ATLANTA is full of community organizations that are hungry to attract the capital for programs, jobs, and developments to grow their neighborhoods in a just and equitable way, according to local champions Nikishka Iyengar and Melonie Tharpe (The Guild). But despite (or perhaps because of) the prevalence of finance and banking in the city, Atlanta is still in its early days of impact investing and including communities in the conversation around capital flows. With The Guild, as well as local champion TransFormation Alliance, we are hopeful the Institute will catalyze the process of dozens of community organizations engaging with finance as a tool for social justice.
CINCINNATI is at the heart of some of America’s most exciting community and economy development, according to local champions Derrick Braziel (MORTAR) and Kristen Barker (Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative). The Institute will build on the pioneering work already being done by the local community around social entrepreneurship and socially-conscious funds by exploring new economic tools and unlocking potential for underserved Cincinnatians.
PHOENIX continues to experience displacement in communities that have been marginalized for decades. Moreover, new investment is accelerating inequality and nonlocal land ownership. Despite these strong headwinds, communities are fighting for social justice by combating predatory lending, offering micro-loans for local entrepreneurs to generate local wealth, and increasing homeownership for people of color, according to local champion Kimber Lanning (Local First Arizona Foundation). Along with other local champions Katelyn Harris-Lange (African-American Women’s Giving and Empowerment Circle) and the Vitalyst Health Foundation, we are thrilled to bring the Institute to Phoenix so the city and its community members can keep innovating around finance for social justice.read more
Mortar, the group born in Over-the-Rhine to help entrepreneurs in up-and-coming neighborhoods grow their businesses along with their community, has opened a second space in its original neighborhood.read more
The Walnut Hills landscape is changing by the day. Vacant storefronts are taking shape as the next businesses that will bring energy and a tax base into the neighborhood. When Kroger pulled its grocery store out of the neighborhood in 2017, it was a significant blow to the community. Now, a grant will help open a new Peebles Corner Grocery at the site of the old store.read more
Most news stories about MORTAR note that it’s an African-American-led group but don’t explain why that matters. While small minority businesses are opening at a faster rate than any others, minorities are likely to receive smaller small-business loans and at higher interest rates than their white counterparts, as shown, for example, in a 2010 U.S. Commerce Department report. That lack of access to capital can kill a business before it gets off the ground.
None of that deterred MORTAR’s leaders, and things changed in 2015. MORTAR was seeking applicants for its first training class, and the announcement appeared in a local newspaper. The article also mentioned that MORTAR was looking for space for its burgeoning business.
The founders were contacted by a local entrepreneur who offered them free office and storage space in Over-the-Rhine.read more
With the recognition that living an issue everyday makes you an expert, and that everyone has their own set of “Wouldn’t it be great if…” insights, we recently organized and co-hosted the region’s first-ever “Policy Pitch Night” to give people in Greater Cincinnati a chance to submit and pitch their policy ideas for how to improve our city.
The submissions were open to anyone, and we received dozens of innovative ideas from everyday experts across the city. Five finalists were selected by a group of judges from within our “Bridgebuilder” network of community leaders. On a recent weekday evening, these five finalists pitched their ideas – Shark Tank style – in front of a panel of city leaders and a diverse audience of 100 people.
Each person in the audience then voted for their favorite policy, and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld’s office has promised to champion and implement the winning idea at City Hall.
Ideas ranged from increasing the diversity of city-appointed boards and commissions to creating an Office of Homelessness Eradication to developing a new city branding strategy to attract more people to move here. Ultimately, the audience chose as the winning pitch an idea from MORTAR co-founder Derrick Braziel, whose experience led him to advocate for policy and personnel changes to better support minority business growth and innovation.read more
OVER-THE-RHINE, Ohio (WKRC) – Cincinnati City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld is inviting city residents to come to the table with new ideas on how to improve Cincinnati.
It’s called “Policy Pitch Night.” A total of 30 pitches were made and five were selected as finalists. The five ideas were pitched to Sittenfeld, city council member Chris Seelbach and Assistant City Manager Sheila Hill Christian Monday night along with a packed house at The People’s Liberty on Elm Street…
…Brief questions were answered after each pitch and then everyone in the room got one vote.
