AOL co-founder Steve Case promotes Cincy start-up scene

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.”

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Attached at the Hip: How Choosing the Right Partner(ship) can Make or Break your Vision

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.

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Living, working and volunteering in West End, Tia and Michael Brown make change

“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.

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Entrepreneurs dream up tasty food trucks featuring best-of dishes

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.

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Network to Achieve Your Goals!

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.

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Crew Love [Intern Edition]: Andres Contreras

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.

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Mount Washington BBQ restaurant, born from a food truck, sets opening date

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.”

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There is Power in Being on the Outside

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

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Q&A with Brittany Anderson from Sweets & Meats BBQ

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.”

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My Experience... Food Truck Exclusive with Sweets & Meats BBQ

“My dad has always really liked to cook… he worked his way up to buy the truck.” Brittany Anderson from Sweets & Meats BBQ brags on her dad (and his bbq) in this food truck exclusive. Read about their expanding business in this Q&A: #HubertExperience #FathersDay

Posted by Hubert Company on Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sweets & Meats – Food Truck Exclusive (Father’s Day Edition)

“My dad has always really liked to cook… he worked his way up to buy the truck.”
Brittany Anderson from Sweets & Meats BBQ brags on her dad (and his bbq) in this food truck exclusive.

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Miranda Millard: Laughter and MORTAR

We want to continue to enrich the entrepreneur. I think that’s what is different about us. There’s different accelerators and incubators but for us, one, the demographic of people that we serve, but two, the sense of building community is really, really important to us, so it’s not like, “All right, you did your 12 weeks. Good luck. See ya later!” No, you’re the family of Mortar now. When you think about entrepreneurship, typically your friends and family is who supports you. Well, if you don’t have a great support network, who do you have? That’s our whole goal, is to become the friends and family of the entrepreneurs that we serve.

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Two Cincinnatians join Echoing Green’s 2017 Fellowship Announcement

“Selection as an Echoing Green fellow means the world to me and Derrick,” says MORTAR Creative Director and Founding Partner Allen Woods. “This fellowship opportunity will allow us to not only grow and develop as leaders, but also leverage resources to better support the entrepreneurs and communities we serve in Cincinnati. Being a part of this valued community will give us the tools and connections to explore our long-term sustainability model as well as what a MORTAR expansion could look like.”

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BRICK Haus – Grand Opening #BRICKpopupshops

There, you’ll find an amazing assortment of products from MORTAR grads, @OATW, @GoodCoApparel, @MasterpieceMens, @NOVEdecor, @GiGiRolls, @WeAreMORTAR, @PaleoliciousCincy, @ByDistrict78, @CamsCrochet AND MORE!!

SUNDAY: 12pm-5pm

This is only the beginning…….
🎶: @BaokuMose

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Crew Love [Alumni Edition]: Kristen Bailey – Sweets & Meats BBQ

MORTAR was the first organization that said “yes, you can.” The small business accelerator introduced us to a plethora of resources, including Mike Mulligan, our SCORE mentor and Lew Goldfarb, founder of ECDC; who has taken us on as a client and offered pro bono legal work for the past year. Our goal was always to open a restaurant. We needed people who believed in and would support us, in addition to providing some guidance along the way. I remember ordering our custom trailer during week 7 of our 9 week curriculum and not even having the deposit. Now, we are operating the trailer full time and opening a brick and mortar location, enabling us to have our own commissary for catering in addition to serving guests on a regular basis from a central location.

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Crew Love [Alumni Edition]: Katy Dietz – Green Man Twist

Originally our team started through relationships as neighbors in Walnut Hills. Seeing a desire in our neighborhood for work instead of labor. As the brainstorm turned into a reality Green Man Twist formed, as a business to truly bring the community together as well as create space for entrepreneurship training through the business. As RH always said “The problem is we don’t know each other.” Green Man Twist is a space that people from all walks of life can come and have a delicious treat and get to know their neighbors.

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Vy’s Mahope Cambodian Cuisine: BRINGING HOPE THROUGH FOOD

Although Vy is busy taking care of her children and elderly parents, she has long had the dream of opening her own Cambodian-style eatery. Things began to take shape last year, when she took a course with Cincinnati entrepreneurship program Mortar, whose mission is to enable under-served entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed. With their help, Vy hopes to put Cambodian cuisine on the map in Cincinnati. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and for me lots of things are falling into place at this moment.”

