Carey students win funding to bring equitable innovations to market
Three Johns Hopkins Carey Business School MA/MBA students – Julia Breskin ’22, Iman Carr ’22, and Emma Koramshahi ’22 – won funding for their start-up business ventures at the MICA Up/Start Venture Competition held in April.
The MICA Up/Start Venture Competition, which is open to Carey’s MA/MBA dual degree students, provides participants with mentorship and funding to help their business ventures become a sustainable reality. The annual competition awards up to $100,000 in seed funding to finalists in the competition.
Carr’s venture, Blvck Door, received the top prize of $40,000 in funding. Breskin and Koramshahi received $15,000 for their venture, Convo.
Blvck Door is an online platform that bridges the gap between diverse creatives and employers who see the benefits of an equitable, diversified workforce.
Candidates create a profile that is shared with employers who seek their talents.
“The conception of Blvck Door came in 2020. My business partner and I felt there were not enough opportunities for diverse creatives in the small towns we were living in,” Carr said.
They then decided to create Blvck Door. Their initial strategy was to share job resources through social media with diverse creatives to help employers find talent that would align with their mission and goals.
Now, Carr says they serve as a central place to connect the two markets, building strategic partnerships between employers and creatives.
“On the talent side, anyone can apply to join our network as a member. For employers, we offer a recruitment model, so depending on employer needs we will offer different contracts or advertising channels,” Carr said.
Breskin and Koramshahi are frequent collaborators, even living together for most of their time in the dual degree program.
Despite enrolling for an in-person program, their graduate careers began in a fully virtual setting due to COVID-19. While collaborating, the pair discussed issues in the lack of communication, self-awareness, and emotional connection in virtual team settings.
“The original idea for Convo was to measure participation and self-awareness in an online setting. But we quickly realized the immediate need for more,” said Koramshahi.
Convo is an application where leaders and employees can develop more compassion and self-awareness to better understand their team members in a virtual space through real-time feedback and information after participating in conversation.
A dual degree from Carey
Since joining the MA/MBA cohort, Carr says she not only approaches design from a visual aspect but now understands the consumer needs and how to utilize different business practices.
“With a background in design, I was looking for a unique program to develop a better understanding of the business needs and how certain design decisions are made. Knowing where to allocate resources is important for my venture right now. And having that business knowledge to take the next steps has helped me immensely,” Carr said.
For Breskin and Koramshahi, they emphasized their need for a program with business strategy mixed with social impact.
“My background is in fundraising, which is a very human-need and benefit-focused industry. So, finding a program with an emphasis in business but also a design thinking and human-centered approach was very attractive to me,” said Breskin.
Carey’s Design Leadership MA/MBA dual degree integrates a comprehensive curriculum of strategic problem-solving through creative, human-centered approaches.
“We hear the power of leadership and setting goals in our courses at Carey, and it all ties into how we approach Convo. A situation where you can set goals and have the at-speed feedback to find solutions or criteria for succeeding those goals,” Koramshahi said.
Koramshahi says she would not have done the last two years any different. “The dual degree has proven that human-centered design approaches are where businesses, products, and services should be headed,” she said.
Looking at the future
On the horizon for Convo, Breskin and Koramshahi are looking to use the funding to help pilot their platform and continue with concept testing.
“The long-term goal is to create a world with greater diversity and equity in corporations. Ideally, Convo will be used to create more equitable conversations in a variety of different industries,” said Koramshahi.
Breskin said they were able to connect with mentors and leaders within different industries, building relationships for future product testing. And they see Convo breaking into multiple industries for the future of virtual team conversations.
“Carey is great about encouraging you to build your network. Following up with our networks from both Carey and MICA and working closely with them on product testing will certainly help the development of Convo,” Breskin said.
Carr spoke much of the same, saying funding will help with continued development for Blvck Door.
“This funding will help us continue to enhance our business partnerships with both consumers and employers. We’re also looking to update our website and facilitate user testing through new software,” Carr said. “We’re fortunate that employers have been seeing the work we are doing and find such value that they want to connect with us.”