In mid-July, a group of about 25 Torchbearers embarked on Entrepreneurship Express, a tour of entrepreneurial hotspots in Akron. This is the second time Torchbearers has hosted this experience, which originated from a conversation in 2017 between the organization’s members and small business owners about how Torchbearers can support local businesses in Greater Akron.
The tour group met in the Northside before visiting the Bounce Innovation Hub, The Well Community Development Corporation, and returning to Northside Market to hear a panel discussion with local entrepreneurs and leaders.
At the Bounce Innovation Hub, Torchbearers heard from Robbie Coon, Program Coordinator with Bounce, and Steve Downey, founder of Check-in Sherpa. Robbie explained how Bounce had developed over the years, hosting a technology incubator, software accelerator, and other programs to bring products to market. He also hosted the group on a tour of the Generator, a 27,000 square foot facility open to the public for co-working, office and event space, and makerspace. All of the artwork and furnishings were sourced locally from artists and designers.
Downey shared his journey into the fast-paced life of working in an accelerator and the benefits Bounce provided his business. His most recent business, Check-in Sherpa, is a reservation platform for adventure travel experiences which he was able to scale up the reservation platform by hiring project-based coders and developers within Bounce. Essentially freelancers, these developers and coders work with a variety of companies within the accelerator on a project-by-project basis to help build products and business.
While visiting The Well CDC, our members heard from Curtis Minter, Jr., and Kelly McHood. They shared about the organization’s role in creating affordable housing, a thriving economy, and place-making initiatives in the Middlebury Neighborhood. Torchbearers toured Compass Coffee, the meeting hall, and the Well’s newest initiative, “Akron Food Works”, a shared use kitchen that will serve as a food business incubator, the first of its kind in Akron.
The Well CDC has made significant investments in the neighborhood, establishing a goal to renovate 60 houses in 60 months in order to restore housing in the community. Within Middlebury, only 25% of the homes are owner occupied, compared to about 60-70% in an average housing market. Additionally, The Well offers a dollar for dollar match up to $1,000 for block projects, where neighbors can come together to beautify and improve their street. By working with neighbors to establish strong relationships and community pride, the Well hopes to see Middlebury become a flourishing, thriving community.
Upon returning to the Northside Marketplace, the group heard from a panel made up of local business owners Kristie Warner of Gavin Scott Salon and Spa, Cristina González Alcalá who created Not Yo’ Daddy’s Mexican Hot Sauce™, Patricia Smoot Wicks who created PATHworks!™ consulting, and Karen Starr of Hazel Tree Design Studio. These leaders discussed creating their own businesses, hurdles they faced along the way, and the overall climate for entrepreneurs in Akron.
Torchbearers had the opportunity to ask questions of the panel members and enjoyed snacking on foods from local marketplace vendors. One interesting conversation stemming from the Q&A was about developing their brands and the unique challenges they faced in the process. For example, one entrepreneur shared that while her brand is not political, she shares her opinion through her personal social media channels and the lines can sometimes get blurred. Another unique quality these leaders observed was how supportive and tight-knit the entrepreneur community is in Greater Akron.
Entrepreneurship Express was another successful and insightful tour of the innovation, passion, and influence at work right in our own backyards. Torchbearers had the unique opportunity to hear from local business owners just getting their ideas off the ground to others who have successfully operated their businesses in Akron for decades. No matter the experience level, all entrepreneurs seemed hopeful of the future of Akron and the ability of small business owners to grow and thrive within our city.