the WOMEN of MORTAR – Kiaya Carter

Reading Time: 3 minutes Be bold. I don’t care if you want to sell sticks, the people who want your stuff will find you and it’s OK or better if it’s not in your personal network. And whenever the world tells you [that you] need to be this young, sexy, entrepreneur, don’t believe it. Don’t let a dream go unlived no matter how old you are.

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the WOMEN of MORTAR – Katie Lindsay

Reading Time: < 1 minute Going through the MORTAR class was enlightening. Like the lightbulb went off. I had been catering but didn’t know what direction or what resources to use or how to establish myself as an entrepreneur. MORTAR laid the pathway for me in terms of what I need to do to be productive as an entrepreneur and exposed me to people who were on the same path as me.

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the WOMEN of MORTAR – Erikka Gray

Reading Time: 2 minutes When asked how we as a society can support black women better, she responded “LISTEN TO WHAT I’M TELLING YOU”, with overwhelming passion in her voice. She believes strongly that black women should have a seat at the table and be active participants in any efforts. She wants to be part of the action and have her efforts recognized.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes In a nation that has somehow found even more ways to be divided, MORTAR is consistently working to make sure that we’re bringing people together. I love that we’ve often become matchmakers for true connections. Sometimes it’s the pairings of a middle-aged white man who serves as a SCORE mentor to a young black woman who’s just starting to pursue her dreams. Other times it’s an unlikely introduction of a Walnut Hills real estate developer with a MORTAR grad who wants to create a brewery in the neighborhood. Then there are the times when our alumni group has figured out ways to come together to create one space that houses all of their business entities just steps from the UC campus. I think about the times in my life when entrepreneurship has felt lonely… the times when I couldn’t find people to have real conversations with, the times when I didn’t have real community.

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Black Creators: With ‘BlaCkOWned’ Style Meets Substance

Reading Time: < 1 minute Black-owned is more than a category of business, culture, or financial freedom — it’s a state of mind. That’s why Means Cameron founded BlaCkOWned Outerwear in 2011 — in an effort to empower the surrounding Black community, with hopes that the message and brand would become global.

Early on, Means partnered with Merk Ervin, a locally-renowned entrepreneur. Together, they formed a power duo that would go on to gain more and more notoriety in their Cincinnati community and beyond.

In the brand’s early stages, Cameron and Ervin would sell BlaCkOWned sweatshirts from the trunk of their Honda Accords and take orders through Facebook messaging and direct calls. The duo’s motto was “shop never closed,” an attitude that paid off significantly and facilitated the rapid and organic growth of the brand.

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Covington Looks to Boost Entrepreneurship, Aesthetics at Innovation Alley

Reading Time: < 1 minute The first cohort, or class, kicks off Aug. 18 with nine participants, said Jill Schneider, the MORTAR Covington program manager for RCov, which works to energize the city’s urban core through creative place-making, community events and programming, and small-business support.

Most of the participants are from Covington and have either launched a new business or have a detailed idea for one.

“At the end, we’re hoping that these entrepreneurs walk away with not only the tools but also the resources to take their businesses to the next level, whether that’s raising capital, opening a pop-up shop or opening retail space,” Schneider said.

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City Flea supporting black-owned businesses

Reading Time: < 1 minute CINCINNATI (WKRC) – The City Flea is hoping to amplify Black business owners Saturday with a Black-owned business and makers market.

Similar to the women’s market, the Black-owned business market is focused on diversifying The City Flea.

Content from around 50 businesses will be highlighted throughout the day on Instagram under “thecityflea.”

Organizers say the Black-owned ‘theme’ is related to the conversations regarding racial injustice and is a broader effort to diversify companies and customers.

“Cincinnati is far more diverse than the typical crowd at a City Flea and we really want to change that and be seen as a multicultural environment in the heart of a multicultural city,” founders, Lindsay and Nick Dewald, said.

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Local Group Gets a Grant to Launch HUSTLE Academy

Reading Time: < 1 minute Ashley Kinamore knows what it means to hustle.

“We always are coming up with new programs to meet the needs of the community,” Kinamore said.

As the education director of High Achievers Aim High, she and her fellow co-founders have launched six programs that focus on minority children and equity.

That’s all in the last four years.

And now, thanks to a grant, they’ll launch the HUSTLE Academy or Helping Usher Students Toward Leadership and Entrepreneurship.

The program partners 10 Cincinnati Black high schoolers with a paid internship with a black business owner.

“So it’s big, big big,” Kinamore said. “We are so excited. It’s our first big grant.”

