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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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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