While the numbers were not made public, Isaacsohn said there was a clear winner.
That clear winner is Derrick Braziel of MORTAR and his pitch to promote minority business growth.read more
Braziel said the city needs to build a comprehensive business canvas, learning the nuances of business management, launch businesses that create jobs and circulate dollars locally and gain access to new customers and opportunities for additional funding.
He said his organization can do some of those things, but a true partnership with the city would make a more robust statement to minority business owners that Cincinnati wants to be a leader in the development of minority-owned business startups.
“If you are a professional African-American, the place to be is Atlanta,” Braziel said. “Why shouldn’t it be Cincinnati? It should be. That’s the vibe I want to create.”read more
“When we think of bricks, we think of physical spaces – but the mortar is what holds everything together,” said Woods, in a recent podcast interview. “For us, [that] is a representation of people. You can have beautiful buildings and great parks but if you don’t have people who care about those things, then it’s difficult to sustain.”
Since its founding in 2014, 175 entrepreneurs have graduated from MORTAR’s nine-week program – and among them, African Americans and women each represent a majority. Its alumni now run a wide range of businesses: a platform for neighbors to employ teenagers within their community; an indoor dog park where owners can work out with their dog; a graphic recording service that turns meeting discussion into visual art in real time; among many others.
“I want the legacy of MORTAR to be that we took a risk and told people ‘yes’ who were used to being told ‘no,’” said Woods. “We want to be known as the organization that told people their ideas were possible. And didn’t just give them lip service, but the tools, resources and connections to move forward.”
Marvin and Tabatha have weathered the storm of entrepreneurship, through the good and the bad. Over the past 20 years the two social entrepreneurs have made formidable gains, both behind and in front of the counter. “I attended the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP for fashion design and sports management,” Marvin said. “I never thought I’d be doing what I do today.”
Outside of their two-decade career, they have managed to follow their hearts as well. After the loss of his sister to cancer, Marvin wanted to make sure that more people were aware of the pitfalls of the disease and founded The Butts Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization with an aim to reach into the lives of others for positive change through giving, caring, sharing, education and, most of all, love.
And they’re not alone: There’s a large number of black entrepreneurs who have made sure that, as their success grows, their giving grows as well.read more
I wanted to talk to the people. I wanted to shake their hands, look them in the eye and learn about the city from their words and actions. I met guys like William Thomas and Derrick Braziel. William and Derrick are the co-founders of a company called Mortar. Mortar works in the Over the Rhine community training local men and women to become business entrepreneurs. 175 members of the community have graduated from the Mortar Program. 90% of those are African-American, 70% of those are women. The goal is to change lives through entrepreneurship, knowing that people take pride in ownership. Pride breeds involvement and that turns people into doers. Curate My Community. I was beginning to realize that this was more than a slogan, this is the soul of Cincinnati. Mortar and the businesses that it has produced are part of the reason why the Over the Rhine community, a community that was destroyed in the 2001 riots and was one of the poorest communities in Cincinnati as recent as six years ago, is now one of its most progressive and promising.read more
CINCINNATI — Salimah Mari Abdul-Hakim wants to make her mark in Cincinnati’s food scene and she has the hustle to get it done.
As the owner and chef of L. Mari Catering, she’s dishing up a full menu of urban cuisine steeped in multiculturalism.
“Urban cuisine is an infusion of soulful and multicultural dishes,” said Abdul-Hakim, who goes by L. Mari (“L” is short for Salimah). “It’s made from a place with a lot of love and soul.”
Having lived in Atlanta, Abdul-Hakim is used to having abundant choices when it comes to international food.
“When I relocated to Cincinnati, I noticed that there weren’t a lot of restaurants offering cultural cuisine,” she said. “I decided to change that.”read more
The African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin is launching a new business accelerator called RISE for entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods.
