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Essence magazine says Cincinnati fastest-growing Midwest hub for minority-owned businesses

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Cincinnati is getting national recognition as the place to be for minority entrepreneurs.

Essence magazine says Cincinnati is the fastest-growing economic power in the Midwest for minority, small business owners.

A large part of that success is the work being done in Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills by companies like Mortar and Hillman Accelerator.

“We recognize the hard work we are doing, but to have it nationally recognize that work is incredible,” said Hillman Accelerator Founder and Executive Director Candice Matthews-Brackeen.

Matthews-Brackeen launched Hillman Accelerator in 2016 and operates an inclusive entrepreneurship education program to help tech-driven startups. The company has invested in nearly 10 companies and put 30 entrepreneurs through mentorship programs in 2019.

“If you go back to the beginning, this wasn’t always an easy thing to do," said Matthews-Brackeen. “It was us in a grassroots way making a movement happen, so we are finally seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Helping along the way are the people at Mortar. Established in 2014, Mortar works to enable underserved entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed.

Allen Woods is the managing partner and creative director of Mortar. He recalls something he said a few years ago about the current state of black entrepreneurs in Cincinnati.

“I said Cincinnati was going to be the new black entrepreneurship movement, and so for Essence to say that Cincinnati is making moves in that way, for me, it felt like an appreciation of the work we are putting in,” said Woods.

Woods, Derrick Braziel and William Thomas II started Mortar. Woods says the trio saw potential in a community that maybe others didn’t.

“We are not the end all be all. We are just a step in this path and everything we are doing today is going to create the blueprint for what the next generation does. That’s exciting for me,” said Woods.

Next door to Mortar’s Walnut Hills location is the street fashion consignment store, The Cure. Store owner Keith Tabron opened the shop after quitting his job as a manager at Champs.

“Our first year, we did over $1 million in sales. This year -- on pace to do [$2 million], so, expansion, expansion,” said Tabron.

Business is so good, Tabron is opening another location in Columbus. He says it was a tough decision, but he made the right one in choosing Cincinnati. Tabron says the support for black-owned businesses in Cincinnati is amazing.

"The culture down here backs us up. You know what I mean? We tend to stick together more than other cities that I've seen. I think it's just people want to be successful here,” said Tabron.

The University of Cincinnati is also helping out. UC recently opened the 1819 Innovation Hub, a space for entrepreneurs to help bridge academic research and business communities.


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