “I found that person, the new owner, Kellen James… And I think there’s something really beautiful about this. I actually told him, he shouldn’t just be stepping into my vision and carrying that forward. I think the beauty of it is to have this business on Black Wall Street that evolves with the next person. I’m really excited about the potential for Silhouette in the community.”

Cooper will now be turning her attention towards the tech sector through her venture Arbit, which is a data and resale price-prediction startup powered by artificial intelligence (AI). It was while running the sneaker store that the idea for this venture came to light. In 2021, Brian Brackeen, a general partner at Lightship Capital, was scouting the area to connect with entrepreneurs and founders for an opportunity to join its VC pipeline and bootcamps. Among his stops included Silhouette Sneakers & Art.

For the next year and a half, Cooper says she was enlightened to shift her focus from running a sneaker shop to looking into a deeper rooted issue in the resale market. Cooper then scaled the idea through the support of Tulsa-based Act House accelerator, a six-month program aimed at empowering Black and Latino entrepreneurs. According to its website, participants receive $70,000 in non-diluted funding.

Among the takeaways from Cooper’s experience would be the need to bring a technical founder into the fold. Vincent Sanders, a former senior application engineer at Nike, was put on her radar. He had developed a sneaker database, which Cooper was initially looking to purchase. However, within a phone call the pair learned they shared a common goal. 

“She gave me a cold call early in the morning Pacific time,” Sanders explained to AFROTECH™. “We had the conversation, talked about what the vision was with the database, what her vision was with Arbit. From there it just made sense to join forces. So ultimately, about a month or two later, Arbit actually acquired this new senior database, which helped improve Arbit’s progress because in the acquisition I came on essentially full-time as a CTO and we also had five years worth of data that allows Arvin to be able to jumpstart its vision in building out the product and the solutions that we are aiming to provide to our consumers.”

Currently, Arbit enables its users to compile both current and future collections on a wishlist. It diligently monitors pricing updates and provides an “unbiased valuation” through aggregated data research, utilizing predictive analytics to anticipate price trends.

In October 2023, it was supported with a $1 million raise, which helped to scale the platform and team, a press release mentions.

“A $1,500 Jordan could be $500 the next day,” Cooper said. “What we’re trying to do with Arbit is we’re using AI to bring certainty into the market, to actually give a fair market value for these products that people can have serve as a frame of reference and as the source of truth in negotiating prices in the market.”

Arbit’s data is available to users free of charge, and the company earns revenue by partnering with marketplaces to receive a commission from their sales.

“We don’t want consumers to have to pay to use our insights to make better choices in the market,” Cooper notes.

Looking ahead, Arbit leaders hope to expand their reach into other sectors. They are already collecting data to build algorithms that will be useful for the luxury handbag sector.

“Success for me just looks like Arbit being integrated into our consumer’s everyday life,” Sanders mentioned to AFROTECH™. “Just us being the first touch point for all research. So instead of people going to X, Y, and Z, when they want to research anything resale market, they come to Arbit first. Even if it’s not a market we currently have, they automatically just assume resale data, research, resale insights come to Arbit and if Arbit doesn’t have it, then more than likely it’s not available. So I wish for us to be kind of that standard and that gold standard for resale market data and insights.”

 





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