Another door has been opened for Black creatives in Baltimore.
Blvck Door cofounders Iman Carr and Shakeel Alexander took the top prize in Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)’s 2022 UP/Start Venture Competition, earning $40,000 to build an online platform to connect creatives of color to employers.
This final leg of the competition featured eight finalists that stood out in an initial pitch competition that included 43 ventures founded by MICA alumni and current students. What Blvck Door’s founders think put them over the edge was the impact their product could have on MICA students now.
“Of these ideas, maybe they’re not making Teslas, but they are trying to solve a problem through technological means — the mix of technological means and a human-centered approach,” Alexander told Technical.ly. “That’s pretty much what took us there, because we’ve been asking ourselves [what set us apart] since we’ve won. The competition, they really brought their A game.”
A total of $105,000 in prize money was awarded to the finalists. Compressant, the desk chair designed for autistic and other neurodivergent people who experience overstimulation of the nervous system, won $30,000. Convo, which uses AI and animation for equity in digital conversations, and Knock the Block, a card deck of creative and self-care prompts, won $15,000 and $12,000, respectively.
"As an artist, I understand the business components of things may seem complex, but really get comfortable with it."
With the winnings, Carr and Alexander plan to revamp the Blvk Door website and purchase new applicant tracking software, along with figuring out legal help for future business partnerships. There’s also another accelerator the founders intend to go through, but they have yet to announce the details.
Making it through the the MICA incubator was a growth experience, the founders said, and they feel the mentors made along the way will continue to shape their company. Throughout the program, they knew they were onto something special. But they didn’t expect an outcome like this.
“We kept telling each other no matter what happens we’re still going to make [Blvck Door] happen,” Carr said. “Having folks see the value in [Blvck Door] after putting so much time and effort in trying to be seen and valued feels surreal.”
For new entrepreneurs looking to take that leap and put themselves out there, Carr wants them to know that if they remember their “why,” they can achieve success.
“What really helped us was, we established what our core values were and the root of the why we were doing this work,” Carr said. “As an artist, I understand the business components of things may seem complex, but really get comfortable with it. Sit down and take your time understanding what can be potential financial projections of your company. Those are all important things you’ll need to know, whether you decide to be an entrepreneur or not.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-