In just a few short years, MORTAR, a small business incubator in Cincinnati, has made impressive strides in helping longtime residents in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods start businesses and grow in tandem with their neighborhoods’ fortunes.
Since 2014, the incubator has expanded from its original location in Over-the-Rhine to include three other Cincinnati neighborhood programs as well as Brick, a 400-square-foot storefront for entrepreneurs to host popup shops. To date, 125 local residents, primarily women and African American entrepreneurs, have graduated from the 9-week course and gone on to create 141 local jobs (see photo above). MORTAR’s three founders have attracted high-profile allies and accolades in Cincinnati and beyond.
As the program has grown, MORTAR has recognized that access to startup capital is a major obstacle for the entrepreneurs it serves—most of whom, like the MORTAR founders themselves, come from communities that have faced systemic barriers to building the kind of personal wealth and family-and-friends capital needed to bootstrap a business. With few existing tools available to connect its entrepreneurs with financing, MORTAR set out to create its own.
Last November, it raised $200,000 through a crowdfunding campaign for its Iron Chest Fund, a loan fund to help its graduates grow their fledgling businesses. But like other innovative lenders trying to address critical funding gaps, MORTAR has found it can’t entirely escape the limitations of the conventional financial system.[…]
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