MORTAR raising fund to invest in neighborhood entrepreneurs

Mortar kicked off its Iron Chest Fund with a #100for100 campaign on Tuesday, seeking 100 individuals to donate between $100 and $1,000. The fund has already been pledged a $50,000 matching grant from Signature Hardware president Matt Butler.

The goal, Iron Chest Fund managing director Derrick Braziel told me, is to raise $100,000, but he’d like to see that get up to $300,000.

“Access to capital is a big barrier to a lot of entrepreneurs we’re trying to serve in Cincinnati, and we want to have a role in trying to help them,” he said.

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Everybody can’t help you.

One of the main characteristics of MORTAR’s partners is that they ‘get us.’ Great partners are not just acquaintances who give intellectual assent to the vision, mission and practices of MORTAR. They are friends who really understand the significance of what we are doing, and desire to come along side us in the grind to uplift and empower our entrepreneurs to be the best they can be. These comrades are not peering down on MORTAR and those it serves from above, but linking up arm and arm to see change in this economic subsystem and in this world.

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Tips for Presenting Your Pitch

When someone asks, “So, what do you do?”, do you launch into a compelling and concise description of your business? Me neither! We’ve had so many people in our Creative Juice community get the opportunity to pitch an idea to a committee or group and instead of being excited, we FREEZE and shut down. Or we squeak out some circuitous response that confuses people who actually even know what we do. We could ALL use a little help with our business pitch, whether we are presenting to a huge group of investors or meeting someone at a party. This blog post will give you some tips on how to create a simple and compelling pitch about you and your awesome business.

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On The Ground: Old businesses and new tell economic story of Walnut Hills

“Equitable redevelopment matters because all across the nation, people are displaced daily from the places that they’ve called home for decades. Developers have been so driven by making money that they’d rather create spaces for wealthier, and often lighter, people to migrate from the suburbs to city living — at the expense of low wealth, usually darker, populations who are then forced to move elsewhere because they can no longer afford to live in these areas.”

With the right players at the table, he said, “Walnut Hills can become a national model for neighborhoods that grow and thrive while keeping a heart for diversity and inclusion.”

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Cincinnati growing into a startup utopia

Lately, it is very easy to get excited about #StartupCincy. Groups like Founder Institute are bringing seed-stage support to the network of accelerator programs and funds from Brandery and Cintrifuse to Ocean and UpTech. TechStars is attracting national attention with FounderCon, in town right now. Mortar is turning out innovation after innovation, as Brick joins them next door on Vine Street. There is an exciting lineup of emerging tech companies making waves including Astronomer, Spatial, Lisnr and Fiero, just to name a few. And for entrepreneurs, support is always just a short walk away. I love how walkable Cincinnati has become.

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Innovation thrives when we remove silos

The event will unite great thinkers, tinkerers, dreamers and creatives to better understand how to unleash the region’s innovation agenda – essentially launching “what comes next” in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) fields and other vital disciplines. Specific events for the day include a “disruptors discussion” that will dive into the concept of disruptive innovation, a business idea pitch competition, and a social innovation competition in partnership with People’s Liberty and MORTAR Cincinnati.

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Crew Love [Staff Edition]: Dawn Flanigan Johnson

“Crew Love” is an ongoing series that explores the MORTAR team, alumni, board members and partners – sharing their insights as to why they believe in MORTAR’s mission of providing equitable access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this edition, we’re talking to MORTAR’s Project & Events Builder, Dawn Flanigan Johnson.

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Because, LEGACY.

Cincinnati (and the world) recently lost an amazing entrepreneur, husband, father and grandfather, Devan Johnson. At the young age of 43, the celebrity barber and stylist left behind a lot of memories, laughs and a few tears.. but most of all, he leaves a legacy of what’s possible with faith, determination and a lot of hustle.

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New businesses improve OTR

“We live in the community, and while we were incredibly excited about what was happening in the neighborhood, we noticed that entrepreneurship seemed to have only one face around here,” Thomas said in an interview with the Enquirer.

“And, as black males, we didn’t like that and thought we could do more to add to the diversity of the entrepreneurship.”

MORTAR isn’t an entrepreneurship program for only black business owners, though. The non-profit’s door is open to anyone with an idea or aspiration for success.

