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DME Interactive Holdings Inc. broke ground when it became one of the first publicly traded African American-owned Internet companies. Now DME is going after the growing African American presence online. Staking its claim as one of the growing number of Internet service providers (ISP) targeting urban audiences, DME recently partnered with America Online to launch Places of Color. The co-branded online service, powered by AOL’s CompuServe 2000, provides Internet access and customized content to minority communities. As part of the partnership agreement, AOL has taken a minority stake with stock options of less than 5% in DME Interactive Holdings. DME will in turn market AOL products on its site.
AOL and CompuServe are infrastructure partners providing dial-up connectivity, customer service, billing, instant messaging and other services. DME will be responsible for developing content, manufacturing and distributing CD-ROMs, and marketing and advertising for the co-branded online service. The ISP features several e-mail addresses per subscription, messaging, forums, chat rooms and resource communities. DME is also responsible for approximately 150 affiliate relationships with content providers, including the National Urban League and the Black Health Network, which will contribute interviews, news and information pertinent to the urban market. Places of Color is priced at $19.95 per month for unlimited Internet access.
The urban-oriented ISP is the brainchild of DME Interactive CEO Darien Dash, who founded the company five years ago and reported revenues of $500,000 in 1999. He says DME’s mission has always been to expand software and hardware infrastructure services to minority communities. Says Dash, “Places of Color is the ISP that minority communities have needed to inspire them to get involved in the digital revolution by providing access to training, distance learning and job placement. We’ll surround it with content from partners in finance, news and entertainment.”
Dash’s partners at AOL say the deal makes sense for them because it provides a direct avenue to a growing consumer marketplace. “Minority communities make up a growing and important market that will respond to the convenience and community this new service will offer,” says Audrey Weil, CompuServe’s general manager and senior vice president at AOL. “We followed the career of Darien and were impressed with his credentials. And the Places of Color online service is an important part of our overall strategy to reach new and growing audiences.”
Places of Color is a wholly owned subsidiary of DME, with some 50 employees based in New York City. “We’ve raised our own funds to provide this service,” says Dash, adding that DME will spend in excess of $18 million to market the site. Dash recently hired Mark Herlitz-Ferguson, formerly with Bankers Trust and the financial services company Capital MBIIIC L.L.C., as president of DME Interactive Holdings Inc. Herlitz-Ferguson will handle the day-to-day operations of the company. This will allow Dash to concentrate his efforts on Places of Color.
“At the end of the day our goal is to get connected those people who have been disconnected from technology [African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and rural whites],” says Dash.