RISE is based on the successful MORTAR program in Cincinnati. A cohort of Milwaukee leaders, including African American Chamber president and chief executive officer Ossie Kendrix, traveled to Cincinnati several months ago to see MORTAR in action, Kendrix said.read more
United Way of Greater Cincinnati announced in December that 80 percent of investments would now be directed toward moving children and families out of poverty. Part of that effort will include investing in innovative strategies, such as the MORTAR Entrepreneurship Academy. MORTAR is also one of eight new United Way partners that is black-owned and operated. This is part of United Way’s intentional decisions to be inclusive and create more space for equity in our community.
MORTAR’s mission is clear: “Building Communities Through Entrepreneurship.” Co-Founder Allen Woods explains how important this new partnership is for our community at large.
The work of Springboard for the Arts is rooted in arts-based economic and community development. We believe artists are critical assets in that work, and support them by offering a variety of resources that enable them to make both a living and a life. This is why Springboard is a member of the New Economy Coalition (NEC): because we believe in the vision of a new economy, one that is just, sustainable, and democratic; one that is ethical and community-rooted; and one that does not rely on the exploitation of disenfranchised communities in order to thrive. This is the fifth in a series of stories highlighting the work of other arts-based NEC member organizations and affiliated organizations that have developed ways to sustain themselves while also sustaining artists, demonstrating that, yes, a new economy is possible. Read the rest of the series here.
In previous features examining the relationship between arts and the economy, we have focused on organizations doing work towards developing a creative economy with an emphasis on self-determining communities, financial sustainability, and economic equality. Here we are taking a different approach, profiling one single individual, Caroline Woolard, who identifies as a “solidarity economy artist.” In a written interview, we ask her what that means, how she demonstrates the intersection between art and the economy in her work, and how that work translates into real world practices. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.read more
Podcast features U.S. Bankers chatting with industry leaders in unfiltered, easy-to-understand conversations.read more
This is the second year MORTAR is hosting the nine-week accelerator program in Uptown. Robinson recruited MORTAR to Uptown last year and knew that it was a priority to continue to support MORTAR’s ability to attract a non-traditional, urban population.
The partnership between the Uptown Consortium and MORTAR builds on the organizations’ shared belief that community development should grow neighborhoods in harmony with its residents.read more
The idea for Cincinnati-based barbecue business Sweets and Meats began in Kristen Bailey’s backyard. She and her partner Anton would host cookouts, serving family recipes to their friends. As word spread about their food and many people began to encourage Kristen and Anton to open a restaurant.
In 2014, the two leaped into entrepreneurship, starting their business with a smoker, $500 in capital and a volunteer work force. For the first 18 months, the business did not have a payroll.read more
The slogan of the Andrew Hardin grocery in Walnut Hills was “The path that leads to satisfaction.” That was truth in advertising for African-Americans living in Cincinnati in the early and mid-20th century. Whether black families needed food, a florist, photographer or funeral planning, all roads led to Walnut Hills during the age of segregation. At Hardin’s and dozens of other black-owned businesses clustered near the intersection of Lincoln and Gilbert avenues, they knew they wouldn’t be turned away.
Residents over the age of 50 can still recall a bustling retail district where neighbors took care of neighbors. “Yeah, this was our place,” they’ve told Aprina Johnson, community coordinator for the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation….
But a wheat-paste installation by artists Janet Creekmore and Ben Jason Neal is taking a trip down memory lane. Reproductions of old advertisements and fresh images inspired by the long-gone businesses cover a boarded-up building in the 900 block of Lincoln. The black and white artwork is part of a larger project that Johnson calls “a beautiful collision” of people with overlapping interests in art, history, urban redevelopment and social justice.
The graffiti-laden building at the corner of East McMillan Street and Gilbert Avenue, which towered above Peebles Corner when it opened in 1931, has been “down in the dumps for about 20 years,” Brian Jackson said. The first time they stepped inside, he and marketing partner Marvin Abrinica weren’t sure it was the home their company, Esoteric Brewing, needed.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, is this even doable, making something out of this space?'” Abrinica recalled.
CEO Jackson believed — and convinced Abrinica — that they could. He saw the potential for a restoration that moved the space into the future while preserving the art deco aesthetic that made it fashionable in the ’30s.
