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From a Founder: Imani Ellis on Building Community for Creatives of Color

Editor’s Note: Welcome to From a Founder, a monthly entrepreneur profile about the highs, lows, and plateaus of building a successful brand or business.

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When Imani Ellis launched the CCNYC from her one-bedroom apartment, success was not a given — but, four years later, her efforts have resulted in one of the fastest growing creative communities in New York City. A hybrid creative agency and community-building organization, the CCNYC cultivates connections, inspiration, and necessary space for creatives of color through strategic events.

The organization’s mission was, and continues to be, rooted in Ellis’s own experience with the limited existence of space for Black creatives like herself — and in the powerful impact these spaces have, individually and collectively, when they’re intentionally made. Since 2018, Ellis has partnered with Squarespace, most recently launching the CCNYC’s 2020 Creative Curriculum, a digital destination for entrepreneurs and creatives to learn from industry leaders about their own paths to success.

In the days leading up to Creative Curriculum’s launch, Ellis caught up with Squarespace to share her entrepreneurial journey, from learning to adopt a mindset of success and invest in process, to what keeps her motivated to nurture the CCNYC’s development — and her own personal and professional growth — today.

SQUARESPACE: What inspired you to launch The Creative Collective NYC?

Imani Ellis: I actually didn’t look to start something, I wanted to end something. I wanted to end playing small and attending events that weren’t inclusive. I didn’t see a place where I could be my full self, celebrate my community and uplift Black creatives, so I decided to create it. 

SQSP: What was the first step you took to make it a reality?

IE: I feel like a logo and a website make it so real. Pair that with consistent momentum and always delivering the best experience — you’re bound to see growth.

SQSP: In every entrepreneurial endeavor, there are unexpected risks and challenges. What was the biggest risk you took?

IE: The biggest risk I took was truly believing I was capable of pursuing my dreams unapologetically — and then matching that belief with execution. It can seem so safe to play small, but the reward of radically pursuing the vision inside of you is worth the discomfort. So often we plan for things to go horribly wrong, but what if you also imagined things working together for your good? To be honest, that mind shift was difficult for me, but now I lean in to ‘letting it be good.’

SQSP: What surprised you the most?

IE: I think I was surprised the most about the importance of process. It makes all the difference, saves you hours of sleep, and keeps the team on the same page.

SQSP: After a challenging day, week, or month, what keeps you motivated?

IE: I have a lot of ideas in my head and the possibility of bringing them to life, together with my team, is so exciting. We sit together and daydream about all the ways we can serve our community and nothing is off limits. That’s what keeps me motivated. 

SQSP: How has your online presence contributed to your business success? 

IE: My online presence has allowed me to find my tribe. The Creative Collective NYC is rooted in community and when I opened up to share that I wanted a safe space where I could be myself, the response was incredible. It made me realize that there are so many people out there experiencing similar obstacles and together, you can reimagine what the future looks like. 

SQSP: How do you see your online presence evolving in the future?

IE: I want to continue being vulnerable online. Asking for help when I need it and asking our community what they want more of. I want to radiate empathy.

Ready to launch your business online? Get started with Squarespace.

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