A fews years ago, back when he was a defensive lineman at Texas State University, Michael Odiari was pulled over for a missing license plate. The encounter unfolded like any routine traffic stop — at least until the officer went from asking for license and registration to pointing a gun at Odiari's face because he “moved too fast.” Odiari emerged unharmed, but enough was enough.
“In a split second, I could’ve been one of the names,” says Odiari, now a Dallas-based entrepreneur. “And because I received the blessing to have life, it is my duty, my purpose, to speak for those who might not have the ability to speak anymore — to provide a solution.”
Odiari’s experience fits into a larger narrative of “driving while Black.” The U.S. population is only 12.3% Black, yet a study by Stanford University found that Black drivers are 20% more likely to be pulled over than their white counterparts. Another study found that Black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police during their lifetime.
Odiari’s answer to this crisis is an app named Check. Co-founded in 2018 with LaKeisha Turner, the product is the result of more than 80 hours of police ride-alongs and four years of observing proceedings in traffic court in pursuit of a safer, better traffic stop.
How does it work? An officer pulls over the driver and initiates a recorded video chat through the Check app, which also transmits the motorists’ driver’s license, insurance, and registration for review. Not only is the driver empowered to keep that officer accountable, but getting out of the car is entirely optional. Officers can issue a citation directly to the driver’s account, and the driver can resolve their citation without having to go to court.
“A traffic stop is a process,” Odiari explains. “There’s the part when you receive your citation, and then the part of resolving your citation. We took time to go into traffic courts to really understand their process, understand what goes into their docket, and that’s the value we’re providing to the people.”
Odiari is betting that public safety departments stand to gain as much from this venture as the driver. Research shows that traffic stops are a police officer’s most dangerous part of the job, and Check would eliminate this risk. Law enforcement agencies need only determine a way to reach critical mass in terms of participation. The Kyle Police Department in Kyle, TX, has said that if they can get at least 75% of the population of the city to participate, law enforcement there would adopt Check.
“Do I think it will be widely adopted? Yes. Because people are tired of being tired,” says Odiari. “We’ve seen the protests, the burning of buildings — which I don’t agree with — but that comes from a suppressed rage. People don’t want to talk anymore. We want a tangible change."
Odiari recently graduated from the Founder Institute’s Austin cohort, and is slated to be featured in season 2 of The Social Movement docuseries on Amazon Prime, which follows 40 entrepreneurs, CEOs, and investors around the world solving socioeconomic problems.
The business idea has only become more urgent with repeated incidents of police brutality. Although the app is still in the testing stages, Odiari and his team are full steam ahead with a campaign to raise awareness. Right now, Check has a GoFundMe page, and Odiari’s goal is to partner with a nonprofit to increase awareness. They’ve also partnered with professional athletes to execute a robust marketing strategy with the hashtag #StandWithCheck. The goal is to create a movement and cultivate a grassroots tribe.
“In order to make this happen we need to be smart, we need to be strategic about how we invest, but we, more so, need to be united,” Odiari says. “In order for change to happen, we need a united people.”