He wasn’t the only one. When Esoteric Brewing opens in 2019, it will be just one part of a $15-million-plus development meant to reinvigorate the heart of Walnut Hills.read more
The new businesses, including a coffee shop and jazz club, sneaker store, video-themed bar, barbeque restaurant, and Brick Haus, a storefront for MORTAR, a nonprofit minority business accelerator program, are located in the Trevarren Flats buildings in Walnut Hills. More than 70 new jobs are projected to be created by the businesses, according to Cincinnati developer The Model Group.read more
“There is a rich heritage of black businesses in Walnut Hills, so many successful businesses that were run by black residents. We want to be part of rebuilding that legacy,” said Allen Woods, one of three friends who launched MORTAR in 2014. Community leaders, who helped renovate the flats are hoping the Brick Haus helps revitalize Walnut Hills.read more
Tyler Townsend is a 26 years old Cincinnati Ohio native and mother of two. She is also the proud owner of Cincy Sweet Pot. Cincy Sweet Pot provides hemp and cbd infused edibles, oils, soaps and ingredients geared to improve the quality of life.
She began reading and researching the different ways people use cannabis. When she discovered the different foods that can be made with cannabis, she felt it was perfect fit as she was already an avid cooker; so she began creating her own edibles!
One of the first steps she took to truly explore this new venture, was attending the Mortar Cincinnati Entrepreneur program in 2016.read more
I ask myself (and I ask you) to dig deep and ask what I’m actually willing to sacrifice for the place of our fellow human within this beautiful, sacred tapestry of humanity. When the time requires us to step up – will you risk your comfort, your hopes and dreams, and say, “yes!”read more
Beer is big in Cincinnati — it’s not exactly news. As breweries spring up around the Tristate, each one has to work hard to differentiate itself from a crowded craft beer market.
Recently announced Esoteric Brewing Company has several tactics for setting itself apart from others, starting with the fact that it will be the first minority-owned brewery in the city. Founder and CEO Brian Jackson honed his skills at MadTree before deciding to set off on his own; he’s also a MORTAR grad.
“’Esoteric’ means ‘sophistication,’” says Jackson. “We’re trying to elevate the palates of customers and the entire experience of people coming to breweries in Cincinnati.”read more
Derrick Braziel & William Thomas II saw big changes happening to their Cincinnati neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine. They, along with co-founder Allen Woods, wanted to be a part of that change. Mortar is a company that provides a twelve-week program, pop-up shops, and business capital to help non-traditional entrepreneurs start and run successful businesses.read more
Last weekend, Lady’s Sparrow Foundation hosted The Period Pop-Up Shop at Innovation Alley in Covington to educate and empower young women when it comes to their bodies and health. The purpose of The Period Pop-Up Shop is to disrupt periods by eradicating the embarrassment and discomfort for young ladies and to equip parents with the necessary tools for this important conversation around womanhood.read more
Thanksgiving dinner is the original Throwback Thursday. It’s a #TBT with a menu that might once have been normal to cook every day, but they’re foods we’ve gotten too busy and modern to make often.
Dinner rolls are one of those foods. Once, yeasty, soft, buttery rolls could have been on the dinner table anytime. Now, it takes a special occasion. Like Thanksgiving. Even though potatoes and stuffing and maybe sweet potatoes are on the menu, a pile of warm rolls wrapped in a cloth napkin makes the holiday meal complete.
More good rolls for Thanksgiving:
Gigi’s Kitchen makes rolls, either plain dinner rolls (Well, not plain. They’re nice and rich and buttery) or lightly sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. These rolls are served at the National Exemplar in Mariemont.read more
Cincinnati’s MORTAR, the accelerator born in Over-the-Rhine to help entrepreneurial residents rise with their neighborhood, won a national Small Business Administration contest.
