TITLES: Founders of MORTAR Cincinnati: chief financial officer; chief relationship officer; chief vision caster
HOMETOWN: Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Indianapolis
WHY WE LOVE THEM: They help non-traditional entrepreneurs manifest their dreams through mentorship and brand-development courses with community partners.
In a small office located on the bustling Vine Street drag
of Over-the-Rhine, three guys can be found gathered around a wooden high-top table, causally making plans to change the city. The trio — Allen Woods, Derrick Braziel and William Thomas II — make up the braintrust behind MORTAR Cincinnati, and they make innovation look easy. Their goal? To give existing residents in Cincinnati’s transitioning neighborhoods, like OTR and Walnut Hills, the opportunity to own a stake in the area’s revitalization and make a living in the process.
MORTAR is an entrepreneur accelerator program created to give members of underserved and redeveloping communities access to the skills needed to succeed in building small businesses. Basically, they’re reaching out to those not typically included in Cincinnati’s start-up community, filling a much-needed gap in access. Their nine-week mentorship course targets low-income and non-traditional entrepreneurs who are fighting to achieve their dreams in their very own neighborhood.
“As long as you’re breathing, you still have time to chase your dream,” Woods says. “There are people who come to us who have been dreaming of doing something for their whole lives and ask us to make their dream come true.”
“What we do makes a difference and it’s impacting someone’s life,” Braziel says. “We can say it made our world a better place to live, work and be alive.”
What aspects do you love about your job?
Derrick Braziel: I love that when I wake up every day I can do the things that I love.
Allen Woods: Being able to actually take action is the main thing I love about being at MORTAR. It’s about helping other people every day.
William Thomas II: I think what’s exciting is seeing this community getting created right now. I think there’s a support system for entrepreneurs — specifically low-income and minority businesses across the whole city.
Finish the sentence. “I love…”
DB: I initially wanted to say the Internet. It has created an opportunity to connect with people we could never connect with and gives us the ability to access information.
AW: I love people who aren’t afraid to try. There are so many scary things in the world that can convince you that it’s too big or it’s not obtainable, but I love when people are like, “I’m going to try it anyway. And if I fail, it is what it is.”
What do you love about Cincinnati?
AW: I’m originally from a different city, and in that city there were a lot of people who talked about what they were going to do. But in Cincinnati, it’s a city full of people who actually do.
WTII: One of the things I love is this sense of family. You feel like you have this support system around you, and once you start building relationships and get in the circle of Cincinnati, you can build a family here.
Do you have a favorite place in Cincinnati?
DB: This office. I think it represents the next generation of what the city is going to become.
AW: Mine isn’t as fancy as his. I was going to say Ault Park, and being on top of the (pavilion). I think there’s something about the elevation and being able to look out at everything Cincinnati. You can see how big you are in the grand scheme of things and how much more there is to do and to become.
WTII: Mine might be Findlay Market. It’s just such a happy place. ...After all these years, it’s still a rock in the community.
What is a phrase or motto you live your life by?
DB: Every living thing has a hope — even a live dog is better off than a dead lion.
AW: To make your yes bigger than the world’s no.
WTII: Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare.
Learn more about MORTAR at wearemortar.com.