While MICA student Iman Carr ’22 (Design Leadership MA/MBA) was living in upstate New York in a predominantly white space—after having graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology—she knew she wanted to be in a location where creatives of color could thrive.
And in the City of Buffalo, where she met fellow artists and her now business partner Shakeel Alexander, that wasn’t happening.
From that struggle both she and Alexander faced, Blvck Door was built. Blvck Door, a finalist in this year’s UP/Start Venture Competition, is an online platform that bridges the gap between creatives of color and employers who see the benefits of an equitable, diversified workforce.
Carr, whose background is in medical illustration, learned about MICA and Johns Hopkins’ MA/MBA degree from a fellow alum from RIT who was also an illustrator. And she knew that program, with its cohort model and location in Baltimore, would let her tap into both her right and left brain in a city where she could find success as a Black designer.
“I just knew Baltimore would be a breeding ground of creativity, and have creative folks that I could connect with and network with, especially Black and Brown creative folks—that's really what I was looking for.”
When Carr first arrived at MICA and learned about UP/Start, it was in the back of her mind to apply. But with coursework her first year, she didn’t feel she had the time to commit. In her second year though, after quitting her job and focusing on being a full-time student, she knew she was ready to apply with the hope to move Blvck Door even further.
UP/Start has been nothing like Alexander expected, he said. But it’s helped get their venture to where it needed to be.
“This is not just some ‘what if’ situation—we're basically manifesting this into something very real,” Alexander said. “I think UP/Start kind of helped us with that. It forced us to ask really hard questions, instead of just answering the easy ones, which also tested our knowledge of what we're trying to do and the discipline we would need to move it forward."
Right now, the creative diversity-focused recruiting firm is budding. It’s made up of two sides—one, where creatives of color are looking for equitable career opportunities, another, where employers who want to hire diverse and talented workers can find potential employees, Carr said.
Moving forward, she said, she and Alexander have a few primary goals for Blvck Door, like revamping their website, as well as purchasing software for things like applicant tracking, customer management software, and more. They’d also look into potentially expanding their team and also bringing on legal counsel and partaking in market testing, she said.
Winning funding from UP/Start—which could help make all of this possible—would be life changing, Carr said. But it wouldn’t just change their lives, Alexander added.
“We'd be impacting the lives of those who are helping,” he added.
And, it would allow them to speed up the process on their next steps. Without funding, it could take another two or three years to make progress on their goals, Alexander said. With funding from UP/Start, they could hit the ground running in a fraction of the time.
“I think in general, for Black entrepreneurs, it's very hard to find funding,” Carr said. “I think it’s much harder than for the average person. And so I think having this opportunity is really amazing, because other avenues would take a long time, and it would be more of an obstacle.”