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Growing up, she never expected this would be her plan. Early-Coleman always figured there were “enough” blogs out there and didn’t think she could make a difference. But luckily, through conversations with business owners and creative, she realized her voice and perspective do matter, and she couldn’t be more right.

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West End Art Gallery

“We like to attend community events in and around the West End to engage the residents and bring community art activity to events, such as, paint and peels and paint by numbers,” Brown says. “It gives us a chance to connect, get feedback on workshops they would like to attend, and let them know who we are. We have attended a number of events with the Seven Hills Neighborhood House, Carl H. Lindner YMCA, and Mortar Cincinnati.” She adds, “And by keeping the WEAG a family-friendly space, [patrons] can create art of their own while helping to build community.”

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MORTAR grad to serve up Cambodian food at Urban Artifact brewery

Sok is a home cook and all of her recipes come from her mother. Opening a restaurant was always a dream of hers, but it didn’t feel real until her sister-in-law who was also going through the Mortar program encouraged her to sign up for the accelerator.

“Mortar lit that fire in me in trying to be an entrepreneur,” Sok said. “It’s not all talk anymore, everything’s going and all the things I’ve wanted Mortar has helped me obtain.”

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Drawnversation helps people and businesses communicate without words

MORTAR graduate Brandon Black doesn’t believe we have to communicate with words.

“Words are a useful tool but they’re not the only tool,” says Black, who last year was awarded one of two prestigious Haile Fellowships by People’s Liberty. “Drawnversation means to have conversations through images and pictures.”

Drawnversation provides graphic facilitation and graphic recording for people and businesses looking for new ways to communicate ideas. Black defined graphic facilitation as utilizing drawn imagery and words to enhance a process or communicate an idea, so that people are able to see the ideas in front of them. Graphic recording is the art of capturing communication in a visual format.

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The Green Elephant Arrives in 2018

“My mission is to bring play time back to its natural state by combining wholesome foods and organic play in a relaxing atmosphere that parents and children can enjoy together. We will focus on green living, minimizing the use of plastics and chemicals,” says Renee Laguna, founder of Green Elephant. “Green Elephant will include an indoor play area, a café that serves fresh, organic baked items from Nay Mama’s Sweet Treats, natural and healthy foods from other local eateries and retail items related to natural food and parenting sourced from local and global natural retailers.”

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Green Man Twist Ice-cream Trailer pays Homage to the Myth of Walnut Hills’ ‘Green Man’

“I wanted to bring the neighborhood back together,” Sweeten said. “We started thinking about what makes people happy: good music, ice cream and people mingling.”

Dietz met Leeman and the others through a student group at the University of Cincinnati called MUD (Mission Urban Development), for which she would volunteer to help fix up houses in Walnut Hills. She developed Green Man Twist last spring as part of Over-the-Rhine’s MORTAR program, which teaches entrepreneurship classes and helps people develop business ideas. But it took the group another year to launch Green Man Twist.

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MORTAR’s Allen Woods & Derrick Braziel named 2017 Echoing Green Finalists

Each year, Echoing Green evaluates thousands of applications in order to identify high-potential social change leaders from around the globe.

We believe these 73 next-generation innovators have the talent and drive to launch bold new ideas for solving some of today’s most pressing and entrenched problems around the world.
We are eager to bring this remarkable group to New York for connections and interviews as Finalists for the Echoing Green Fellowships – our two year immersive leadership development program that provides seed-funding and hands-on support, and embeds them in the Echoing Green network. Ultimately, the investment we make in selecting the 2017 Fellows will be from this group of dedicated entrepreneurs, who will go on to join our unparalleled community of 700+ innovators.

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BALLE Fellows Explore Cincinnati Local Economy Ecosystem

In addition to leadership development programming, the 2016 Fellows toured Derrick’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, visited Our Harvest Urban Farm, met with local officials, and had a meal served by a graduate of the accelerator program, Mortar, that Derrick co-founded.
Every Fellowship immersion takes place in or near the home city of one of the Fellows. This allows each cohort to see local economy ecosystems at work in communities other than their own and leverages the deep connections of local Fellows to foster understanding, inspiration, and new relationships in each community visited. These visits invite reflections on Fellows’ own communities, begin conversations around how solutions might be adapted in other places, reinforce the idea that our struggles are shared, and remind us that, truly, we are all in this together.

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MORTAR Alumni take part in City Flea Preview

What was your overall experience like at City Flea?

