This story is part of a series featuring each of the fourteen startups in the CYstarters 2021 summer cohort. Each team has the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,500 or up to $13,000, along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.
By Samantha Dilocker, ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
Founded by recent Iowa State University grad Jo Allen, Jovisuals is a photography company that aims to uplift and empower BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals. Working between film and digital work, Jo offers an inclusive and creative experience for all clients.
Currently working on: JOVISUALS
When did you start working on JOVISUALS?
I’ve been doing freelance photography for the last five years in Iowa. I was a high school student in a photography class, and my sweet teacher Mrs. T would allow me to take the cameras home and explore to take photos. From there, I started shooting my track meets and went into grad photos, and developed JOVISUALS as a result.
Have you always seen yourself starting something?
Yeah, I know that I don’t want a 9-5. The only way to avoid that is to control my own life and environment. To do that, I have to be my own boss.
How do you see film and photography empowering BIPOC & LGBTQ+ individuals?
The biggest thing is just that for the longest time, we’ve been invisible. We’ve been invisible in the education system and the media we’ve consumed since we were children. To change this, I have to capture these individuals as themselves to introduce people to these communities. Children cannot be what children cannot see. If I never see curly hair, how will I know that’s beautiful too? If I never see same-sex relationships, how will I know that’s okay too? We need exposure in order to have acceptance.
How have you grown since you started?
In terms of my business, before, you’re shooting just for pleasure. Which develops into, “I want to create something people can enjoy.” Which for a long time was just… pretty girls. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but how can I create content with substance that does more than just bring likes in? I want to bring visibility to and highlight the communities I exist in, which tend to be underrepresented. We are in Iowa. I’m the minority. The intersection of my identity is what made me realize there’s a lack of visual representation. I redirected my work to serve those underrepresented communities better. At this point, I view my photography not just as a picture for likes but as a picture that can be passed on for a lifetime.
What future milestones would you like to hit?
I would really ideally like to work with a creative magazine like i-D, Paper, or MILK. Find my way into the field of the art, fashion, and music industries. My dream goal would be to go on tour as a photographer to do what I love, explore cities, and connect with others.
What is the biggest challenge you face each day?
The biggest challenge I face each day in terms of photography is that I’m not putting enough of my work out there. I either forget about it, or too much time has passed, I feel it’s too late. When I was a student, it was hard because business goes on the back burner. I need to make my work more of a priority to focus on.
How has entrepreneurship at Iowa State impacted you?
I never even realized that by doing photography, I was an entrepreneur. I’ve been able to make connections and create relationships with really inspiring people. I feel like we all benefit from each other and have so much to learn from one another.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student?
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do what you want to do. You are in charge of your own life, your own actions, and who you want to be. I’ve had people tell me, “You can’t be a photographer until you’ve got ten years,” things that disprove your accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to go after what you want to go after. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Find a mentor and connect to them, learn from them. Listen and learn from everyone you can. Absorb the knowledge and potential around you. Embrace that. It will allow other opportunities to occur.
Where are you headed? And how would you invite others to join you?
I’m headed out of Iowa, hopefully! Find a space that’s meant for you. Find a creative community that’s a space for you to thrive. If that space is not available to you, create your own. We forget too often that we always have the opportunity to create a space that is designed for us.