The Academy is set up to provide leadership training and an entrepreneurship program.

Students will work with MORTAR, a local entrepreneurship academy for marginalized entrepreneurs.

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An NYC-Based Foundation Swooped in to Aid 3 Local Restaurateurs During Crisis

Reading Time: < 1 minute Mount Washington’s Sweets & Meats BBQ is a carryout restaurant and caterer with two food trucks. According to owner Kristen Bailey, since more than 2/3rds of the business is event-based, she “lost over $60,000 in revenue within the first 48 hours” after Ohio’s Stay at Home Order was enacted in late March. “This was our saving grace, as we used the entire grant to fund payroll. Luckily, we’ve been able to retain our staff and have since created five new jobs.” Over the past three months, the business added online ordering and curbside pickup, and its food trucks have been able to visit numerous neighborhoods to find and cultivate new customers.

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Christina Davis: A Bite Into A Better Day

Reading Time: < 1 minute Having a new dream of running a cookie business was the easy part, putting her plan to action would take a lot of time and dedication. Davis continued as a social worker while working her business. Juggling work on top of running her business, being a wife and becoming a new mommy was no easy task. Lucky for Davis, she had a strong support system to help her through those tough times. Balance plays a huge role in Davis’s life, especially when she became a mother for a second time two years later after her son. Support from people like her husband, who does the logistic for the business, buy ingredients and even bakes when needed, which has helped tremendously. In the times when she felt defeated, she pushed forward going above and beyond, making necessary sacrifices to keep her dream alive.

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Meet Cincinnati’s first minority-owned brewery, Esoteric Brewing Co.

Reading Time: < 1 minute Anecdotal, but true: I don’t even need to take off my socks to count the number of people of color I’ve met through craft beer.

It would seem I’m far from the only one with that experience. According to a recent article published on, there are just over 60 Black-owned craft breweries in the United States. That’s slightly more than the number of breweries in just Greater Cincinnati.

Among those listed is Esoteric Brewing Co., the Queen City’s first and only minority-owned and operated brewery. Co-founded by former MadTree brewer Brian Jackson and serial entrepreneur Marvin Abrinica, Esoteric aims to become the centerpiece of the revitalization of Walnut Hills while working to maintain the neighborhood’s diversity.

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Southern Grace Cincy Was Born Out of One Woman’s Passion for Homestyle Cooking

Reading Time: < 1 minute Simply put, Southern Grace Cincy is a made-from-scratch catering company whose menu consists of primarily of excellent southern comfort food.

Owner Nickey Stevenson’s upbringing inspired her to start a catering business because her grandmother, who cooked family dinner every Sunday when she was younger, instilled in her a life-long passion for cooking.

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Owner of Damaged Coffee Shop Uses Leftover Donations To Help Other Businesses

Reading Time: < 1 minute Someone broke a window at the BlaCk Coffee Lounge on Elm Street. The owner, Means Cameron, said customers immediately started donating to help fix the window.

He received so much support, he had money left over and now he’s paying it forward. Cameron says he’s using the leftover money to help repair four other black-owned businesses in downtown Cincinnati.

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The Intersection of Rage, Fear and Hope

Reading Time: 2 minutes The hardest thing I had to do this week was to explain to my sons why they are hated so much by certain people, and how their skin color will be weaponized against them. No parent should be forced to have such a conversation with their children.

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What Happened When a Church Learned To See Its Money In a New Way

Reading Time: < 1 minute To many in Cincinnati, the Over the Rhine neighborhood revival seemed like a major success; one of the poorest parts of the city was seeing restaurants serving locally grown food, coffee shops, bars move in along with vibrant boutique locally owned retail shops.

But to the people who had lived there before the development, it was nothing but the same kind of bad news they’d seen before; rising rents were forcing them to move from where they’d lived for decades. African American owned bodegas and pawn shops and barber shops were being gentrified out.

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Sweets & Meats BBQ Founder & CEO: Kristen Bailey

Reading Time: < 1 minute Sweets & Meats BBQ makes everything from scratch daily using family recipes and focusing on the entire BBQ experience. In every outlet of their franchise, you can find six smoked meats, eight homemade sides, two desserts and an excellent customer service experience on a daily basis, according to Bailey. “Every day is Thanksgiving at Sweets & Meats BBQ,” she laughs.