The courses, available to selected applicants, run over the duration of either nine or 12 weeks. They offer insight into building business models, understanding clientele and refining industry ideas and strategies to create self-sustaining companies.

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Takeaways from Cranley’s State of the City speech

The Cincinnati Development Fund, a community development organization whose main mission is to fund real estate projects the private sector won’t touch in impoverished neighborhoods, will help create and finance a $2 million micro-loan program to help start small, neighborhood businesses. With the participation of Mortar, the entrepreneurial mentorship nonprofit, the program will have special outreach to black- and women-owned enterprises.
Money in the city budget for its own small business loan fund fell from $245,000 in the fiscal year 2011 budget to $100,000 in FY2012 to $90,000 in FY2015 to no money in the last two fiscal years.

“There are entrepreneurs in every neighborhood who cannot get their dreams started for lack of initial funding,” Cranley said.

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UNPOLISHED is an Oxymoron.

At every turn we were challenged to activate our faith: full persuasion and belief not only in our own concepts and abilities but in Divine providence to aid our journey. Crossroads’ Pastor Brian Tome urged us to use our ‘anointing,’ our specific God-given skills and bent toward achieving purpose. Various speakers inspired to tell our story in more creative and impactful ways. We were challenged to expand our networks and to grow a base of knowledge and influence beyond ourselves. Shark Tank impresario and FUBU creator Daymond John challenged us to leverage the ‘power of broke’ to tenaciously move toward our goals despite obstacles or distractions. He also encouraged us not to lose focus on what is important, family and relationships, which he deemed true success, on the road to achieving our dreams.

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Popular, busy — successful?

Wyzerr CEO and co-founder Natasia Malaihollo, who is on the board of Mortar, said Wyzerr is creating a survey of past and present students to gather data on what Mortar’s done well (to support its grant and funding applications) and what needs improvement (to inform decisions about future programs and key hires).

This kind of self-examination is not something that every nonprofit does, Sandmann said, but it’s something Mortar does very well.

“Mortar is being progressive in this,” he said.

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Organizational Culture – Creating A Culture of Support

By focusing on our individual talents and gifts that we each have – we are able to plug into the organizational needs and position each other to work in our strengths TOGETHER. It’s this asset based organizational culture that encourages us each to be our best selves and always continue to GROW BETTER both as individuals and as a team.

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Local Program Bridging Diversity Gap

The Cincinnati chapter of American Fundraising Professionals has created a program specifically to address the lack of diversity in the donor population by proactively diversifying the local fundraiser pool. The motive? Donors are more likely to give to fundraisers they identify with due to a shared culture or background, and it’s predicted donor demographics across the U.S. will continue to diversify.

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Teach them Well, and Let Them Lead the Way

I’ve stumbled along the road of success alone for more than half of my life with no real mentors or guidance – making a lot of mistakes along the way. It’s these mistakes, these errors in judgement, these flaws that have made me the confident entrepreneur that I’ve become.

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Earth Shaking, Ground Breaking…Breath Taking!

This all reminds me of MORTAR. We’re not in the Olympics, but what we’re working toward and fighting for is more than personal accomplishments and notoriety. We’re battling against history and for legacy- to do what’s never been done before; and I believe like these glorious athletes, we’re going to win!

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The Answer is STILL “Yes”.

My time in Africa brought a lot of unknown and took me far out of my comfort zone. Although I was nervous before leaving, I am happy I overcame that fear and said yes to going on the trip. The opportunity to travel to Africa exposed me to a completely different culture and part of the world. It never would have been possible had I played it safe and stayed home.

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Cincinnati’s MORTAR Turns Peer Network Support into $600k Raise

Coming into the immersion, “I had a huge sense of urgency,” Derrick said. “I had no idea what value the fellowship would add to my work with MORTAR, but I wanted to make sure I discussed the meeting with every person I could, gleaning as much from their experiences as I could.”

What he gained – and what many leaders gain from this peer leadership network – was advice, encouragement, relevant and compelling data, and the confidence that comes from knowing that the tide is pushing you forward and that there are other leaders in the water beside you.

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Bold Fusion to Focus on how Disruptors and Mavericks can Help Big Companies Thrive

Bold Fusion begins with registration and networking, followed by the four local speakers presenting in a TED Talk format. Husband-and-wife duo Allen and Kyla Woods will serve as moderators, while Brandon Black, a graphic note taker, will live-illustrate the presentations. Anand will present the keynote talk before the event wraps up with a networking happy hour.

