Iman Carr and Shakeel Alexander struggled to find creative jobs while living in Buffalo, New York, as they often lacked the industry connections of their white counterparts.
 “A lot of it is based on who you now, not what you can do,” Alexander said.
The duo realized that a lot of creatives struggled with the same situation, so they created Blvck Door in 2019 to connect people from underrepresented communities to jobs in the creative sector. The startup operates a website with the goal of providing creative workers with information on job openings and employers with a way to specifically target a diverse hiring pool.
“We’re trying to present ourselves as a career development and employment hub for both talent and employers,” Alexander said.
That mission got a boost earlier this month when Blvck Door raised funding for the first time by winning the top prize of $40,000 in the Maryland Institute College of Art UP/Start venture competition. Carr plans to use the award to refine the company’s website, so it can offer a better experience for both creative talent and employers. The website allows creatives of color to create a profile presenting their skills and personality for interested employers and also features a job board where creatives can browse possible opportunities.
“We really need like a central platform that has a really nice outward facing look that represents our brand,” said Carr, who is currently studying human centered design.
Blvck Door plans make money by providing services to both employers and the creatives themselves.
The company offers free membership for creatives, which allows them to create a profile on the site showcasing their work. The startup will also eventually offer additional paid perks providing more individualized support, such as one-on-one coaching and interview counseling. Blvck Door especially wants to focus on reaching people in smaller cities who do not have access to the networking opportunities present in larger cities. Alexander said the company plans to work with a mix of educational institutions and creative communities within smaller markets to help gain customers.
“We’d be really pinpointing those smaller towns, where we know we are more likely to find creatives who are going through the same things that we went through,” Alexander said.
Blvck Door will also offer both free and paid options for businesses who want to place job ads on the site. Employers that pay will gain the benefit of cross promotion with other Blvck Door platforms, such as social media and an e-newsletter. Alexander also hopes to provide businesses with statistics showing the reach of their job ad on Blvck Door to demonstrate how the website creates more interest from candidates of color.
The company also plans to do the work of a traditional recruitment agency, Alexander said, sourcing talent for open positions based on a pricing model that works best with clients.
Blvck Door is just the latest winner of the UP/Start competition, which has been at MICA for seven years and works to pair entrepreneurs with mentors with experience in the field. Blvck Door, for example, worked with Blair Slaughter from Delve Consulting, and had a meeting with Brian Taylor, founder of marketing firm Goldiata Creative, to discuss ideas.
Stacy Stube, associate director for creative entrepreneurship at MICA, said the venture showed strong improvement from when the program began in November, as the company’s founders were able to fill the gaps in their knowledge.
“We all knew it was something that was needed,” Stube said. “But we weren’t sure if it could transform into a true economic and social opportunity.”
Stube also cited how Blvck Door offers an alternative to traditional hiring processes, opening up boardrooms to voices that would not otherwise be heard.
“The beautiful thing about Blvck Door is that they’re helping to be that bridge,” Stube said.
MICA awarded a total of $105,000 during the competition. Four other companies — Compressent Co., Convo, Knock the Block and Pharma-D — also won awards.
The two remaining ventures in the competition along with Pharma-D, each received an $1,000 stipend.
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