The F Word

By Dawn Flanigan-Johnson MORTAR Events Manager How often do you use the "F" word? Chances are that if you're an entrepreneur, you use it more than most. Here’s what MORTAR Founding Partner Derrick Braziel had to say when asked about the “F” word…. “I'm still afraid to...

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Just Hire Me: New company aims to tackle teen poverty one job at a time

“There are millions of kids all over the world who are in poverty,” Jones said. “The goal is to disrupt that and sort of get the community to bootstrap their way up.”

Just Hire Me aims to match teen workers with neighbors or nearby businesses that want to hire them for small jobs or light chores. The neighbors and businesses fill out forms on the Just Hire Me website to explain what they need to have done. Teens that have gone through the company’s training fill out online forms to explain their skills and availability.

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We Gon’ Be Alright

Today, on January 20th 2017, I remain hopeful. I’ve seen the power of hope and hard work combined. Together these qualities produce an unconquerable force. Just four years ago, thousands of children across Cincinnati did not have access to quality preschool. As a community, we decided that this was wrong and we decided to do something about it. Through the hope and hard work of our city, the Preschool Promise initiative passed, every child was promised the tools for a bright future, and we showed the world that we CAN do more.

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Yes We Can: President Obama, Clemson and the Path Forward

Tonight was an incredibly emotional night for me. Tonight, I witnessed the end of an era. The end of my youth. The end of my immature flirtations with immortality. Barack Obama, in so many ways embodied the modern spirit of my heroes. He was the epitome of grace, the champion of the American Way of Life, a complex leader for our complex times. Tonight, my fearless leader finally stepped aside.

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UC law students provide free legal counsel to 230 local entrepreneurs

“Most MORTAR business owners are starting lifestyle businesses and not high-growth, venture track tech businesses, like those participating in The Brandery program,” Goldfarb says. “Students sometimes must adjust their legal priorities and how certain agreements are drafted.”

“I was thrilled when I read about the launch of MORTAR,” Goldfarb says. “I believe its mission met a significant, unmet need in the entrepreneurship community. I reached out to Derrick Braziel to find out more about their plans and to discuss a potential partnership with the ECDC.”

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Embrace Your Numbers

EVERYTHING has a number: the time we schedule for meetings, the amount of each ingredient we use for a recipe, the size of the design for our marketing materials, the taxes we charge and pay, the mileage we track in our vehicles, our payroll expenses, and the price we charge for our services. If we are averse to numbers, we’re going to be in serious trouble. Unfortunately, many Americans are avoiding their numbers. US savings and retirement rates are abysmal.

According to a Federal Reserve report, nearly HALF (47%) of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense without borrowing the money or selling something. Even more alarming is that many people have NO SAVINGS at all. In fact, almost 30% report having a ZERO BALANCE, and 62% have less than $1,000 in savings, according to a survey by If personal numbers are this bleak, entrepreneurs with dismal numbers have major problems paying their bills. To address this MORTAR has partnership with SCORE, banks and financial professionals to assist our students.

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Entrepreneurs hit the jackpot when SCORE and MORTAR joined forces to coach and mentor

“I was nervous about it, because the volunteers with SCORE are older, seasoned guys — mostly white guys — and I wondered how they would interact with our clientele, who are mostly African-American and mostly women,” said Braziel, an African-American who is the managing director of MORTAR. Braziel is also one of the three co-founders of the organization, which was created in May 2014, some 50 years after SCORE first established itself in Greater Cincinnati and elsewhere in the country.

Although 2016 will never prove to be a year that’s remembered for major inroads toward racial harmony in the United States, Braziel said things worked extremely well for MORTAR and SCORE, which was led for most of this year by Jim Stahly, who stepped down a couple of months ago as the chair of the organization in Greater Cincinnati.

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Taking the Risk – Part One

In a competitive society, success is all but impossible without taking risks. If you are really serious about building your business, at some point, you will have to take a leap of faith, truly believe in yourself and take the risk of a lifetime. Every successful business owner has gotten to the point where they’ve had to make the decision to risk the comfort and security of their everyday lives by putting it all on the line and investing fully and completely in their business. My hope is that one day, you too, will be making the same decision to take a risk. Once you do, you will discover all of the amazing possibilities and opportunities that are out there that are tailor made for you.

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Today, ANYBODY can be a Hero.

TODAY is Giving Tuesday – the day set aside during the holidays for every day people to become heroes – just by donating to the nonprofits who are making a difference in their communities daily. Originating in 2012, as a complement to holiday spending, Giving Tuesday is a perfect opportunity to join us in saying ‘YES’! Real change in our community happens when passionate donors and local partners come together with a common determination. Make a donation to MORTAR’s #100FOR100 campaign by #GivingTuesday and help our entrepreneurs move to the next level. Our goal is to raise $2400 more for our #100FOR100 campaign during these 24 hours! Once that happens, everyone who has donated to the campaign will receive an invitation to an exclusive MORTAR VIP Party! So put that philanthropic cape on and show what can be done with the super power of “a dolla and a dream”.

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MORTAR Debuts Iron Chest to Fund Loans for Entrepreneurs

The fund will provide zero percent interest micro-loans of up to $10,000 to local entrepreneurs who typically wouldn’t be qualified for a loan through a traditional bank. Every potential recipient will take a financial literacy and money management course before receiving a loan.

Nine local entrepreneurs have already been chosen to receive loans through the Iron Chest Fund. Recipients include apparel companies, a men’s consignment shop and a paleo-friendly restaurant.

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Best Places to Live for Tech Entrepreneurs

Cincinnati is also attracting national attention for its tech-focused culture (including this 2013 article from Entrepreneur). Helping to fuel some of that growth are startup accelerators and incubators like Mortar, Cintrifuse, UpTech, and Brandery (which was recently ranked among the top 15 accelerator programs in the country).

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New pop-up businesses open in Carew Tower for holidays

The Davis Cookie Collection is one of nine businesses selected for the 2016 Cincy Pop Shop program. Owner Christina Davis said the opportunity is a boost long dreamed of by her and her co-owner and husband. “We are excited. We have been waiting for this moment for so long. This is really going to really give us the opportunity to feel what it is like to have our own storefront,” Davis said.

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Cincinnati named a top city for tech entrepreneurs

The list ranks tech destinations around the country that aren’t San Francisco or Manhattan based on their tech scenes along with Best Nightlife, Best Places to Raise a Family, Best Places if You’re on a Budget, Best Places if You Love the Outdoors, Best Places for Beach Bums, Best Places if You Love a Comeback Story, Best Community Vibe and Best Places for Foodies.

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Roll with it: A family story behind GiGi’s

A few years ago, Ogletree started thinking about making a business of those rolls. “The idea just wouldn’t go away,” she said. “I thought I should listen to it.” Eva Ogletree died in 2013, but her granddaughter didn’t give up the idea.

She founded GiGi Rolls about a year ago, and has been baking them by the dozen in her home kitchen. Now she’s going through the entrepreneurship course with business incubator Mortar, and is about to move operations into the Findlay Incubator Kitchen. She hasn’t quit her day job in IT support at Cincinnati Public Schools, but she’s feeling very encouraged by the help she’s getting.

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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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