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President's Blog: From the Heart

Catapulting Dreams

By Eric F. Spina

I felt the buzz immediately upon entering the Greater West Dayton Incubator (GWDI).

It was impossible not to feel the energy, excitement — and sense of possibility — as community members, innovators, UD staff, and our partner the Entreprenuers’ Center celebrated the incubator’s long-awaited grand opening in its start-up location at 1105 W. Third St.

This is an inviting space with art by renowned local artist Willis Bing Davis, poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar, and a Wall of Entrepreneurial Excellence that showcases nine Black entrepreneurs/role models from the area. It’s a space where ideas will take flight.

The GWDI gives the University of Dayton a physical presence in greater West Dayton, but its impact is much broader, just as its roots are deep.

This initiative, which grew out of several years of candid, trust-building conversations among UD and West Dayton citizen-leaders, reflects the Marianist commitment to community building, provides a catalyst for leveling the playing field for start-up minority companies in our community, and offers our students exceptional experiential learning opportunities.

Imagine an entrepreneur from greater West Dayton who has a brilliant idea for a start-up, but needs help getting it off the drawing board. University of Dayton students have marketing capabilities, the know-how to write business plans, software coding abilities, and many other skills that can be of value. Beyond the direct support that GWDI staff will provide entrepreneurs, they will coach UD students as they lend their talents to these greater West Dayton innovators. Students from business and other disciplines will reap many benefits from these kinds of collaborative, hands-on experiences, including deepening their knowledge, gaining experience, and learning to work on multiple diverse teams.

Whitney Barkley, newly named director of the GWDI, wants to build a sturdy bridge between West Dayton’s entrepreneurial community and UD at both the storefront location on West Third Street and a satellite office in the Dayton Arcade, which has become ground zero for entrepreneurship and innovation in the region.

“The Greater West Dayton Incubator was designed to help people regardless of ZIP code or background with the resources they need to grow their businesses,” said Whitney, who brings experience working with small companies and international nonprofits to the role in addition to her own successful start-up ventures.

Resources such as Cultural Capital microloans, a partnership with CityWide Development. This funding can be used by an entrepreneur toward operating expenses, new equipment, website development, marketing, hiring staff, and other costs of running a business. 

In addition, UD’s annual Flyer Pitch competition offers start-up and Greater West Dayton social venture tracks, both open to minority entrepreneurs. On the line: more than $100,000 in seed money and $50,000 in in-kind prizes, such as mentoring or marketing support. 

Finally, the GWDI’s entrepreneurial programming and consulting services are designed to “help people identify their business gaps and find solutions for them,” says Whitney.

Black leaders like attorney Branford Brown call the GWDI a transformative idea. “I think there could be a revitalization of West Dayton that we haven’t seen in decades,” said Branford, who helped write a white paper outlining the concept behind the GWDI.

With one start-up at a time, we can dare to dream big.

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