Creativity for a cause
Local design and strategy firm making public health personal
Business analysts have observed that a large percentage of new startups fail within the first year, but Amir Now Inc. is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month with only new projects on the horizon.
Amir Now Inc., or ANI, is a visual design and strategy firm for social impact headquartered in Boston and created by CEO and Creative Director Amir Dixon.
Working with clients such as Planned Parenthood Massachusetts and Multicultural AIDS Coalition, Inc., the ANI team provides disruptive content creation for social justice missions.
The company’s focus on issues such as public health comes from Dixon’s professional background in the field, having worked in the nonprofit public health sector before breaking off on his own.
“I was passionate about telling people’s stories in a way that calls for action,” says Dixon, who worked in the public health field prior to starting ANI. “Digital and social media have a way of doing that.”
Dixon wanted to address social and health disparities in ways that the public would be moved by. “It was so often that I would sit in meetings and we would talk about health disparities, and how we can’t reach this particular person to talk about it,” he says. “But the people that were saying that were talking through graphs, charts, and data rather than real people’s voices and experiences.”
Naturally a creative and artistic person, Dixon had ideas to inject more humanity in his projects to drive change. Starting his own business would allow him freedom to do this.
One of his projects with ANI was creating a short documentary in partnership with Getting to Zero Massachusetts, an AIDS awareness campaign, that featured the experiences of people living with HIV. It premiered at the seventh annual Massachusetts State House World AIDS Day Celebration this past summer, sponsored by the offices of Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Jack Lewis.
Even with ideas and a mission, it takes courage to branch out into entrepreneurship.
“Like most people who are first starting a business, I was afraid because I was used to the 9-to-5 paycheck,” says Dixon. “But then I realized that I had to boss up and take that next step to have an impact I wanted to see in the community. I wanted my work to be defined by my artistry and my vision.”
One of the first steps Dixon took in starting ANI was joining the Fairmount Innovation Lab Launchpad program for new businesses. Through that program, Dixon gained education, feedback and business relationships that helped him develop his company.
ANI’s office space is still located at the Lab’s headquarters in Dorchester’s Uphams Corner. As a local resident of the neighborhood, ANI leases the shared workspace at a discounted rate offered by FIL.
“Being in the FIL space has helped me a lot,” Dixon says. “I had an idea that I could create the life I want. I had an idea that I could use my creative skills to make money and to have a life.”
Dixon grew up in South Florida and moved to Boston in 2009 at age 19. “My mother sent me to school to become a teacher, but I wanted to be an artist. That’s what I’m passionate about.”
His artistic pursuits were mostly self-taught. “When I left my parents’ home, my roommates were filmmakers, so I learned from them,” he says. “And when I was working in the nonprofit space, I would work with artists and friends that I knew, who needed film and creative direction.”
Being a part of the FIL community has allowed Dixon to collaborate with other local entrepreneurs and artists. “I’m the artist in the space who’s never set on the color palette to project,” Dixon says, drawing an analogy to his work flow as an entrepreneur. “I could easily sit for an hour trying to get the color right. My colleagues are supportive and they are sort of a focus group for me.”
Navigating the logistics as a new business owner was a challenge for Dixon. “As an entrepreneur, no one talked to me about taxes. I had no idea what I was doing when I had to file at the beginning of this year,” he says.
A colleague connected him to an accountant who taught him how to track receipts, paperwork, and how to bill his own hours. “I was so used to saying, ‘This is the project, I’m going to work on it until it’s done,’” says Dixon. “But now I understand the importance of paying yourself and billing your own hours.”
As the CEO and creative director of ANI, Dixon had to also “reinvent myself and reimagine myself as a business owner,” he says. Throughout his entrepreneurial journey he has reached a point of “not being afraid to ask for what you want.” Now, through his own company, he wants to create a campaign to empower other local businesses, especially businesses owned by people of color.
“It’s been about creating opportunities for myself and my family, but also creating opportunities for other people,” says Dixon. “So how do we teach each other, train each other, share the work and share the capital? That’s important to me.”