Catapult of Greater Pittsburgh (CGP) is a social and economic justice nonprofit serving and connecting families and communities to resources to mitigate poverty and accelerate the process of wealth formation. CGP’s “Startup to Storefront” retail incubation and entrepreneurship program is one of a suite of entrepreneurship supports providing opportunities for low-income, Black women entrepreneurs to start and expand their small businesses
Over the last decade, Black women were the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the United States. Accounting for 42% of all women who opened new businesses, the number of Black-women-owned firms grew by nearly 50% between 2014-2019.
The very next year was a devastating one for small businesses everywhere – and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was disproportionately felt by Black business owners. But even those challenges did not deter Black women’s entrepreneurial growth: Of the 5% of National Association of Women Business Owners members who launched their firms during the pandemic, about half (47%) were Black women. This is a promising trend for the country’s economic outlook – and a reminder to identify and address any barriers to this growth for Black women’s entrepreneurship.
Catapult Greater Pittsburgh (CGP) is one of many programs across the country seeking to help aspiring entrepreneurs explore, develop, test and bring new ideas to market. As a social and economic justice nonprofit, the CGP team is serving and connecting families and communities to resources to mitigate poverty and accelerate the process of wealth formation. Their “Startup to Storefront” retail incubation and entrepreneurship program is one of a suite of entrepreneurship supports providing opportunities for low-income, Black women entrepreneurs to start and expand their small businesses.
Storefront Incubation for Women Founders
There are many programs across the country seeking to help aspiring entrepreneurs thrive, including incubators and accelerators. Retail incubators, more specifically, are a specialized type of business incubator that supports underserved sectors of a local economy, helping to sustain new retail entrepreneurs in early phases of their business. The value proposition of retail incubators is aimed at long-term outcomes: the creation of good-paying jobs in the local community, the fostering of a more diverse local economy and the sustaining of business retention all contribute to a broader virtuous cycle of neighborhood growth.
“I started my business during the pandemic, in 2020, and I was trying to find another source of income. Catapult has helped me tremendously with all of the resources and connections. I have a vision for my life and I’m thinking long-term. Whenever it gets rough, I just think of the long-term image of my life and how I want my business to be a multi-million company.” – Taylor Shealey, CEO, Boss Girl Collection
CGP’s “Startup to Storefront” program is a 12-month retail business incubation program for minority entrepreneurs who want to start a retail business or grow an existing one. Startup to Storefront aims to assist in starting, strengthening and expanding business operations in a variety of ways. Program participants have access to monthly cohort learning opportunities and individual mentoring while also attending educational seminars, technical assistance sessions and networking events where they can build strategic partnerships.
Participants are then placed in retail incubation spaces within high-traffic commercial districts, allowing them to test their ideas and gauge the audience for their goods and services.
CGP intentionally works to site its Startup to Storefront retail incubation shops in spaces and places where underserved entrepreneurs could not otherwise afford to test and market their goods and services due to high commercial rents.
Championing Programmatic Innovation to Achieve Greater Impact
Over the past five years, the Startup to Storefront program scaled to several locations throughout the city of Pittsburgh, with two multi-retail incubator storefront spaces, a commercial kitchen and two single-retail storefront spaces. CGP’s retail commercial incubation entrepreneurship programming is helping Pittsburgh to forge a new path for how cities can better target women entrepreneurs in low-income communities whose business ideas can become a pathway to wealth growth and greater economic mobility if they receive necessary support early on.
The team is building a trauma-informed framework for entrepreneurship education, building a team of local entrepreneurs and experts to create a specialized curriculum that champions wrap-around services and centers the lived experience of aspiring entrepreneurs and the barriers they typically face in seeking entrepreneurship, such as childcare issues and poverty mindsets.
“I wouldn’t have been able to afford renting out a space as a startup business. I am just very thankful for Tammy Thompson and Catapult for believing in me when there were times I didn’t believe in myself.” – Alexis Cathie, Fashion Architect and Owner, IMIHI Design
It also continues to be a critical partner with the city’s broader entrepreneurship ecosystem. The program not only fills a critical gap in resource provision for women entrepreneurs of color but it works as a connector to more traditional Tier 2 and 3 partners whose services would otherwise be inaccessible to CGP’s client base. These partners include capital lenders who can scale ideas that are proven successful in incubation. Catapult provides a social safety net for these entrepreneurs as they navigate “next step” resources available to them.
To date, CGP’s Startup to Storefront program has:
- Supported nearly 200 minority-owned businesses to launch and grow
- Graduated nine cohorts of Black and Brown entrepreneurs
- Ensured that 80% of its first cohort developed tangible products to sell
- Moved half of its business owner clients on to the second stage of business development
- Opened four commercial retail spaces and one commercial kitchen space
Visit https://catapultpittsburgh.org/ for more information about their entrepreneurship programs.
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