Some crowd favorites on their menu are brisket, baby back ribs, macaroni & cheese, sweet potato casserole, sweet cornbread, collard greens, and banana pudding. It’s those crowd favorites and Bailey’s dedication that have won Sweets & Meats BBQ 12 awards and counting since opening in 2014. Most recently, they won the 2019 Ohio Business Person of the Year (U.S. SBA), 2019 1st Place Entrée – Rib Tips (Taste of Cincinnati), and 2019 Equity Award (MORTAR Cincinnati).

“My favorite part about Sweets & Meats BBQ is that I get to do what I love with the person I love most, every single day. We are building a life and a legacy together. We have poured everything we have into our business, it’s deeply personal. We will always do everything we can to keep moving forward,” says Bailey.

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Cincinnati Councilman Wants To Limit Fees, Commissions Food Delivery Apps Charge Restaurants

Reading Time: < 1 minute On Wednesday, Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said what he calls sometimes “exorbitant” fees delivery companies charge to restaurants in the city need to be capped at 15 percent, at least until restaurants in the city no longer face restrictions related to the coronavirus.

“This is about going to bat for the people that make this community what it is,” Sittenfeld said. “Government is not taking over their thing. We’re saying, ‘Let’s make this fair.’ And 30 percent is not fair and it’s hurting our local community.”

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Helping Minority Business Owners

Reading Time: < 1 minute CINCINNATI (WKRC) – On this Giving Tuesday, local organizations are teaming up to give back to minority netkeepers struggling through the pandemic.

After 10 years of selling Ohio-centric t-shirts online, Khisha Asubuhi was ready to open up her first storefront in East Walnut Hills, but then the pandemic hit.

“Construction went on hold, then we had to stop; press the pause button. However, at the same time, we still had rent due, utilities and all that stuff due. It’s been a challenge,” said Asubuhi.

To make matters worse, her application for a small business loan from the Paycheck Protection Program was denied.

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WLWT Community: 24-hour challenge provides Giving Tuesday options across the city

Reading Time: < 1 minute The need for Giving Tuesday is being felt more than ever in the midst of the pandemic.

Leaders around the city are urging folks to support what they believe to be the heartbeat of this city.

Cincinnati Magazine and Procter & Gamble have reopened Cincinnati Gives as part of the global generosity movement.

P&G has donated $5,000 in prize money to the top three charities that raise the most money during this 24-hour challenge on the Cincinnati Gives platform.

$2,500 for first place, $1,500 for second, $1,000 for third.

Organizers hope this effort will allow people to learn and support dozens of organizations and give those who give a platform to bring people together.

In the midst of giving, the African American Chamber of Commerce is shedding light on diverse communities that are being impacted at alarming rates.

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Organizations band together to help minority-owned businesses through COVID-19

Reading Time: < 1 minute COVID-19

Groups banding together to help minority-owned businesses

minority owned business help coronavirus
By: Josh BazanPosted at 10:27 PM, May 02, 2020 and last updated 11:26 PM, May 02, 2020
CINCINNATI — Community organizations and leaders are working to raise thousands of dollars needed to help save minority-owned businesses in the Tri-State area hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a general rule, minority-owned businesses tend to be smaller and have thinner capitalization,” said Eric Kearney, president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce.

He said, because of this, these businesses need extra support to survive an unprecedented economic and health emergency like the one brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help alleviate this, the Chamber is teaming up with Mortar and other groups to raise money for small businesses struggling to stay afloat.

“I remember the very first day they decided to do the shutdown, we got multiple emails and phone calls and, literally, almost $4,000 worth of business canceled in one day,” said Crystal Render, owner of Magnificent Morsels Catering. “So it was very real, very quick.”

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SBA Answers Your Questions About Next Round In The Paycheck Protection Program

Reading Time: < 1 minute President Trump signed a new $484 billion relief package on Friday. The deal includes $310 billion to replenish the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP ran out of money on April 16, after just 14 days.

Many large businesses, including Potbelly, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Shake Shack, came under fire for receiving sizable loans in the first days of the program. Shake Shack has since returned the money it received and there have been calls for other businesses to do the same. The new bill closes a loophole in the law that allowed larger firms to participate in the program.

Even with the new appropriations, there is widespread concern the funds still will not be enough to meet the surging demand for funds. Joining Cincinnati Edition to discuss the loan process and the high demand is U.S. Small Business Administration Great Lakes Region Regional Administrator Rob Scott. We are also joined by two small business owners: Sewendipity Lounge Owner Karen Williams; and MORTAR Managing Partner and Creative Director Allen Woods.

