Davon Pulliam, owner of Tortuga Kombucha.

By Daryl Moore
Special to the AFRO

Made In Baltimore, a program of the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), has selected 10 Black-owned businesses to participate in their 2021 Home-Run Accelerator Cohort: Tree House Juicery, We Are Maud, Drama Mama Bookshop, Keppel & Kismet, B’more Natural, Slay Naturals, Tortuga Kombucha, Maurita’s Essentials, Personal Best Ceramics, and Cane Collective. La Loupe Design  and Solsis Beauty were also selected, for a total of 12.

“The Home-Run Accelerator is designed to help home-based maker businesses scale up into commercial production space,” said Andy Cook, executive director, Made In Baltimore. “Our goal is to help these early-stage entrepreneurs grow, become job creators and help revitalize our neighborhoods, a hard thing to do when working out of your basement, kitchen or spare bedroom. So, we’re bringing all the resources we have to the table to ensure these businesses have what they need to scale successfully. This type of growth will allow them to increase their production capacity, hire employees, and contribute to neighborhood revitalization efforts across the city.”

Cook said MIB’s mission is to strengthen Baltimore’s light manufacturing sector and advance Baltimore’s ‘Buy Local’ movement.  “By doing this,” Cook said, “we help keep more of our consumer dollars spent locally, leading to new job creation in our neighborhoods and growing businesses that will re-occupy our vacant industrial and commercial buildings.” 

“Space for small manufacturers in Baltimore is harder to find than many people think,” Cook said.  “For decades, our city has been converting light-industrial space into other uses, like housing and retail.  The light industrial space that remains is often in poor condition, making it too expensive for small businesses to occupy. The result is that many small manufacturers end up leaving the city when they need to grow.  We want to ensure that doesn’t have to happen by making the case to communities and city leaders that small manufacturers are an important part of our economy and deserve to be included in neighborhood revitalization efforts.”

To that end, the Home-Run Accelerator is open to entrepreneurs who make or manufacture a physical product in Baltimore City, are in good standing with the State of Maryland, currently run their business out of their home or shared makerspace, have been in operation for at least 18 months, and are committed to growing their business into a commercial or industrial space within the next year.  

MIB is a free, membership-based program that currently has over 225 members, citywide. The Home-Run Accelerator has partnered with Twilight Quest, (who is delivering the accelerator curriculum, ‘Strategy School’), Impact Hub Baltimore, (the host and facilitators for workshops and events), and BDC, to help organize property tours and financial incentives.  The program is also financially supported by The Abell Foundation, The France-Merrick Foundation, Goldseker Foundation, and the Baltimore Small Business Support Fund.

Applicants were judged by a panel of experts from Baltimore’s small business support community, including Innovation Works, Impact Hub Baltimore, Open Works, BDC, and Baltimore Creative Accelerator Network (BCAN).  MIB prioritized woman and minority-owned businesses in the selection process, and businesses with a proven track record of at least 2 years in operation.

The accelerator curriculum focuses on the organizational skills needed to prepare a small business to scale, as well as specifics of early-stage growth. As such, there are two main components of the program: 

First is a Strategy School, an eight-week curriculum which guides business owners through the basics of developing strong foundations in operations, marketing, and business development. By the end of the curriculum, participants will have a realistic plan to scale their home-based business into a commercial or industrial production space.  

Secondly, program participants are paired with “Peer Mentors” – people who have already successfully scaled businesses out of their homes. The Peer Mentors offer guidance and assistance to participants for three months following completion of Strategy School.

Throughout the program, participants are supported by Made In Baltimore staff who offer connections to resource providers, feedback on plan development, and assistance identifying locations to grow their businesses. Participants who successfully complete the program are awarded between $5,000 – $10,000 in seed capital to support their launch into a new facility. 

One benefactor of the program is Meredith Hurston of Maurita’s Essentials, a small batch handmade skincare brand made with mostly plant-based ingredients. They offer cleansers. exfoliants and moisturizers and its customer base is mostly those looking for products to soothe and improve the appearance of dry skin. Hurston envisions her company being a household name in the mid-Atlantic region. 

“The accelerator will arm me with the knowledge to go about securing a production space for Maurita’s Essentials,” said Hurston. “This will allow us to hire staff and relieve the awkwardness and reservations about having non-family or friends as an employee working in my home studio. The grant funding portion of the program is a huge blessing and opportunity to get our e-commerce platform optimized. Additionally, grant funding can be used for marketing efforts and to make external aesthetic updates to the production space we secure.”

Hurston said she joined the Made in Baltimore program in 2017 after moving into the city limits having found out about the program through social media. 

“Programs like this are especially impactful for young, small businesses as they look to grow,” Hurston said. “Pairing young businesses with mentors who have paved the way is a tremendous resource. Any local manufactures of any size should consider joining.”

Davon Pulliam of Tortuga Kombucha, a tea and Tisane focused kombucha company, agreed: “The accelerator program, as of now, is helping us work on the intricate processes of the business structure, goals, plans, and organization skills in preparation of positive growth and impact in our community and as leaders/managers/business owners for soon to be employees.”  

Likewise for Kila Johnson, B’more Natural Salon Apothecary, which brings plant based hair care and products to the natural hair community.  Johnson said, “the strategy school sessions allow me to gain clarity and put structure around important aspects of my business.” 

Alisa L Brock, owner of Drama MaMa Bookshop, started her business after a friend passed away. “I journal a lot, and come from a long line of journalers – my mom was a journaler. It really is important to me because it helped me crawl out of a really dark place with brightness.”

Brock said MIB helped her refresh: “I think the timing has made it incredibly impactful since a lot of us who were in our own space before had to move back home during the lockdown. Now that things are opening back up, it takes the same motivation to leave again that it took for us to leave the first time. But it’s about education too, because I can start over and do it a lot better than I did before.”

Cook echoed that sentiment. “Growing a home-based business into a commercial production space is a huge leap for an entrepreneur,” said Cook. “These businesses are ready to take that leap, and we want to make sure they succeed by bringing all the resources we have to the table for them.”  

“Connecting businesses to the tools they need to grow, create jobs, and strengthen our local economy is the goal of the Made In Baltimore Home-Run Accelerator program,” said BDC president & CEO Colin Tarbert. “I congratulate the twelve companies as they take this next step in their growth and we stand ready to support them in this important endeavor.”  

For more information, visit www.madeinbaltimore.org

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