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Cincinnati’s MORTAR Turns Peer Network Support into $600k Raise

Derrick Braziel used the wisdom, advice, and encouragement of his BALLE Fellowship peers and elders to help MORTAR win funding for their incubator – and a new co-working space.

Themes: Accelerate Collaboration, Cultivate Connection

By Sarah Trent

It was the first time Derrick Braziel had been away from his team – but whether his co-founders and staff could handle any hiccups at 2-year-old MORTAR while he was away was not the only thing weighing on Derrick’s mind when he arrived at his first BALLE Fellowship immersion in June.

Looming large on his calendar was a meeting with the City of Cincinnati to explore opportunities for funding. Big funding. Funding that could give a major boost to the young organization and their work cultivating entrepreneurship in a neighborhood facing the pressures of gentrification and displacement – in a city historically ranked as one of the worst in the nation for African American economic opportunity.

Derrick Braziel (left) with MORTAR co-founders William Thomas II and Allen Woods

Coming into the immersion, “I had a huge sense of urgency,” Derrick said. “I had no idea what value the fellowship would add to my work with MORTAR, but I wanted to make sure I discussed the meeting with every person I could, gleaning as much from their experiences as I could.”

What he gained – and what many leaders gain from this peer leadership network – was advice, encouragement, relevant and compelling data, and the confidence that comes from knowing that the tide is pushing you forward and that there are other leaders in the water beside you.

“These conversations gave me the confidence to make a strong case for our work and our need for support,” Derrick said. “Because of that we were able to close $600,000 in funding to expand our work in Cincinnati.” Most of that will go toward creating a co-working and incubation space for minority entrepreneurs, he said, with $100,000 earmarked for building MORTAR’s capacity and providing more support for the entrepreneurs they serve. Even further, they’ve begun conversations about raising a venture capital fund to support Cincinnati entrepreneurs.

Derrick’s success epitomizes what is happening across the movement as leaders share, collaborate, support each other, and together catalyze heathier, more equitable local economies across the continent.

How can you bring this success to your own community?