Cincinnati entrepreneurship initiative targets underserved communities
Cincinnati has changed a lot over the years with the rise of reinvigorated neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills. The flourishing city was even awarded an MLS expansion team, FC Cincinnati in 2018. Amidst all this growth, MORTAR is hard at work crafting equitable opportunities for urban entrepreneurs. Their goal? Making sure Cincinnati’s fast-paced revitalization isn’t leaving behind the movers and shakers who can greatly contribute to the community.
“We were seeing a void in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cincinnati, specifically in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which is where our headquarters is located,” said Allen Woods, managing partner and creative director. “We saw a lot of energy being put into revitalization, and it seemed like there were people being overlooked in that process. Most of those people were women and people of color who have been the primary residents of that neighborhood for the last 30 years.”
Thus, MORTAR was born with the intent of helping burgeoning businesses and startup dreamers participate in the community’s development. As a business accelerator, MORTAR is designed to meet people where they are — whether business experts or first-timers. Instead of assuming similar backgrounds or offering run-of-the-mill advice, the program responds directly to the specific needs of their entrepreneurs.
“We have people who come to us who are married with children and full-time careers trying to figure out how to start a family business,” said Woods. “Then, we have people who are younger, fresh out of college, and trying to figure out a nontraditional path. We also have people who are community-minded, people who might be working out of their homes and trying to figure out if they can turn their ideas into a revenue stream. If you have an idea and you’re willing to put the work in, we’ll help you to work that idea, test your assumptions, and talk you through that process.”
Outside of the cohorts hosted by MORTAR, the group is also actively involved in hosting local events to celebrate the diversity of the StartUpCincy community. One of which, Future History Now, has since expanded into a three-day event with ties to Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
“With our events, we’re trying to make sure that we are providing content and resources designed specifically for the demographic of people who come to our program,” said Woods. “We aim to be more reflective of what we would like to see in the StartUpCincy community in general, and that’s more diversity with women and people of color.”
MORTAR recently joined forces with Cintrifuse, a partner of Ohio Third Frontier, to host Future History Now at Union Hall. With an additional network built through the support of Main Street Ventures, MORTAR has also helped businesses find capital and success. The StartupCincy community collaborations don’t stop there. Working with the Hillman Accelerator has also helped MORTAR create opportunities for entrepreneurs to expand into tech platforms.
“It’s really bittersweet to watch people go through and graduate from our accelerator,” said Woods. “We see people achieve success and know we were instrumental in helping them to pursue their dreams. Even though MORTAR isn’t a magic formula, it will definitely leave you better equipped to make good decisions and have a better understanding of where you’re going.”