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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Abandoned Walnut Hills building offered to small business owners for working space

“For a lot of people in this neighborhood and a lot of neighborhoods around Cincinnati, they have been told ‘no’ so long and so, having a space like this gives us an opportunity to tell people ‘yes,’” Allen Woods said.

“Yes” to entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams of owning and operating their own businesses, by giving them office space of their own.

“The city’s committed to reinvesting and trying to continue the current momentum. So, to invest in a space that’s going to attract entrepreneurs that can help be a launching pad for new businesses, I think it’s a great day for the neighborhood, it’s a great day for Walnut Hills,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said.

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Crew Love [Intern Edition]: Martha Thompson

Hometown Cleveland, OH     Your college and major Xavier University Double Major in Sociology and Communication with a minor in Gender and Diversity   With all of the possibilities around Cincinnati for doing your internship, what drew you to working with the team at...

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Cincinnati’s Renaissance and the Return of the NAACP Convention

Cincinnati is a diverse city, and the percentage of racial minorities in the total population is on the rise. African Americans alone comprise more than 40% of the city’s estimated 297,000 residents. As the city redevelops, it, like other American cities, finds itself continuing to face issues of disparity, and one program takes a unique approach to addressing the problem. In the same way that the city’s neighborhoods are transforming into booming communities, organizers of MORTAR, a minority-led business incubator, believe that the neighborhood’s residents have the potential to be part of the change, rather than displacement.

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How Cincinnati Salvaged the Nation’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood

They’ve also supported Mortar, the nonprofit for which Allen Woods and his colleagues work to mentor and support local people seeking to engage in entrepreneurial activity, be it making jewelry or opening a chain of boutiques. “When people do redevelopment, they’re looking at the potential of the buildings,” he says. “And we’re looking at the people and saying the same thing: They have potential and just need someone to invest in them.”

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The Street That Riots Couldn’t Kill

Anton Canady served over seven years in prison for drug trafficking and a shooting. Now, he is rebuilding his life through his T-shirt line featuring the message, “Pray Until Something Happens,” or “PUSH.” He is part of an initiative at Over-the-Rhine’s MORTAR that targets entrepreneurs in underserved and redeveloping communities. The T-shirts are raising money for children whose parents are incarcerated.

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Second annual NewCo Cincinnati expands with more host companies and programs

Based on feedback from last year’s inaugural event, NewCo has added extra time between sessions so attendees can get from one area to another in time for programs that are spread across Greater Cincinnati.

“Host companies invite people into their offices to talk about their work, show off their products, and tell their stories,” says Cindy Edington, volunteer on the NewCo Cincinnati committee. “NewCo is a cross-industry, cross-region event offering many opportunities to connect and network.”

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Crowdfunding on Kiva helps entrepreneurs in Cincinnati LISC communities

Kiva is not your traditional financing source; instead, it is an online platform entrepreneurs use to crowdfund 0% interest loans up to $10,000. Kiva loans are also character-based, making them a great option for small businesses who might not qualify for a traditional bank loan. Instead of evaluating borrowers on financial underwriting standards like credit score, cash flow, or collateral, Kiva looks at borrowers’ character and standing in the community.

Ford and Bailey heard about Kiva after completing a nine-week training program through MORTAR, a LISC Greater Cincinnati partner that equips under-served entrepreneurs in the Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills neighborhoods with the resources and tools they need to start and expand their businesses. “MORTAR plays a crucial role in our Place Matters neighborhoods connecting low-income residents to economic opportunities within their communities,” said LISC Greater Cincinnati Executive Director Kathy Schwab.

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Cincinnati In The News – MORTAR in Yes! Magazine

Mortar’s nine-week business development program is explained and celebrated in Yes! Magazine, a nonprofit, ad-free online and print publication offering tools for citizen engagement and stories about real people working for a better world.

While Mortar is open to all, Araz Hachadourian writes, the majority of its students are low-income women — like Jasmine Ford, who is featured in the story. After going through the Mortar program and raising funds through a Kiva campaign, Ford is planning to open a storefront bakery, Jazzy Sweeties, in Walnut Hills.

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‘Good Food’ Invites Community to Bring a Dish, Talk Sustainability

Can a potluck spark a sustainability movement in Cincinnati? Three entrepreneurs are out to prove it can this weekend. Good Food is a one-day, meatless potluck that is part pop-up dinner and part community gathering event. Hosted by Ohio Against the World founder Floyd Johnson, Free People International founder Joi Sears, and A Few Hungry Girls founder Ray Ball, the event will take place this Saturday, June 11 in the West End.

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The Startup Turning Locals Into Entrepreneurs in Cincinnati’s Gentrifying Economy

When Jasmine Ford sold her first cheesecake to a colleague at the Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati two years ago, she didn’t think anything of it. Even as word of her pastries spread and orders rolled in over the months, Ford didn’t imagine she’d one day own a business.

But in just a few weeks, after two years of working out of her home, Ford, 24, will be opening her own storefront bakery, Jazzy Sweeties, a space she secured with the help of a local business-incubator called MORTAR. To start, she’ll get help from her brother and husband, but hopes to hire an employee soon after the doors open.

