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New initiative for minority businesses will funnel $2.5 million into grants, mentoring

People celebrate the announcement of a $2.5 million fund for Minority Business Enterprises Thursday at the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati/NKY Southwestern Ohio.
Jolene Almendarez
People celebrate the announcement of a $2.5 million fund for Minority Business Enterprises Thursday at the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati/NKY Southwestern Ohio.

The newly formed Lincoln & Gilbert initiative aims to double the number of minority businesses in Cincinnati over the next five years. A collaboration between minority business leaders combined with $2.5 million of funding from the city of Cincinnati could help make that happen.

"When we are facing an enemy like systemic oppression and challenges that we have all faced separately, it really helps to come together," Founder of Mortar Cincinnati Allen Woods said. "We are similar to The Avengers in an entrepreneurial way."

The initiative — named after the intersection of Lincoln and Gilbert in Walnut Hills, where a Black business district was located in the 1840s — will distribute $1 million worth of those funds to minority businesses.

The business must be at least a year old, located in Cincinnati, and have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Willie Hill, executive director of Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative, says there are three registration deadlines in May, June and July to help give businesses a fair chance at getting a grant. Roughly 150 awards will be distributed ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on revenue.

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, Minority Business Accelerator, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, and Greater Cincinnati/NKY African American Chamber of Commerce are all among the businesses collaborating for the initiative.

But it's not just about providing capital to businesses.

Woods said the city is roughly 50% Black residents who own only 18% of the businesses. It's not for lack of talent. He says plenty of people have talent and ambition they don't know how to monetize.

The remanding $1.5 million of funds will go toward offering those kinds of business support services.

"The grant — obviously that's going to be the thing that brings a lot of people in. However, this program is designed to create support systems across the board," Woods said. "We understand that there are a lot of businesses that need access to capital to get to that next level. But even once you have the capital, you need to know the additional coaching that will get you to those places."

Christie Kuhns, interim president of the local Urban League, says the collaboration of so many business services is historic.

"We've all been doing the work and we've all worked together in various ways. But this is the first time that we've been formally aligned and really, really focused on making sure that there is strategy amongst all the organizations to move all of our Black- and minority-owned businesses forward," she said.

If the initiative is successful, organizers say the number of minority owned businesses will increase from around 517 to 1,000 in five years.

For more information about applying for the grants, visit theLincoln & Gilbert website.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.