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Crew Love [Intern Edition]: Veda Coleman

“Crew Love” is an ongoing series that explores the MORTAR team, alumni, board members and partners – sharing their insights as to why they believe in MORTAR’s mission of providing equitable access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this edition, we’re talking to MORTAR intern, Veda Coleman.

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Pitch Night Success

On Tuesday, August 2nd, MORTAR and Indigo Hippo – in partnership with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and LISC – celebrated the graduation of 13 creative women from their inaugural creative enterprise program. The pitch night/graduation was the culmination of over 12-weeks of in-class instruction facilitated by the MORTAR and Indigo Hippo teams. Over 200 people filled into the 5-points alley to witness the event.

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Food Innovation Scene Helps Feed Cincinnati’s Urban Renaissance

For many minorities, food is a way of life,” he says. “For most of us, it’s the one place where we’ve felt the most quintessential of human emotions — family, love, joy. These food-preneurs have been cooking and passing down delicious recipes for years, without any sort of idea that it could be translated into a business.”

Recent Mortar graduates include Jamerisol Soul Food, which opened a stand at Findlay Market; Sweets & Meats BBQ, which purchased a trailer to set up at local events; Jazzy Sweeties, a bakery set to open a storefront in Walnut Hills; Aunt Flora’s Cobbler, a Findlay Market regular; and Paleolicious Cincy, which just last weekend featured its health food menu at Mortar’s pop-up shop on Vine Street, Brick OTR.

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NBC News profiles Cincinnati’s Mortar program

Cincinnati entrepreneurship lab Mortar scored some national attention Sunday after NBC News profiled the group’s founders and mission.

Over-the-Rhine-based Mortar launched in 2014 and has been working to introduce minority residents and those living in urban areas to entrepreneurship and provide people an opportunity to launch or expand businesses.

Crews from NBC News interviewed founders Derrick Braziel, William Thomas and Allen Woods and Mortar participants in visits to Cincinnati.

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Crew Love [Staff Edition]: Sadell Bradley

“Crew Love” is an ongoing series that explores the MORTAR team, alumni, board members and partners – sharing their insights as to why they believe in MORTAR’s mission of providing equitable access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this edition, we’re talking to MORTAR’s Catalyst Strategist, Sadell Bradley.

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Skube founder benefits from local entrepreneurial programs, gives back to other startups

Kohler feels she’s received the help of Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem at every step in her journey, and along the way she’s committed to giving back as well.

“Strong women can help young girls become strong women,” she says.

Kohler helps by giving back and sponsoring programs when she can for organizations like Girls on the Run and MORTAR, making possible for others the same support and mentorship that have helped her grow her passion into a business.

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Crew Love [Intern Edition]: Antonio Wooten Jr.

“Crew Love” is an ongoing series that explores the MORTAR team, alumni, board members and partners – sharing their insights as to why they believe in MORTAR’s mission of providing equitable access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this edition, we’re talking to MORTAR’s Graphic Design Intern, Antonio Wooten Jr.

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Crew Love [Intern Edition]: Ean Harris

“Crew Love” is an ongoing series that explores the MORTAR team, alumni, board members and partners – sharing their insights as to why they believe in MORTAR’s mission of providing equitable access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this edition, we’re talking to MORTAR’s Legal Intern, Ean Harris.

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All You Gotta Do is Say “YES”.

Entire legacies (and families) are built on the foundation of a YES at the perfect time (typically as one knee presses into the dirt in the ultimate stance of surrender). It’s these moments that encourage and uplift individuals. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get you started on the path of possibilities. Does that one YES mean that you’re on a journey that is always going to be certain, smooth and without obstacles? Absolutely not. But it’s a starting point. In early 2014, an amazing journey of entrepreneurial development started with three yesses. On a warm spring day in Over-the-Rhine, Derrick Braziel, William Thomas and Allen Woods gathered on the steps of the City Library discussing the current complexion of Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial ecosystem – compared to what the city looked like as a whole and determined that it was time for something new.

