Ecosystem Connections Benefit Small Businesses

MORTAR at Bounce is a 15-week small business accelerator that helps established entrepreneurs take a deeper dive into the nuances of business ownership. It focuses on serving minority- and women-owned businesses.

An entrepreneurial ecosystem is invaluable to anyone starting a business. Between various partners, including many right here in Greater Akron, entrepreneurs can find inspiration, innovate and create long-term success. There is no better example of this than visiting with two of our MORTAR at Bounce graduates, Lori Henry Parnell, owner of Black Culture Candles, and Tanya Green, owner of Julia Belle’s Seasonings

These two Black- and woman-owned businesses not only won their respective MORTAR at Bounce cohort’s Life’s a Pitch competition but they had each also previously won Crafty Mart’s Creative Catapult as part of the nonprofit’s Maker Sessions. Maker Sessions are eight-week sessions geared toward helping new makers launch or master makers grow their business. Similar to MORTAR at Bounce, the Master Maker Sessions end with an opportunity to pitch their product and win a cash prize at the annual Creative Catapult event.

Julia Belle’s Seasonings Levels Up with Bounce & Crafty Mart

Tanya Green of Julia Belle’s Seasonings began her Bounce and Crafty Mart journey in 2016 when Downtown Akron Partnerships put out a call to people interested in brick-and-mortar space. She had her product in place but wanted to get it out to the public. While she wasn’t a match for a physical location, she then reached out to Crafty Mart to learn more about its programs.

“Crafty Mart was touching on business topics that no other organizations I had found were discussing. I learned more about vendor markets and the details that go into selling a product like mine,” she said.

She eventually applied and virtually participated in the Maker Sessions during the pandemic. There, she learned about Bounce and decided to apply for the first MORTAR cohort in 2020, which would take place immediately after she finished at Crafty Mart. She soon realized she had done things backwards.

“I started with a product without the business in place. MORTAR taught me about the shell of how you set up your business. It forced me to think about why I am doing this and what I’m passionate about,” she said.

Tanya is grateful for the collaborative business community she is a part of through her participation in both programs. She has plans to expand Julia Belle’s Seasonings into sauces, food pastes and more. 

Programs Create Tunnel Vision for Black Culture Candles

Black Culture Candles is a luxury candle brand that celebrates Black joy. Lori’s conversation with her daughter during the height of the Black Lives Movement was her inspiration. 

“We discussed how so much emphasis was being placed on Black trauma but ignoring the fact that there was still a lot of joy in the Black community,” she said. “Memory and scent are so intertwined. I want to create joy through scent from our shared experiences.”

In 2021, Lori joined Crafty Mart’s Master Maker Sessions while she was still launching Black Culture Candles and said it was instrumental in building the business’ foundation.

“All of the materials were right there for me to make my business plan. I could ask questions, follow up questions and more. I didn’t have to hunt around for what I needed,” she said.  

The next step was MORTAR at Bounce, where Lori connected with a mentor who pushed her to learn more about the candle-making industry and how to get her candles into luxury stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Once she reaches her first anniversary, Lori plans to apply for the minority-owned and woman-owned business certificates at the state and federal levels, which are required for the stores’ application processes.

“These programs have taught me how to have tunnel vision in my business. You aren’t trying to appeal to everyone. You’re specifying who you need to target, and you need to speak directly to them,” she added.

“Bounce, to me, has many tentacles, connecting businesses to other outlets. It becomes a community,” Green concluded. 

She also encourages entrepreneurs to apply to both programs, if applicable.

“If you want to move your business along, the information you receive and the connections you make are critical.”