MORTAR Indigo: New collaboration aims to help creative women build businesses around their talents

'When women come together, we're very powerful'

CINCINNATI — At first blush, Christina Davis and Joanna Engebrecht don't seem to have much in common.

Davis is a young mom who is building a business out of selling the cookies she used to bake for fun. Engebrecht is a high school student who wants to turn her passion for ceramics into a career.

Johanna Engebrecht

But a new program is banking on the belief that getting the two together — along with about a dozen other creative women — could make entrepreneurial magic.

The program is called MORTAR Indigo. It's a collaboration between MORTAR, the entrepreneurial training program, and Indigo Hippo, a gallery and thrift store for arts supplies in Over-the-Rhine that support mentorship.

"Sometimes when you put women in a room together, they're able to create this village of resources quickly," said Allen Woods, a co-founder of MORTAR. "Sometimes when you put a lot of men in the room, the first thing men try to figure out is the pecking order. It's easier for women to come together and gel together for the common good."

The new collaboration is a logical extension for MORTAR, which launched about two years ago and has helped train 60 entrepreneurs through its nine-week business course. Nearly 70 percent of all of MORTAR's graduates have been women, and that inspired MORTAR's founders to develop a program specifically for them.

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The women who take part in MORTAR Indigo will learn all the skills they need to build their businesses and the value they bring as creative individuals to their ventures, said Alisha Budkie, executive director of Indigo Hippo.

"Our focus is really about making creativity more approachable and accessible," she said. "So much of being a small business owner is believing in yourself and betting on yourself, and that's not always an easy thing."

MORTAR Indigo founders from left, Derrick Braziel, Alisha Budkie, Danielle Ervin and Allen Woods.

'We Can Help Each Other Succeed'

Christina Davis is hoping MORTAR Indigo will be just what she needs to take her Davis Cookie Collection business to the next level.

Davis, 30, started the business two and a half years ago with her husband, Miles Davis, who is a Cincinnati firefighter.

Her family is from Atlanta and has always been into cooking, she said, and Davis loves to bake.

Christina Davis

When she was in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, she used baking to relieve her stress and would bring the cookies to her classmates and co-workers. Finally, one co-worker asked if he could pay her to bake a dozen for him and his family. That's when Davis knew she had the right ingredients for a business.

"I do all the baking, and my husband handles all the logistics," Davis said.

Davis Cookie Collection sells more than 20 types of cookies through the company's website and Facebook page. She uses all natural ingredients, including unbleached flour and no high-fructose corn syrup.

White chocolate chip cookies.

Already, her company ships cookies all over and sells them at the Conscious Kitchen in Clifton. Davis is working to establish partnerships with other restaurants, too. She hopes MORTAR Indigo can help her achieve her business dreams.

"I would like to learn more about how to brand my business," Davis said. "I know the people at MORTAR have a lot of knowledge about how to run a business."

Davis also expects to learn a lot from the other women in the program.

"When women come together, we're very powerful," she said. "We can help each other succeed. We can help advertise each other's businesses. It's a great movement. That's why I felt I really wanted to be a part of it."

'You're Not Just Making Pots'

Johanna Engebrecht is at the very start of her entrepreneurial journey.

At 16, she's finishing up her sophomore year at Walnut Hills High School and is thinking ahead to what will come after she graduates.

She's hoping to make a living doing what she loves best — making pottery.

"I've been making pots for a long time," she said. "I started when I was 8."

A teapot made by Johanna Engebrecht.

She took part in arts camps during the summer while her mom was at work. Once she got older, she ended up working for the camps. And eventually she was hired by Queen City Clay to work at the studio there.

She's been working there for two years now and taking classes for three.

Engebrecht recently started selling her work at gallery shows, and she wants to learn more about the business side of art.

"I just love making things," she said. "And I think that's definitely something I would want to pursue as a career."

While Davis heard about MORTAR Indigo through MORTAR, Engebrecht heard about it through Indigo Hippo.

Johanna Engebrecht

She had been talking to Budkie about an artists' collective that she and some other Walnut Hills students are starting this summer, and Budkie suggested she would be a great fit for the first MORTAR Indigo class.

"I've talked to a lot of professional potters over the past few years, and everyone talks about how important business is," she said. "You're not just making pots."

Engebrecht wants to soak up as much business knowledge as she can during the program and make connections with the other participants, too.

"It's out of my comfort zone — talking about those ideas and being business-oriented with people that have more experience than I do," she said. "I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I think I'll learn a lot."

Removing Barriers

That's the goal for everyone.

Classes for the first MORTAR Indigo group start the week of May 16. The program will last 12 weeks total, which includes a celebration for the group and a "pitch night." During that event, everyone who attends will pay $5 and get a token.

Each entrepreneur will describe her business to the crowd — pitching why hers deserves funding. People in attendance will vote for the pitches they like best using their tokens. And whoever gets the most tokens will win the money, Budkie said.

The idea isn't really to compete with all other programs available locally for women who want to launch businesses. Bad Girl Ventures is one example of what's already available.

The goal is to give creative, women entrepreneurs another opportunity to learn what they need to be successful, Woods said.

"In the same way that people find their favorite bars, they find something that they relate to with our programs," he said. "We really are all about removing barriers, and that's what we've been about from the beginning. To help people find ways to become what they want to become."

For more information about MORTAR and MORTAR Indigo, click here. For more information about Indigo Hippo, click here.

For more information about Davis Cookie Collection, click here.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 18 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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