2021 Year in Review – GROW

2021 was an exciting year for our GROW programs as we served 91 clients. GROW aims to serve entrepreneurs and small businesses, with a focus on minorities and women, in our local region. Last year, we were able to get back to some normalcy by hosting in-person classes, and we could not be more grateful to our team and clients.  

Aspiring Entrepreneur Program

Have a business idea but not sure if it is viable? Our Aspiring Entrepreneur program, a 10-week cohort, helps participants validate a business idea, create an action plan and foster the entrepreneurial spirit. Led by Ace Epps, director of inclusive entrepreneurship, the program served 31 participates with 22 graduates in 2021 and had four graduates apply to the MORTAR at Bounce program.

“AE has evolved to include different levels of entrepreneurs. In previous years, participants were exclusively individuals who were thinking of starting a business but needed an introduction to basic business principles,” Ace said. “In 2021, AE is now seeing more experienced business owners who are participating in the program to get a refresher course on business and to learn how to think more like an entrepreneur versus a business owner.”

Our AE participants were also able to present their business ideas during a panel review with community partners and Epps is currently seeking local facilitators for the program.

MORTAR at Bounce

We had a very exciting 2021 for MORTAR at Bounce, our 15-week accelerator which helps entrepreneurs learn the nuances of business ownership. In September 2021, we welcomed new Bounce team member and MORTAR program coordinator Selina Garcia. We served 36 clients in our program and 28 graduated from our three cohorts.

“MORTAR is growing, and we are continuing to find people to be a part of this amazing program so they can grow their business,” said Garcia.

In her brief time at Bounce, Garcia has made an impact, helping to identify gaps for the MORTAR graduates and building a stronger Alumni Network.

“Previously, we focused just on building resources for companies, but now we want people to come together, be each other’s support systems and make connections to advisors,” she added.

It was also great to have everyone back in person for our classes and our Life’s a Pitch! event which caps off the accelerator with a gradation and a live pitch competition. Finalists compete for a $3,000 business grant.

All three of our Life’s a Pitch! night winners in 2021 were minority and female entrepreneurs. Here is a brief recap of these amazing women:

Tanya Green, Julia Belle’s Seasonings

Have you seen Tanya Green out and about at our local NEO creative fairs and local farmer’s markets? Tanya is the owner of Julia Belle’s Seasonings and winner of MORTAR cohort 3 Life’s a Pitch! competition. Her hand-blended seasonings, rubs and mixes are gluten-free, vegan, and easy to use.

Denise Williams, Diva De La Crème

Denise Williams, owner of Diva De La Crème, won MORTAR cohort 4’s $3,000 pitch prize after presenting her plant-based ice cream company. After trying popular options, Denise wanted to provide a healthier and better-tasting option for customers and for herself.

Markia Sims, Zoe Wheels

Markia Sims is a graduate of our fifth cohort and brought the audience to tears with her story and her business pitch. Zoe Wheels, LLC aims to provide transportation for medical and non-medical appointments. Markia hopes to be able to focus on serving single mothers in low- to middle-income communities.

Here is a full 2021 list of our cohort graduates:

Cohort 3 graduates

  • Ivra Bassett — Ivra Bassett Agency
  • Dray Evans — The 10 Spot
  • Tiffanie Gaines-Goler — Here We Grow Child Enrichment Center
  • Angie Higgins — Embracing UR Journey
  • Latif Hughes — School House Productions
  • Taylor McKinnie — Mizz Shakesum
  • Eric Nichols — Eric Does Data, LLC
  • Barbara (Barb) Stacy — 1Life Health Coaching
  • Regina Tyson and Tanika Beard — Angelic Hearts
  • Denise Williams — Diva de la Creme, LLC.
  • Kimberly Zeiner — Maudern Designs LLC


Cohort 4 graduates


Cohort 5 graduates

We also cannot go without mentioning our 2021 Entrepreneur Light Award winners, awarded to cohort members who exemplify camaraderie, teamwork and support for his or her fellow entrepreneurs. Congrats to Ivra Bassett (cohort 3), Lori Julian (cohort 4), Ray and Cristina Torrence (cohort 5).

In the new year, we hope to help even more small business with our MORTAR programming!

Next Level

Our Next Level Business Incubator helps entrepreneurs collaborate directly with advisors and mentors. This unique programming served 24 clients in 2021 but was unlike any previous year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Asha Zayn, program manager, began their time with Bounce in October 2020, just a few months before the pandemic hit. They have worked both with our Aspiring Entrepreneur program in the beginning of the year and our Next Level clients.

Our clients typically would use Next Level programming to market to success by offering resources, programs, and low-cost workspace. However, in 2021, the program served as a chance for business owners to share pandemic frustrations and learn how to adapt to a new virtual environment or component for their businesses.

“In the last three to four months, many clients are calling now to ask for resources that they might not have needed prior to the pandemic, like a website or digital marketing help,” Asha added.

2022 offers a new chance for the program to evolve and grow with a makeover. It will incorporate Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) to help our clients who are seeking a one-on-one, established relationship.

Bring on 2022

We are so excited for the future of our GROW programs as we aim to reach even more local entrepreneurs to grow their businesses within our community. Make sure to follow along with our clients’ successes by following us on social media and reading our news section. We have so many amazing GROW clients doing wonderful work.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2022!