From Roadblocks to Block Party: The Entrepreneurial Journey of Michelda George
On Saturday, September 16 at 2 p.m., Versatile Image, a creative agency that supports small businesses, will host the third annual UNITY Block Party: Finding the U in Community, which will feature food trucks, an art market and a benefit concert. While entry to the UNITY Block Party is free and open to all, the concert is ticketed in order to function as a fundraiser for a new business incubator space in South Salt Lake. Iniko, a nonbinary artist who has gained considerable TikTok fame, will headline the UNITY Block Party as their last U.S. concert before embarking on a European tour.
Michelda George, founder and CEO of Versatile Image, personally picked Iniko as the headlining artist shortly before they were signed onto Columbia Records. George is excited for another year of the UNITY Block Party, an event that first began as a Say Their Names memorial during the summer of George Floyd’s death before becoming an occasion to foster joy and unity amidst uncertainty. The full title of Saturday’s event, UNITY Block Party: Finding the U in Community, highlights the intention of bringing individuals together and giving local vendors a platform all while funding a novel business incubator space. This space, George’s project ever since she decided to plant roots in Utah, aims to diversify the small business landscape by being a resource for creative professionals.
“When you finally get in contact with them, they’re like, ‘Well why don’t you want to rent? Why do you want to own something?’ I was like, ‘Do you ask everybody this? Or just someone who’s trying to do something for Black people?’”
George comes from a family of entrepreneurs: her parents owned a grocery store and her brother ran creative side businesses—she remembers burning and selling CDs with him when she was just 14 years old. Additionally, George has always been surrounded by creative friends who took on projects in film, graphic design, production and much more. As she entered the business world herself, George became aware of the many roadblocks that make it difficult for young, minority entrepreneurs to fully realize their business potential. She specifically advocates for young creatives to be taken more seriously, claiming that they are often underpaid and underappreciated. “They’re not just an artist, they’re a business. They’re entrepreneurs, and they need to make a living for themselves just like everybody else in the world,” George says.
After working in finance and assisting numerous small businesses for over 10 years, partially on her own and more recently through Versatile Image, which is dedicated to supporting artistic expression within underrepresented communities, George is now creating a physical, educational space for entrepreneurs. She envisions an establishment for creative professionals to learn about business processes without the opacity and doubts that she had to overcome. George has witnessed how young minorities lack accessibility to information on starting a business or furthering their careers. “It’s like an unkept secret that people don’t want to let you in on unless they know that you can bring some capital to the table,” she says. George remembers looking for business classes to take when she was first starting off and wishing that help for creative professionals could have been more readily available to those without the opportunity to enroll in full-time courses.
Along with a lack of business transparency, George faced difficulties finding a space to purchase for the incubator. Buying—rather than renting—a space for the business incubator was a high priority because George wants BIPOC entrepreneurs to feel a sense of being invested in. Time passed, emails went unanswered and George faced questions about her motives in wanting to own a space. “When you finally get in contact with them, they’re like, ‘Well why don’t you want to rent? Why do you want to own something?’ I was like, ‘Do you ask everybody this? Or just someone who’s trying to do something for Black people?’”
They’re not just an artist, they’re a business. They’re entrepreneurs, and they need to make a living for themselves just like everybody else in the world.”
Despite these challenges, George is realizing her idea of starting a business incubator, often leaning into faith and intuition when needed. When asked about why she chose South Salt Lake as the space for the incubator, George explains that she felt a call to the area. Seeing the diversity and wanting to be in an area accessible by public transportation were motivators, but George claims that, more than anything, her intuition led her to the spot.
Ultimately, George hopes that everyone who attends the UNITY Block Party: Finding the U in Community will be able to see a piece of themselves reflected among the art vendors, tasty food truck flavors or the music among the crowd. In many ways, the new business incubator will serve to Utah that same purpose: giving creative professionals the tools they need to build a brand and diversify the small-business landscape of Utah.
While the event is free and open to the public, everyone planning to attend must RSVP. For more information, or to RSVP or purchase tickets for the benefit concert, visit versatileimage.org.
Read more about diversity in business:
Sapa Investment Group: Success as a “Heart-Centered” Business
You Can Think Globally and Act Locally: Zaater & Zayton and Catering via Spice Kitchen Incubator