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President's Blog: From the Heart

A Seat at the Table

By Eric F. Spina

“We’re all nurses, and we look like the population we wish to serve. We’d like to have a seat at the table.”

That was Daneika Reynold’s passionate pitch for a new community venture, “Black Doulas of Dayton.” Her start-up would train doulas to help prevent the deaths of Black mothers during childbirth, which are, sadly, nearly triple that of white mothers.

I’m gratified that the University of Dayton’s annual Flyer Pitch competition now includes a Greater West Dayton social venture track along with its start-up track, both available to minority entrepreneurs. The responsibility to establish equitable access and opportunities for Black-owned businesses locally and nationally is readily apparent. In a Dec. 10, 2020, piece in The Economist, the stats paint a stark picture: “African Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population but only 2 percent of its business owners.”

Last week, entrepreneurs like Daneika pitched creative ways to advance social justice and equity through new ventures in Greater West Dayton. Ten teams, with ideas ranging from a Westside Makerspace co-op for artisans to a recycling company that seeks to hire the formerly incarcerated — vied for the opportunity to advance to the final round with finalists from the start-up track and win a piece of more than $100,000 in seed money and $50,000 in in-kind prizes, such as mentoring or marketing support. (See list of finalists below).

At the heart of this new initiative is the Greater West Dayton Incubator (GWDI) that grew out of more than two years of candid conversations with Greater West Dayton leaders about ways that our university can partner to make a genuine, mutually beneficial, and productive commitment to shaping a more just future for all, including providing training, education, and other resources to underrepresented start-ups. I am deeply indebted to the Greater West Dayton leaders for their openness to having direct conversations about sometimes difficult topics, for their partnership in setting the direction for the Greater West Dayton Incubator, and their ongoing advice and guidance. Our relationship is making UD better.

Last March, we tapped alumnus and entrepreneur Karlos L. Marshall as the incubator’s manager. He’s been involved in three start-ups, including co-founding The Conscious Connect nonprofit dedicated to neighborhood revitalization in urban communities.

“Being a Black entrepreneur myself, I’ve seen the lack of resources and the lack of inclusion in the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Karlos, who envisions the GWDI, first and foremost, as a community engagement initiative designed to connect entrepreneurs to educational opportunities, small business resources, and funding.

Even during the pandemic, we’ve taken some significant steps forward with the GWDI, which is part of UD’s L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and supported by The Entrepreneurs Center, the University, and a private gift.

In the coming months, the GWDI will temporarily be located at 1105 W. Third St. in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood while it seeks a permanent home and establishes a satellite office at The Hub at the Dayton Arcade.

Behind the scenes, the incubator is busy assisting minority companies secure bids at the Dayton Arcade, including providing signage, janitorial services and locally sourced food for an under-construction café at The Hub that will be managed by Flyer Enterprises. Partnering with area banks, GWDI will soon be a conduit for providing up to $20,000 in micro-loans to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Students in capstone courses are gaining invaluable hands-on experience by working alongside entrepreneurs such as TJ Cartwright, who recently launched a web series showcasing Black business owners.

Moving forward, GWDI’s work will continue to be guided by an advisory council made up largely of entrepreneurs, development officials, and community leaders.

As one catalyst for change, we want to broaden the conversation and, together with community partners, build a bigger table.

Flyer Pitch Finalists

Greater West Dayton Social Venture Track: Black Doulas of Dayton Ohio, Dayton Young Black Professionals, Gem City Recycling Empowerment Program, STEMP Whisperers, Westside Makerspace

Start-Up Track: Healthy Family Market, Just Cakin' It, Scattered Shop

(Photo depicts entrepreneurs who are part of the GWDI's advisory council. Top (l to r): Cherrelle Gardner, Christina Mendez, Tae Winston. Bottom (l to r): Clarence Richardson, Deirreon Durant, LeKeisha Grant)

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