A couple months ago, a community leader told me he’s heard the word “entrepreneur” more times in the past six months than in the 30 years he’s been working in Akron.
Certainly, the past two years have seen a wealth of ribbon cuttings, including Sweet Mary’s Bakery, Akron Coffee Roasters, Chop & Swizzle, Chill Ice Cream, El Gato Taqueria, Speakeasy, and Stray Dog Café—and that’s just the food. There’s The Steam Trunk and Ely Road Boutique to keep you in style; Rock Mill and Human Unlimited to help you get your sweat on; Gypsy Grace & the Vintage Goat and Birchwood Supply to deck out your home; and Akron Honey Company and Apotheclaire to keep you looking and feeling your best. Established businesses like WhiteSpace Creative and Pritt Entertainment Group grew into beautiful, newly renovated spaces, and NOTO Boutique opened a second location in the thriving Northside district. Companies like Wastebits, Segmint, and TinyCircuits continue to establish this city as a place where tech can thrive. Akron’s artists—also entrepreneurs!—are gaining traction as well, with commissioned works, like Jessica Lofthus’ large-scale mural on the Cascade parking deck, appearing throughout the city.
Several months ago, members of the Fund for Our Economic Future noticed the change in Akron’s atmosphere. With one of the Fund’s three primary focus areas being job creation (in addition to job preparation and job access), and fostering entrepreneurship being a part of that strategy, the Fund saw an opportunity to encourage more of this entrepreneurial activity. But how? After getting input from business leaders, Fund members and entrepreneurs in Akron, it was determined that some local capacity would be valuable. Thus, the Fund created my role—a two-year fellowship to bolster entrepreneurship in the Rubber City. The goals of my position are to:
- Connect entrepreneurs to services throughout the region. Organizations like the Small Business Development Center, Women’s Network, Launch League, and countless others are doing excellent work providing entrepreneurs with skills, connections and funding. But often, entrepreneurs aren’t certain which organizations are a good fit for them, or even what services exist. With a short conversation, I can help clear the muddy waters and provide a warm introduction. I also often connect entrepreneurs to one another or to members of the community when a relationship might be beneficial.
- Promote entrepreneurship as a viable option. Our community needs small (and scalable) businesses in order to thrive, and we want people of all ages, ethnicities, and income brackets to consider this as a possible career path. We are promoting the events and educational opportunities that will help them along the way, and we’re also highlighting the great many success stories that already exist here in Akron.
- Fund efforts that support these goals. While we do not fund individual entrepreneurs, we do provide financial support to events (like Launch League’s recent Flight conference for tech startups) and initiatives (did you catch the Devil Strip’s new podcast, Akro-Preneurs?) that support this work.
Crain’s recently published an article with the headline: “Residential demand is outpacing space in downtown Akron.” While this news may be surprising to those who haven’t visited our fair city lately, it’s no shock to the rest of us. With so many new businesses opening their doors in downtown Akron, it’s no wonder more people want to live in the middle of the action. And as more lofts are renovated and more people call downtown their home, there will be even more need for businesses to serve these residents; it’s a good time to be an entrepreneur in Akron.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this trend. And if you’ve been daydreaming of starting your own business, I’d really love to hear from you and figure out how we can help. So let’s grab a cup of coffee—there are certainly a wealth of local spots to choose from!
Click here to email Heather.