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‘We Don’t Have The Luxury Of Waiting For Politicians’: Local Black Orgs Fill Funding Gap

Reading Time: < 1 minute “The Cincinnati region is home to one of the nation’s strongest ecosystems for entrepreneurs of color. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for politicians to devise solutions, many of which will fall short of our true needs,” MORTAR Development Director and Co-Founder Derrick Braziel says in a release. “The only way this generation of hard-working, job-creating businesses will survive is by identifying needed resources and creating a mutual aid network to fill those needs.”

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During The COVID-19 Crisis, There Are Ways To Help The Community From Home With Remote Volunteering

Reading Time: < 1 minute CINCINNATI — Since it launched in 2014, MORTAR has helped 270 aspiring entrepreneurs build companies as a way to improve their lives.

Now the Over-the-Rhine nonprofit is working to help its graduates keep their businesses – and their dreams — alive.

“We are an organization trying to figure out what to do right now,” said Allen Woods, MORTAR co-founder and executive director. “But even bigger than that is that we have 270 graduates trying to survive.”

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This Puzzling Time We’re In.

Reading Time: 2 minutes This last week has been trying for most of us – especially the entrepreneurs who are trying to make decisions today that will keep their businesses open in the future. We are trying to piece together our lives amongst circumstances that we can’t control. We’re referring back to our boxes, looking at our plans for what this time in our lives was supposed to look like. When it seems unfamiliar, we feel compelled to walk away, to blow off some steam – but those of us who are dedicated to this entrepreneur-life understand that sooner or later we will return to the table. And when we do, life will make a little more sense, and we’ll feel like we’re a little closer to reaching our goals.

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FHN Recap: Surrounded by Black Excellence

Reading Time: 4 minutes What a day to remember! MORTAR’s Future History Now (FHN) was held on Saturday, February 15, 2020. FHN has been MORTAR’s contribution to Black History Month celebrations for the past five years as a way to share, learn, and network with our community. While many celebrations focus on the accomplishments of our past (and there’s nothing wrong with that), FHN focuses on bringing our community together today in order to better prepare for the future.

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Cultivating Non-Traditional Entrepreneurs for Good with Allen Woods

Reading Time: < 1 minute Guest Biography

Allen Woods is a devoted husband, father, and entrepreneur – in that order. A lifelong Midwesterner, he’s never allowed the size of a city to place a limit on the size of his dreams. Allen is the creative force behind the MORTAR brand, as well as a business consultant and training facilitator for incoming students.

Recognized as a 2016 Cincinnati Business Courier 40 under 40 Business Leader, 2017 John F. Barrett Entrepreneur Vision Award and 2017 Echoing Green BMA Fellow, Woods is also a sought-after public speaker who recently shined on the TEDx stage. As a brand strategist and designer, Allen assisted directly in the growth of hundreds of small businesses and personal brands across the globe.

When Allen isn’t at MORTAR, he’s probably somewhere with his wife, Kyla, planning or recording the next episode of their brand new marriage podcast, Permanent Plus One.

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Leading the Leader

Reading Time: 2 minutes After I eliminated the actual bad ideas, here’s what I was left with: certain ideas never came through because of fear and lack of dedication. Admitting that, in itself, is personally a hard pill to swallow. The barriers that stand between us and our greatest success stories are often barriers we create ourselves!

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Reading Time: 2 minutes …Which begs the question…how long is your runway? How many months could you live without a paycheck or other influx of cash? In America, 40% of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency…

We don’t know what lies ahead, but we’ve been told since we were kids to save for a rainy day because eventually, it’s going to rain. Now is a great time to build a substantial runway for yourself, your family and your business.

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New Entrepreneurship Training Coming to Covington

Reading Time: < 1 minute A new program to help entrepreneurs in Northern Kentucky is coming as part of a partnership between Renaissance Covington, the nonprofit downtown promotional organization, and Cincinnati-based-MORTAR, which assists historically-underserved populations in business development.

The new program consists of a 15-week course for aspiring or existing entrepreneurs. MORTAR alumni have access to new customers and opportunities for additional funding as well as a mentorship network of business leaders, a news release said.

“MORTAR’s focus on historically underserved populations has seen tremendous growth in inclusive entrepreneurship for Cincinnati,” said Renaissance Covington Director Nick Wade. “We could not be more excited to collaborate with MORTAR and bring their program to Northern Kentucky.”

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Long Live The Chief

By Shannon Hooten, Retail Spaces and Events ManagerOctober 30, 2020 It’s 9:30 p.m. and I’ve been standing for over two hours in a small venue with no seats and little ventilation. I’m with friends from work and we’ve already watched two fellow concert goers pass out...

