Ryerson student creates Black-owned business directory, app to launch next month

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By Aaliyah Dasoo

In 2018, Halima Jibril used to walk around Toronto looking for Black-owned businesses she could add to the directory she was putting together—something similar to a Yellow Pages book. Local businesses and services in her community were often discovered through word of mouth, most times without an online presence, so Jibril took it upon herself to create a more accessible way to share them.

Venturing out to areas such as the west end of Lawrence Avenue, Jibril would gather the contact and address information of Black-owned businesses she saw to create what she described as a manuscript. She completed that project in 2019, and titled it The Little Blue Book.

After that, Jibril would create a customized social media post for each business, complete with things like their name, location, website, app or any information she could find that was applicable. 

“They’re incredible businesses that, in my community, everybody uses a lot,” she said. “I thought maybe other cultures might like these businesses. I know they would.” 

What started as a directory pieced together by Jibril herself has now turned into Blvck Bundoo, an online business directory specifically for Black-owned businesses in the Greater Toronto Area, with plans to launch an app as early as the first week of February. 

Jibril is the founder and creator of Blvck Bundoo, and is in her final year of biomedical studies at Ryerson. She said she created Blvck Bundoo because she wanted Black-owned businesses in her community to receive the exposure she felt they deserved, while also giving consumers wider access to Black-owned businesses, products and services. “They have so much potential.”

It was last year that Jibril decided to rebrand. “[The Little Blue Book] was a little too wordy,” she said. “Blvck Bundoo, when it came to me, I was like, ‘Oh perfect.’ I just knew that was it.” The word Bundoo (pronounced boon-doh), comes from the Somali word for bridge, said Jibril, who comes from a Somali background. 

“I chose this word because a bridge represents a way to get across a gap. In this case, bridging the gap between people, cultures and differences.”

Blvck Bundoo is largely run by Jibril herself, from adding new listings on the website directory to coordinating social media across three different channels, though she said she often consults with peers to get advice or chat about business strategies. 

“From a long time ago, [my goal] was to create an app, but I wasn’t there,” said Jibril. It was important for her to build a foundation for the business first, she said, by creating the website and social media accounts. “Now I’m able to do that.”

Currently, Jibril is working on the app for Blvck Bundoo with a team of programmers and developers from the United States. The beta version of the app will be ready by Jan. 19, and will be similar to the Yelp app, where users can leave reviews and ratings for businesses as well as link to Google Maps.

However, one of the things that Jibril said does make Blvck Bundoo different is the fact that it supports e-commerce based business models, as she didn’t want to “discriminate” businesses based on the fact that they may not have a physical location. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, the average office lease rate (per sq. ft.) went up 46.6 per cent compared to last year.

Businesses can also create their own listings on the website, which will simultaneously appear available on the app.

She acknowledges that there are already many existing directories for Black-owned businesses. “To be honest, I wasn’t doing this to stand out or to be different. I was doing it because it was needed.” Similar accounts like @blackowned.to and @black_ownedcanada on Instagram have 65,400 and 74,800 followers, respectively. 

Jibril admits that it did take a little while to gain a larger following, having only about 100 followers between 2019 and 2020. Today, the Blvck Bundoo Instagram account has almost 7,000 followers. 

She said that it wasn’t until this past summer that Blvck Bundoo saw a large uptick in followers.

“I think it has a lot to do with different factors,” she said, referring to how the murder of George Floyd led to increased support and interest in Black-owned businesses, as well as the impact the pandemic has had on small businesses. The Eye previously reported on why conscious consumerism has become increasingly important to Ryerson students and generation-Z since the summer.

“Those two factors played a major role in the increase in my amount of support in my followers. I definitely think we came together as Canadians. And it makes me proud to know that.”

Jibril says that with or without the pandemic, she still would have created the app, because it’s always been something she’s had in mind. “But it’s great to know that this support is here now.”

As of now, the app will only be available via iOS, but Jibril hopes to acquire more funding and eventually get in on Google Play and other platforms. Blvck Bundoo operates on a non-profit model, so Jibril has looked into grants as a funding option. 

She said that one of the more difficult parts of applying for funding is how broad the demographic of applicants often are, and that she would “love to see” more specific grants aimed at Black businesses. 

“Then, hopefully, projects like Blvck Bundoo could get off the ground and help more people than it already has.”

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