Donny: My overall experience was very GO(O)D! I was able to network and build my brand in various ways.
Christina: We were able to introduce our product to new faces and a different population of customers.
Erikka: I’ve always been very successful at City Flea. It’s important to set yourself apart from everyone else. It’s been a great way to get the word out about my business.

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Crew Love [Staff Edition]: Victoria Sumner

By introducing means of bridging gaps through entrepreneurship, the majority of this country, the middle and lower class, has a chance to invest in their community by building their ideas and gain invaluable information to create a local businesses. This then increases the wealth and economy of the inhabitants of the community and a legacy (financial and personal) can be created for their children and children’s children to inherit.

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It’s Time to Climb out from “Under the Table”

In the African-American community, it’s called ‘the Black Economy,’ or we use colloquial phrases like ‘off the books’ or ‘under the table’ to describe businesses that operate without paying taxes. The work is often legal. Avoiding taxes is not. Some operate this way in response to a recession or economic crisis. When the unemployment rate escalates, people are hustling or ‘on their grind’ to survive full-time, or as side income. For others it’s an education gap – underground is all they know. They’ve never filed taxes, nor have they seen anyone around them do it. People in poverty, (the poverty line in the US is $23k for a family of four) can see taxes as something burdensome that they can’t afford to pay. From a macro standpoint, the government still observes currency flowing and people spending, but the corresponding taxes are somehow not being paid to the tune of a $500 billion gap.

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Crew Love [Alumni Edition]: Christina Davis – Davis Cookie Collection

I decided to attend the Mortar Entrepreneurship Academy because I wanted to learn the tools necessary to grow a successful and prospering business. The experience enhanced my business acumen as I learned how to properly advertise to customers, how to identify our target customers, how to calculate our costs/profit, and so much more. The Mortar experience has changed our business significantly!

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Finding Purpose in a World with Many Problems

This is important because while all of the aforementioned problems are still happening and are still very real, the narrative that connects everyone is our humanity. If there is no planet, there are no humans; if we do not love one another, we will eventually destroy one another. Any way you attempt to slice the pie, humans are at the center of the story.

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Crew Love [Alumni Edition]: Ashley Ogletree – GiGi’s Rolls

As a daughter of a small business owner I know firsthand that small business’s & Entrepreneurs are the heart of every community. They provide opportunities that can help bring new ideas and products to the market. Jobs, direct contact with customers, customized products, are all key benefits that bridge disparities among people in the community. In the community life cycle it’s small businesses that provide the foundation for the continued acceleration and market growth, which is vital for building community through supporting entrepreneurship.

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Crew Love [Alumni Edition]: Brandon Black – Drawnversation & Retire Repair

I think being involved in MORTAR has helped expose me and “my brand” to Cincinnati. I have a suspicion that there were people who liked my concept, but who were also legitimately rooting for me. I also think having some guidance with pitching my idea and engaging customers was helpful. At the end of the day, you have to go and do the work and MORTAR is really good at making sure the people that come through the program are aware of that.

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History is just a starting point

Although I believe that history is history and should be thoroughly and accurately passed down from generation to generation; this is the time of year that Carter G. Woodson proposed would focus the attention of the entire nation on the contributions of African-Americans to the flourishing of the Country.

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Keeping a Focus on Equity Amid Neighborhood Investment

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Donny Harper is an entrepreneur with a message. “It’s about who you are and who you want around you,” says Harper. “When was the last time you had a conversation about the company you keep? Who’s challenged you on that lately?”

Part of the inspiration for his two-and-a-half-year-old brand, GO(O)D Company Apparel, was an incident involving his nephew. As Harper tells it, years ago, at age 20, his nephew was riding with a friend who jumped out of the car and robbed someone at gunpoint. Harper’s nephew was sentenced to six years in prison over the incident, his first criminal offense, “all because he was with the person who held the gun and did the crime.”

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BBQ food truck opening brick-and-mortar restaurant in a Cincinnati neighborhood

The brick-and-mortar will also serve as a commissary for Sweets & Meats’ catering business. The food truck will remain in service, but Bailey said it will scale back and focus on private events and larger food truck festivals. The food truck spent the last year in a blitz, attending as many festivals and events as possible to get the word out.

Bailey intends to initially open the restaurant Fridays through Sundays. It will operate as a carry-out restaurant with no indoor seating.

Sweets & Meats is a graduate of small business accelerator Mortar’s first class in Walnut Hills in 2015. Bailey credits the program for her ability to open a brick-and-mortar store after just more than two years in business.

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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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