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Bounce Hub Partners To Offer Classes Aimed At Minority, Non-Tech Startups

Reading Time: < 1 minute The Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron is now taking applications from non-tech entrepreneurs for classes created through a new two-year relationship with a minority-focused business startup program…

Ace Epps, newly promoted director of inclusive entrepreneurship at Bounce, will lead the program, which is officially called MORTAR at Bounce. The classes will take place in meeting rooms on the first-floor Generator space at Bounce.

Adding the minority-focused classes is one way Bounce is taking part in the Elevate Greater Akron initiative, said Jeannine Black, the organization’s marketing officer. One top goal of the Elevate Greater Akron initiative is to expand economic opportunities for the region’s long-neglected minority population.

MORTAR at Bounce also diversifies technology-focused Bounce’s offerings.

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Write It Down

Naimah Quinae, Design & Apparel ManagerFeb. 6, 2020 One of the prompts for a leadership workshop homework sheet was to identify something that you assume annoys the crap out of your teammates. I continuously impress myself with how no matter how often I come into...

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Black-owned Eateries Increasing In Cincinnati

Reading Time: < 1 minute CINCINNATI — Six years ago, Allen Woods, Derrick Braziel and William Thomas launched entrepreneurial hub MORTAR in Over-the-Rhine to help minorities and women in Cincinnati take their talents and turn them into viable businesses.

“There are people who are very creative and have these brilliant ideas, but maybe they don’t have the know-how of how to get started or they don’t have the resources for finding a location or capital to get a business started,” Woods said. “So, we wanted to create MORTAR to help them through those processes.”

Fast-forward to today: Cincinnati is seeing an increase in new black-owned bars, restaurants and other small businesses. Several of those business owners have participated in programs at MORTAR or the restaurant-focused Findlay Kitchen small business incubator that opened in 2016.

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MORTAR Presents Future History Now

Reading Time: < 1 minute As we celebrate Black History Month, MORTAR, a local business accelerator, is looking to the future instead of the past. MORTAR Managing Partner and 2019 Obama Foundation Fellow Derrick Braziel presents Future History Now, a day filled with impactful programming and conversations on Saturday, Feb. 15.

The event is focused on topics that aren’t always discuss in the black community. Sessions focus on mental health, financial planning, and black relationships. The schedule will also include the Buy Black Business Crawl, to encourage participants to support black-owned businesses in Over-the-Rhine, Clifton and Walnut Hills.

Joining Cincinnati Edition to discuss the event are MORTAR Managing Partner and Development Director Derrick Braziel; PR and Communications Coordinator Kyla Woods; and Managing Partner and Creative Director Allen Woods. Kyla and Allen are also co-hosts of the Permanent Plus One podcast.

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Black Then

Reading Time: < 1 minute As we begin Black History Month, I stopped to consider how much African Americans have impacted the culture of America in a positive way, even in the midst of very arduous and trying circumstances. I think most people are aware of the prominent inventors that are trotted out every February to remember their contribution to society at large. We are are very thankful for the traffic light, cotton gin, peanut products, hair products, refrigeration system, blood plasma, light filaments, etc. But the contributions didn’t stop back in the day! African Americans continue impact the entire world with ground-breaking innovations and life changing products.

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The Space Between

Reading Time: < 1 minute At some point in the game, as the arena camera was shifting from fan kiss cams, to silly dances, it stopped on a familiar face: Kobe Bryant. He stood, flashed an enormously gracious smile, and waved at the crowd now offering up a standing ovation. I clapped. I didn’t stand – but I clapped. (Am I a hater?) Thinking back, I was honestly mesmerized by this moment because of the love, the care, and the obvious impact this man had on that city.

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Pause Cincy

Reading Time: < 1 minute A group of four entrepreneurs is teaming up with Mortar to launch their very own retail space. With an official grand opening date of Valentine’s Day, Pause Cincy will offer a space that allows customers to take time for themselves.

“The name represents pressing pause on your life and making time for yourself,” says Mortar co-founder William Thomas III. “There’s an increase demand in the wellness space, and a lot of people are searching for a way to make time for themselves.”

In its opening, Pause will include these Mortar graduates:

-Matunda Juicery, a vendor of fresh cold-pressed juices founded by -Timothy Harris, named for the Swahili word for “fruit”
-Perfect Touch Helps, services from licensed massage therapist Lolitha Perry
-Diamyn’s Crystal Bar, by Diamyn Rembert, a vendor of crystals and stones as well as host to mediation classes and courses for spiritual wellness
-District 78, founded by Erikka Gray, a lifestyle brand and vendor of handcrafted candles

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