Johnson’s Latest First: Running A Fintech Startup With An Eye Toward Africa

Dr. Sandra K. Johnson, the Founder of Global Mobile Finance, was the first black woman to earn a PhD in electrical engineering in the U.S.

Dr. Sandra K. Johnson isn’t your typical entrepreneur. She didn’t realize she wanted to be her own boss until the end of her 26-year career at IBM, where she rose to the ranks as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in Central, East and West Africa. Johnson’s time at IBM led her to travel to over 20 countries in Africa and inspired her to launch her fintech startup Global Mobile Finance.

Global Mobile Finance is based in Morrisville and was officially founded in July 2018. The startup is a global remittance mobile app that helps leverage mobile money. Johnson explained that when she lived in Kenya, exchanging money via their phone was a common practice throughout Eastern Africa, since most people had mobile phones but many had limited access to traditional banks. She wanted to provide a similar service in the U.S., Europe and Canada.

The company’s initial product will enable international mobile money transfers based on blockchain technology.

Global Mobile Finance is based on blockchain technology and would allow those who live in America to send money to family and friends living in developing countries by phone through its geeRemit tool. The initial target market is Sub-Saharan Africa, and Johnson intends to expand into other emerging countries. Johnson said she’s still working on the app but that it should be ready for a pilot program in two months, and she wants to launch the pilot in Maryland and Virginia and that the receivers will initially be in Kenya.

Johnson said throughout her college career she never knew exactly what career path in the STEM area she wanted to pursue, but once she reached graduate school she realized she wanted to go into industrial research. She received her Ph.D. at Rice University and her M.S. at Stanford University. Johnson then also became the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, with a focus on Computer Engineering, in the U.S.

“When I was in school I didn’t know I was the first (black woman to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering), it was only several years after I graduated that I found out,” Johnson said. “My relatives and friends had originally encouraged me to pursue medicine, and I just always liked math and science.”

Her three degrees started her career at IBM, where she entered as a researcher and climbed her way to the C-Suite as CTO in Central, West and East Africa. During her time at IBM, she also won multiple awards including the 2006 Summit Heritage Award from the IT Senior Management Forum and the 2005 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution in Industry.

Johnson said her whole life has revolved around innovation and technological advancements, and that becoming an entrepreneur was a natural path to take in her career. Her affinity for tech is so deep and broad that she struggles to narrow it down to any specific sub-field or even choose what about it attracts her most.

“(Technology) is just what I was born to do and it’s who I am.” she said. “A better question would be, What do I not love about it? I love just about everything about it. I think from the technical perspective, I breathe technology.”

About Rebecca Ayers 25 Articles
Rebecca Ayers is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She's an intern reporter for GrepBeat.