In a neighborhood focused on revitalizing buildings, MORTAR is focused on building up what they say is Over-the-Rhine’s greatest asset: its people. Over the past decade, OTR has worked to overcome the long-standing reputation of poverty and violence through a virtual transformation of buildings and sites. All the while, there has been a small but mighty organizing effort gaining ground while building a true community of entrepreneurs.
MORTAR co-founder Allen Woods, now the organization’s executive director, continues to believe that it’s well-placed to support entrepreneurs who have traditionally been overlooked. He also realizes that MORTAR’s assistance work may have to pivot in the current coronavirus climate. “COVID-19 has been painful for a lot of our entrepreneurs,” says Allen. “Many of them are still very active and operating their businesses, but they need a bit of assistance.”
MORTAR helped shift the paradigm in entrepreneurship when it first began offering innovative business classes to help urban entrepreneurs start or grow their dream business, targeting the area’s underserved and underrepresented population. Most noticeably along the bustling Vine Street hub, MORTAR created a unique co-working/pop-up shop concept, called Brick, to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to test their ideas in real time by providing customer exposure and business experience in one setting.
A few of MORTAR’s first alumni are OTR-based Elementz and Visini Beauty, as well as Means Cameron’s BlaCk OWned Outerwear and BlaCk Coffee Lounge.
“A few weeks ago MORTAR distributed $10,000 in business grants to our alumni network,” Allen says. “This has allowed us to explore filling the same needs in the broader business community.” In its commitment to lift up the neighborhood’s assets, the organization has now partnered with the Greater Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce and others to create a larger fund.
OTR in Action: Support MORTAR’s crowdfunding effort for Cincinnati’s minority-owned businesses.
Author K.A. Simpson is a military veteran, author, innovator, serial entrepreneur, and community enthusiast obsessed with all things creative. He is the author of Chronicles of a Boy Misunderstood, and founder and chief imagination officer of SparkLight Creative Group, advising small businesses and organizations on how to create motivating, creative and productive places to live, work and play.
OTR in Action is a series of stories from local creative writers with strong ties to Over-the-Rhine. The OTR Chamber paired them with neighborhood businesses to share the wisdom and passion of small business owners who have planted themselves in Over-the-Rhine.