New startup Blackbook University aims to reimagine the Black student experience in higher ed

New startup Blackbook University aims to reimagine the Black student experience in higher ed

Ibrahim Baldé, a Portland-based recent graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and his team of five co-founders are developing a digital platform to improve the relationship between Black students, community and campus. It's all meant to better serve and increase the success of Black students and other underrepresented students.

Their platform is called Blackbook University. I chatted with Baldé about the platform and its potential not only at his alma mater but in Oregon as well.

“We want to leverage peer-to-peer connection through empowering campus organizations,” Baldé said. “Coming into school, underrepresented students often don’t have a legacy trajectory we can follow. We designed something to support Black student organizations, which are a big element of the school experience for Black students.”

Baldé’s team found that over 64% of Black students at UC Berkeley are part of two or more organizations on campus. The idea behind Blackbook University stems from a document that once existed on Cal’s campus, the African American Resource Handbook. The handbook was a resource that supported Berkeley’s Black community in the ‘80s and ‘90s by connecting incoming students to Black-led student organizations and supportive faculty.

“The African American Resource Handbook was a beacon of support,” Baldé said. “A lot of alumni talk about how crucial it was for them, how they knew there was a Black community at school because the document itself existed. Our goal is to digitize and modernize this concept.”

By organizing data of Black student organizations, Baldé and his team say that schools will have valuable metrics to show the impacts of the Black community on their campuses. With enrollment dropping in the post-Covid era, universities using Blackbook can show Black students why their campus is a good choice.

“Cal is renowned as one of the most liberal universities in the US, and it has also ranked among the worst on metrics for black students,” Baldé said. “People are working really hard to make it a good destination for Black students. By empowering Black-led student organizations to engage and share their information using our platform, we can change the narrative.”

The creators of Blackbook also see themselves playing a part to change the narrative that “there’s no Black talent out there.” By creating a platform that streamlines resources and eliminates gaps in support for Black students, Baldé and his co-founders believe they can help level the playing field and optimize visibility for Black students in academic spaces.

The Blackbook team plans to expand the platform beyond college campuses to partner with Black professional networks, employee resource networks, and Black-owned businesses. Their goal is to support the development of a digital ecosystem centered around empowering the academic and professional success of Black students.

With over 100 college campuses across Oregon and Portland State University among the most diverse schools in the region, Baldé said he sees tremendous opportunity in expanding the platform to Portland, his new home.

“At this moment, it is imperative that we center the importance of Black lives in education and professional access, especially in a city as passionate as Portland," he said.

Blackbook University raised more than $20,000 on Kickstarter in November. The capital will be used to launch the beta version of the platform this spring. Eventually, the team of creators hopes to create an infrastructure that can scale nationwide by licensing to college and university campuses across the country.

This is part of a regular guest column written by the Technology Association of Oregon in the Portland Business Journal.

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