MORTAR, for the second year in a row, competed with other accelerators across the nation and won the U.S. SBA’s fourth Growth Accelerator Fund competition. It was one of 20 winners nationwide, which entitles it to a cash prize of $50,000.read more
Derrick Braziel (Founding Partner & Managing Director of @weareMORTAR) was a guest speaker at the last #dogoodx conference. In case you weren’t able to make it to our event, check out his talk here! #changemakerread more
What I really liked about MORTAR is how personal, transparent, and active my teachers were because it built a student-teacher trust that you won’t find in most schools. Whenever we had questions, we received thorough answers. I also appreciate how productive our group discussions were. My peers were really respectful with answering each other’s questions if they had answers and were willing to share their information with everyone. You know how some people will know something but won’t give a lil help to anyone else because “it could hurt their own business,’ not realizing that sharing their “light” with others won’t diminish their own? Yeah. Not at MORTAR.read more
Esoteric Brewing Co. is coming to the $20 million Paramount Square development in the Paramount building at the corner of Gilbert Avenue and East McMillan Street. Co-founder and CEO Brian Jackson hopes to open it by the fourth quarter of 2018.
Jackson’s desire to open his own brewery brought him to Mortar, the Over-the-Rhine accelerator that got started to help entrepreneurial residents come up with the neighborhood. He was part of its first class in 2015 and even won the Judge’s Choice award at the pitch night.
It was at Mortar that Jackson met co-founder Marvin Abrinica, an 18-year Procter & Gamble alum who founded his own agency, Thrivera. Abrinica also founded Wunderfund, the region’s first equity crowdfunding platform that gives backers a piece of the company they’re investing in rather than a T-shirt or a mug.read more
Pop-up shops have been springing up in Cincinnati, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to temporarily rent space instead of committing to long-term rental agreements.
While the concept isn’t new, more small-business owners and entrepreneurs are utilizing pop-up shops to not only sell products and raise brand awareness but also to test business ideas in real time.
“Typically, we see a lot of lifestyle businesses, but the space is open to anyone in the area that has an exciting idea or is currently running a business,” said manager Victoria Sumners.read more
Retaining local talent — whether entrepreneurial, artistic, educational or otherwise — can be difficult. Whether young creatives leave for personal ambitions or job opportunities, or simply a desire to try something new, that flight has long been a challenge for Cincinnati’s workforce.read more
What personality trait does being an entrepreneur require?
Patience and tenacity. There are times when you want things to happen more quickly, but if you have the patience to do – what you can when you can – and allow the rest to fall into place, entrepreneurship can be a wonderful journey. There are times when it’s difficult and you want to quit, so tenacity allows you to continue moving towards your goal even when everything around you tells you to give up.
There are a variety of events that L. Mari Catering covers for its clients. “We provide catering services; whether it’s an intimate affair for ten people, a corporate luncheon, or a larger scale event of 300 people-we are able to accommodate you,” she says. “We also provide weekly meal preparation to clients who may find it easier to free up sometime and allow us to cook their meals for the week! Lastly, we have hosted events and have done many pop-up events, along with festivals!” Some of the foods that L. Mari Catering offers is butter chicken, blackened salmon, spiced Hennessy wings, seafood pasta, Cajun shrimp and pepper medley, Halal options, vegan black bean chili and more.read more
I don’t really concern myself too much with the thoughts or opinions of people I don’t know or care about. They don’t detract from my performance, nor do they distract me from my purpose or goals. But let me be at odds with someone I love, or who is supposed to love me. When there’s a conflict at the office, or a family dispute, my energy levels can drain like a wilting grain of grass in Phoenix heat.read more
[bctt tweet="Jim Stahly: a difference made thru 20hrs/week giving advice to entrepreneurs. @wearemortar"...read more
During the “Bridges to Success” roundtable with minority-owned small businesses, both Chabot and Garcia addressed questions from the 90 participants ranging from government contracting certifications, access to capital and other challenges that small businesses face.read more
We have a lot of MORTAR alumni who are staying extremely busy this weekend – while many are located onsite at Paul Brown Stadium for Cincinnati Music Fest, there are several others who have events located elsewhere in the city. Check out the full event list here!read more
This time, Case’s hour-long visit last week was more of a check-in sandwiched between other meetings in town, but it was long enough to inspire folks like William Thomas.
Thomas, a Cincinnati native and graduate of Wittenberg University, is a co-founder of MORTAR, which helps underserved businesses and entrepreneurs succeed.
