READY FOR BUSINESS—Urban Innovation21 president and CEO William Generett Jr., J.D. and Kimberly L. Slater-Wood, director of outreach for the Pittsburgh Penguins who served as a judge for grant applications stand with awardees. Nickeia Mason representing Enjoyourself, Margaret and Glenn Burtch of Silq Concrete, Michelyn Hood of the Pittsburgh Spot, Ken Ross of Artistry Greenscapes, Naomi Johnson of Something Borrowed Boutique, Tiffany Golphin of Silq Concrete, Francine Cameron of Cameron Professional Services, and Barbara Srothers and Clyde Manns of Grace Security.
After months of planning, consulting, and receiving training and technical assistance, the hard work of the Innovation 21 Hill District Small Business Grant Competition participants has paid off. During an awards ceremony held January 17, potential and existing entrepreneurs received grants and accolades for their efforts.
Pleased with the results of the Grant Competition, William Generett Jr., JD, president and CEO of Urban Innovation21 pointed out, “When we planned this, we thought we would have about 20 applicants but we had 62 initial applicants with 43 actually completing the entire process. We had a good mix of businesses from established second generation to startups and they all helped each other through the process.”
Offering full service commercial and residential landscape design, installation and maintenance services, Ken Ross, a second generation owner of Artistry Greenscapes, Inc. received the top grant award of $10,000. Working in the business for a long time, Ross received a degree in horticulture from Penn State University. Looking to expand, the employer of eight said the grant money will be reinvested in the community. “My uncle, who started this business worked as a garbage man for 12 years. He loved the Hill,” said Ross with pride.
Six participants from the grant competition were awarded $5,000 grants. Francine Cameron of Cameron Professional Services, LaKeisha Wolf of Enjoyourself, Barbara Strothers and Clyde Manns of Grace Security, Margaret Burtch of Silq Concrete, Naomi Johnson of Something Borrowed Boutique and Michelyn Hood of The Pittsburgh Spot.
All awardees agreed that the grant competition process was helpful and rewarding, Cameron who provides business consulting, accounting and financial services pointed out the significance of the community supporting and doing business with each of them. “That is the only way we will become successful.”
Enjoyourself, a part of the Ujamaa Collective on Centre Avenue manages the production and sale of safe, non-toxic personal care products for retail and wholesale markets. Grace Security provides licensed professional security guard services tailored to meet unique security needs of a diverse clientele. Silq Concrete, a woman owned Minority Business Enterprise offers indoor and outdoor quality cement flat work for both commercial and residential applications. Something Borrowed Boutique, slated to open in early spring is a full service bridal salon offering a selection of formal gowns. Services will include, gown rental, alterations, accessories, and dry-cleaning. Aiming to expose minority owned businesses to a targeted minority population, the Pittsburgh Spot will provide video and Internet promotion services for small businesses.
Other category of winners included the Kiva Zip and Crowd Funding. Ten businesses received $1,000 from Urban Innovation 21 toward a Kiva Zip zero interest loan of up to $5,000 and three entrepreneurs received the Crowd Funding Technical Assistance award to launch a crowd funding effort.
Kiva recipients were Angela Howze of A-1 Business Center, Gail L. Manker of Maa-t’s Righteous Sweets, Patrick Polk of Patrix Café, Emma and Ernest Darby of Right Development, Tracy Carter of Shear Delight Beauty Salon, Kelly Russell of River City Java, Eric Thomas Howzw of EZDuzit Commercial Cleaning, Gloria Bonner of HIS Stripes Coffee Gourmet and Things, Dameta Skinner of Motivation Café and Leereeta Payne of Legacy Café.
“This program was very helpful,” Payne said. “It provided us with the skills to research and to write a business plan. The money I received will assist in financing my permanent location.” Now operating as a caterer, serving gourmet coffees, teas and deserts, she is expecting to locate on Bedford Avenue in the childhood home of award winning playwright August Wilson.
Crowd Funding recipients were Brook C. Titus of Mahogany Roots Media, Tamish Evonne Singletary of Green Remodeling and Building Network and Christine Giles of Dom Dom’s Boy’s Boutique. Giles the mother of two sons says because of her difficulty in finding appropriate clothing for her sons she is looking to open near the Consol Energy Center.
Generett described the Hill District Small Business Grant Competition as an initiative aimed at promoting business development in the Hill District by providing business guidance and capital. He cited the success of the region’s economic transformation in becoming a center for technology, biotechnology, health care, and advanced manufacturing energy as not translating into success for “our” African-American communities, as a reason for such an initiative. “Our region is not where it was in the 1980′s when the steel industry collapsed. We are now labeled as one of the most successful regions in the country.” He identified successful local business clusters as a way for inner cities to get plugged into regional growth. “And that is why we are here tonight; to strengthen the economic center of the Hill. This grant competition is not about awarding grants to a few companies it is about stirring up the entrepreneurial spirit in the Hill, it’s about equipping small businesses with the tools that they need to realize their full potential and it’s about nurturing good business ideas so that they too can become companies. And that’s not all; this initiative is about connecting these businesses with other opportunities for capital and for contracts, it’s about highlighting them, so that everyone will know that there are businesses in the Hill. And finally this grant competition is about connecting the community to our region’s prosperity.”
Generett acknowledged that his organization or the grant competition would not exist if it were not for the foresight, unity and collaboration of politicians, corporations and financial supporters, business development organizations, community development groups, his board of directors and staff as well as the participating entrepreneurs.
“I would be wrong, if I lead you to believe that the success of this initiative is because of Urban Innovation21 alone. Businesses thrive when they have strong support in all fronts,” he said. Two founding board members recognized for their support from the inception of Urban Innovation21 which was established as the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone were Christina Gabriel formerly of the Heinz Foundation and Marvin “Marty” Prentice formerly with the Hill House Association.
An organization founded in 2007 as the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone as a consortium of organizations collaborating to enable the neighborhoods in central Pittsburgh to realize their potential within the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, the group has expanded to Urban Innovation21. Housed at 1901 Centre Avenue, Urban Innovation21 is considered a public-private partnership that boosts regional economic development through 21st century innovation-driven entrepreneurship.
The Hill District Community-based Grant Competition is the first of two such initiatives. Late last year the group held an introduction meeting in Homewoo
d-Brushton announcing the Homewood Business Grant Competition. A $100,000 amount is targeted for the project.
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle encouraged the grant competition awardees and participants to continue to strive as they embark upon their entrepreneurial journeys.
“Seeing you lets me know we are rounding the corner and reaching our goals. This program really sheds light on the community and I am thankful for your efforts,” he said. Addressing the general audience he pointed out that it is imperative to support each of the businesses. “There will be some stumbles along the way, but it is up to us as the community to be there for them, to support them in whatever way possible. We must put our arms around them and embrace their efforts.”