“I was so nervous about how I would get the money,” Ford said. “I knew when I got accepted to [MORTAR], this is what I was supposed to do.”

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By Allen Woods Founding Partner, Chief Vision Caster & Branding Gladiator This year has already been amazing for MORTAR. We're catching...

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MORTAR Indigo: New collaboration aims to help creative women build businesses around their talents

At first blush, Christina Davis and Joanna Engebrecht don’t seem to have much in common.

Davis is a young mom who is building a business out of selling the cookies she used to bake for fun. Engebrecht is a high school student who wants to turn her passion for ceramics into a career.

Johanna Engebrecht
But a new program is banking on the belief that getting the two together — along with about a dozen other creative women — could make entrepreneurial magic.

The program is called MORTAR Indigo. It’s a collaboration between MORTAR, the entrepreneurial training program, and Indigo Hippo, a gallery and thrift store for arts supplies in Over-the-Rhine that support mentorship.

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Style Counsel: Derrick Braziel

Most of our students come from poverty. We don’t tell them there’s anything wrong with that. But our world operates according to middle-class norms. In order to be successful, you have to understand that those norms exist and play to them. We also talk about e-mail addresses and social media. We call it “getting to know yourself.” You have to assess how you look, how you dress, how you present yourself to the public. We reinforce that every single week, but not in a way that’s judgmental or condescending.

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Cincy Chat Photo Recap

A fantastic and important discussion at our May Cincy Chat lunch with Johnmark Oudersluys of CityLink Center, Tara Noland of GreenLight Fund and Allen Woods of Mortar Cincinnati.

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Why is NBC following around Cincinnati’s Mortar?

NBC Nightly News correspondent Olivia Sterns told me that what MORTAR is doing is unique – giving residents the opportunity to be lifted up along with their neighborhood through entrepreneurship.

“There are so many neighborhoods across the country that this is happening in that are rapidly gentrifying,” Sterns told me. “This is something that everyone in the country has been exposed to where money is coming into a neighborhood, it’s developing and people are thinking it’s revitalized, but not everyone is getting lifted up with it. It’s cool that it’s through entrepreneurship. This is the age of the startup and CEO and this is such an inspiring way to help people feel like they have a chance at that dream.”

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Sweets and Meats: Local couple’s delicious hobby becomes business

“Barbecue brings people together. We have a passion for people. We’ve always loved hosting our friends and family at home. We had friends that would say, ‘Why don’t you open a restaurant?’ We thought they were just complimenting us because it was free. Who complains about free food?”

“Sweets” uses interns from Cincinnati Job Corp, and Kristen graduated from Mortar, a local business accelerator, while she still worked full time at a local bank. “Meats” has become Anton’s full time passion.

Kristen said of Anton, “We did a lot of dreaming together if you will, and it’s the one thing he’s always been passionate about is barbecue.”

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New Wave of Cincinnati Entrepreneurs Introduced at Three Events Last Week

“There was a lot of community support and love at our fourth installment of ‘Life’s a Pitch,’” Mortar co-founder Allen Woods says. “After calculating all of the votes from the audience, the top three students will go on to a final tournament-style pitch competition at the end of the 2016.”

Those top three pitches were an ice cream stand in Walnut Hills called Green Man Twist; iCleanology, a commercial cleaning service for bars and restaurants in Over-the-Rhine; and Just Hire Me, a platform for neighbors to employ teenagers in their own community. The three companies demonstrate the range of the 60 entrepreneurs who have been through Mortar’s program so far.

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Sweets & Meats BBQ: Cambro Foodservice Business of the Week

“We used to have 50-60 friends and family members at our cookouts each weekend and so many of them told us we should open a restaurant. One day we started believing we could. We started small and set up shop in the parking lot of our neighborhood Creamy Whip, before landing a commissary. Last year we did a ton of events and landed our catering license. Our focus has been full service and drop off catering, in addition to events where we were a tent set up. We invested in a custom trailer this past winter and launched our new BBQ Food Truck this spring.”

Kristen also had support from MORTAR Cincinnati, a business accelerator designed to help budding entrepreneurs, in the form of “tools, resources, and confidence to pursue our dream of owning a food truck.”

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Allen Woods, Co-founder, Chief Vision Caster & Branding Gladiator at MORTAR explains the how and why behind his organization. “MORTAR was created to address the needs of the people living in redeveloping neighborhoods. As those areas begin to change, becoming more populated and revitalized, we want to make sure that the residents in those areas are equipped to grow with their neighborhoods.” He adds, “Our goal is to change the way that America looks at development. We want the process to be more holistic – developing the buildings is cool but developing the people is a way more lucrative investment.”

MORTAR’s signature program is a 9-week entrepreneurship course, but both Woods and Budkie saw a need to intentionally reach out to women in the community. Budkie explains, “The community has been asking for an all female cohort. In the last two years, nearly 70% of MORTAR graduates have been women – an entrepreneurial trend that is mirrored nationally. We believe in listening to our community, and in the power of women.”

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