“Since the last time he was here in 2014, the ecosystem has been built out significantly,” Thomas said. “MORTAR was just getting started, OCEAN (a faith-based business accelerator) was not started, Hillman (a business accelerator focusing on minority- and women-owned businesses) wasn’t wasn’t even here.”
“Three years later the ecosystem is starting to thrive,” he said. “It is building up, and more and more organizations are taking part in what’s going on here in the Cincy start-up scene.”read more
At the end of the day, this is a difficult process. Picking the wrong partner and/or partnership can not only hinder the progress of your organization, it can also lead to its ultimate demise. But if it makes you feel any better, no person is perfect. We all make mistakes, which is why I encourage you to follow your heart (rule #1) and fully invest in the decision you’ve made.read more
“We don’t consider ourselves to be activists. It’s not like that. We just feel called down here,” Tia Brown said. “Let’s lift up the people who have been here. We want to be here with you.”
The West End has historically been an African American neighborhood, part of Cincinnati’s urban core. Divided by Interstate 75 in the 1950s, the community has high poverty levels and a low homeownership rate. The neighborhood lost housing, residents and schools in the last half of the 20th century.
But in recent years, as redevelopment has moved out from Cincinnati’s central business district and Over-The-Rhine, the West End has seen renewed interest and community energy. Tia’s position at Seven Hills was made possible by funding from Place Matters and support from LISC of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The West End is a Place Matters community.read more
What sets you apart? What makes your food truck special?
“We try to deliver the full BBQ culinary experience. Not only do we have the best in smoked meats, but we also focus on made-from-scratch sides and desserts. Quality is always important and customer service is second to none.”
Sweets & Meats menu features ribs and brisket, plus rotating dishes like smoked meatloaf, the BBQ 4-Way, the Triple Bypass Sandwich, smoked pork belly, rib tips and bacon wrapped pork loin. Homemade sides include mac ‘n’ cheese and sweet potato casserole, and you can’t forget the desserts.read more
“There are times when you feel like you have already reached your destination, but this experience has given me the ability to stretch, realizing there is something else that I have the ability to grow into.”
Founding Partner, MORTAR
Recently, I attended a session about the power of networking to help achieve goals and how this change in mindset about networking can entirely change one’s networking experience. The session facilitator demonstrated how it worked by having a participant share a goal they have and then having the rest of the group identify if they or someone they know could help achieve that goal.
The results were outstanding and incredibly eye opening for me. At the time, I was in a space of experiencing an incredible amount of anxiety around a situation at work to transition into the leadership role that I desired. I was lacking confidence about my capabilities – unsure I had the know how to be successful. The impact of the stress it was giving me was taking a toll.read more
Why does the work that MORTAR is doing in communities matter?
To me is very simple, everyone deserves a fair shot at succeeding. When the system hinders the possibilities of a group of people, something must be done. MORTAR’s approach is unconventional, inventive and creative, and above all is working!
Government can not solve all social issues, and that’s where community members step in.
The restaurant will be open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday with the food truck remaining in operation and focusing on private events and festivals. In the meantime, the food truck has been parked and serving in the parking lot of the new location to drum up excitement.
“We’ve been seeing people take our food into Standberry Park, and to me that’s awesome,” Bailey said. “Several areas have been hit hard by drugs, and there’s a lot of negative stuff that’s happened in the park, but there’s a lot of positive things going on, and it’s nice to see people taking their food into the park and having lunch with their families.”read more
Allen Woods has dedicated his career to empowering minority business owners, bringing people who often feel like outsiders into the entrepreneurial community. In his TEDx talk, Woods talks about how growing up an outsider in his own surroundings shaped his understanding and commitment to his business.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedxread more
After you find your passion that’s when success starts poking through. Once Kristen Bailey and Anton Gaffney decided to set out on the road with Sweets & Meats BBQ they never looked back. Even more so than that, they have set their sights on new and upcoming ventures to expand their business.
“My favorite thing about the food truck is that everything is so close together. You always know where to find everything because it has to be super organized because it’s so small. It’s also really nice working with everyone so close together because it’s really comfortable. We feel like a family on the truck. So that’s my favorite thing about it.”read more