Mortar accelerator teaching its second class, planning expansion


At their weekly meeting Aug. 3, members of Mortar’s current startup class christened themselves “Second to None.”
 
The 17 entrepreneurs are the second group to go through Mortar’s nine-week course of classes and mentorship. They’re now five weeks into the program, modeled after a similar effort from partner Launch Chattanooga, and many are already benefitting from the guidance and education.
 
Started in 2014 by Derrick Braziel, William Thomas II and Allen Woods, Mortar is not your average business accelerator. The Over-the-Rhine based organization focuses on non-traditional, minority and low-income entrepreneurs, seeking to provide resources to individuals often left out of “renaissances” like OTR’s.
 
“A year in, we’re starting to see that it is possible,” says co-founder William Thomas.
 
Along with its course, Mortar supplies entrepreneurs with mentorship from organizations like SCORE and legal guidance through a partnership with University of Cincinnati’s School of Law. It also has a pop-up storefront, Brick, next to its Vine Street offices, which gives new businesses a chance to experiment in a real-world context. Even after graduation, Mortar stays in touch with participants to serve as a resource, a networking tool and an inspiration.
 
Dana “Nyah” Higgins, founder of JameriSol, which makes vegan and vegetarian Jamaican/Soul food, graduated from Mortar’s first class in April after learning about the program through CityLink. Through the Mortar program, Higgins went from creating dishes out of her home for family and friends to conversations with Findlay Market and a national food chain.
 
“Initially when I started the class, JameriSol was only an idea that I had had for way too long,” Higgins says. “The men at Mortar — Allen, Derrick and William — gave someone like me, with little experience, the foundation and skills needed to take JameriSol from dream to reality.”
 
Lindsey Metz is a participant in the new Mortar class. Much like Higgins, she came to the course with an idea: Fryed, a french fry walk-up window in OTR. Although she has food service experience, Metz appreciates the support and the visionary mentality of Mortar’s founders as much as the nuts-and-bolts business advice in the classes.
 
“I never would have dreamed I could actually do this, but the Mortar founders themselves and the resources they’ve connected me with have shown me I can,” Metz says. “They are extremely knowledgeable guys, but beyond that they are ridiculously supportive.”
 
The class also includes businesses that are already established but wish to grow. Mike Brown wants to take his business, Brown Lawn Care, from part-time to full-time, adding more clients and employees.
 
“I’ve really been cultivating all the creative aspects I touched on before, now I’m getting to know them much deeper,” Brown says. “My relationship with clients is really taking off.”
 
Mortar itself is also taking off. For the second class, the organization received 50 applications, a significant increase over the first class.
 
“This time it feels real,” Thomas says.
 
But the Mortar founders aren’t content with the success of the class and Brick in OTR and are thinking of expanding and replicating their model in other neighborhoods. Whatever they do next, it will be visionary.
 
The “Second to None” class will present its business plans to the public in early October. You can follow Mortar on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for details and updates.
 
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