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SCORE Helping Local Black Businesses Achieve Success  

Derrick Braziel, the managing director of MORTAR and a founding partner, says that “Without question, the impact of MORTAR has been inextricably tied to our relationship with SCORE. One-hundred percent of our students have had access to a mentor, an esteemed professional, who provides encouragement and support”.
Braziel maintains, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly requires a village to build a successful entrepreneur. In the case of MORTAR, SCORE has provided many of the characteristics of a “village” and we are incredibly grateful for their continued support.”

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The Unlikely Entrepreneur: Are You Ever “Ready”?

In 2014, MORTAR co-founder William Thomas and I signed up for the opportunity to pitch a social impact idea at the Fuel the Fire Competition at Rhinegeist Brewery. Our pitch idea was the solution to a problem we had noticed in our community. Minority job creators across our region were disconnected from the resources needed to start and sustain businesses. We wanted to get them connected. We gave our pitch and felt good about it but were discouraged when we found out the winners were to be selected by audience vote. Our crew was only 5 people. Other teams had dancing children and tables of supporters with them. We didn’t think we had a shot at winning.

Through luck, timing, or an act of God, we won the competition and were given a chance to bring our idea to life. The problem was that we had no idea how to actually make it happen.

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Crew Love [Partner Edition]: Graydon Head

Every so often, we receive a request from an individual and/or partner who wants to support MORTAR and our work. We are always incredibly humbled whenever an individual or organization wants to partner – we know our work wouldn’t be possible without them.

One such partner who has been of tremendous value to MORTAR has been Graydon Head.

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My journey with MORTAR began with an interview. When I was told they’d chosen me to fill the intern position, I was ecstatic that I would be a part of their team. I pondered as to why they had chosen me, it could have been because we share the same love for the awesome KanYe West, but I’ll stick to believing it was because of my amazing personality. (lol) I came to work each day and entered into an environment that promoted creativity, positivity, support, and community. I was able to be myself and figure out how my personal ideas could tie into the overall vision of this business.

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Staying Centered in a World of Chaos

Life is multitudinous and infinite in its expression. As humans we are continually navigating the full spectrum of what life has to offer. It’s good, it’s bad – we celebrate, lament and remorse. There’s harmony, discord and then there’s chaos. Entrepreneurs are humans too (though I know we appear super human to many) and when you take on the brave journey of creating your own business you quickly realize that chaos ensues in entrepreneurship as it does in life; and thus it’s important to create balance. Self-care is critical. As you make it a priority to bring your best self into manifestation it will pay itself forward into all you do.

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Entrepreneurs Against the World

The Cleveland Cavaliers inspired a city and many people across the world. At the same time, I have been inspired by MORTAR entrepreneurs. It’s powerful to watch the impact they are making in Cincinnati, and this is just the beginning. Here’s to many more “championships” for folks that have too often been overlooked and counted out.

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These Impact Investors Focus on “Believe in You” Money

The problem, retold in numbers: The average cost to start a business from scratch is $30,000, and many people look to those who are closest to them for help. The median net worth of white households in the U.S. is $141,900. Black households have a median net worth of $11,000. Those are two very different pools of cash to tap.

“Supporting Derrick, linking him to other people who are fighting similar things in other communities, helps us have the conversation about how this early money is missing and how we will not ever get to the kind of communities that we say we want if we don’t plug up this hole, if we don’t plug up this runway with a lot more strength than we have right now.”

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Walnut Hills co-working space to be entrepreneur hub

“We will continue to cheer and support each and every success story that occurs in that space,” Sittenfeld said. “Our message today is that we want the door of entrepreneurship to be open to all. Yes, some entrepreneurs look like Mark Zuckerberg, but a whole lot don’t. People with smart ideas and the will to make them happen live in all neighborhoods across our city, and are of all races and ages and backgrounds.”

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Could Walnut Hills co-working space save neighborhood’s Kroger?

Council members believe the Durner co-working space will have more opportunities for minority business owners.

“Often times when we see this revitalization people get left out. Not only is there an opportunity to house and give opportunity to small business entrepreneurs, but the people that will really benefit from this is African American businesses,” said Councilman Wendell Young. “They will not only create jobs but they will make the area more desirable.”

Revitalizing this part of Walnut Hills could save the Kroger grocery store there, which the city worries eventually will close, Councilman Christopher Smitherman said.

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