BeltLine MarketPlace pilot incubator program will support entrepreneurs in first-of-its-kind storefronts on the BeltLine loop
Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) and The Village Market (TVM) have chosen six local businesses to be a part of the inaugural BeltLine MarketPlace collaboration. The pilot program includes Minority Business Enterprises whose owners include Black men, women, veterans, families and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
From a vegan burger eatery to a Grady Baby brand apparel store, the selection of local businesses represents the heart and soul of Atlanta entrepreneurialism, with some aspiring to a first brick-and-mortar location and others aiming to become national brands. Four are food companies and two are soft-goods companies.
The local businesses are part of ABI’s pilot small business incubator program, announced in April, as a catalyst to provide new, affordable commercial opportunities along the multi-use trail. The businesses will be located in two commercial nodes on the Eastside and Westside Trails, located in custom-made containers that are being installed for this purpose.
“One of the many reasons why Atlanta rises above the rest is that this is a city of possibilities—and the BeltLine MarketPlace pilot program encapsulates that reputation,” said Mayor Andre Dickens. “Building a small business is hard work, and I am pleased the City and our partners are able to provide this kind of support for the entrepreneurs who are truly the heart of Atlanta’s economy.”
Supported by a $750,000 grant from the Kendeda Fund, in collaboration with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, this pilot program reinforces ABI’s work around developing and advancing commercial affordability strategies aimed at stabilizing, preserving and creating affordable spaces for legacy, small, local, and Minority Business Enterprises.
“One of the greatest barriers for new business entrepreneurs is access to commercially affordable space. This is especially true for Minority Business Enterprises and entrepreneurs, who face disproportionate challenges when starting and sustaining businesses,” says Clyde Higgs, President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. “The launch of BeltLine MarketPlace’s custom-made containers are removing that barrier and upholding our commitment to communities while ensuring more equitable access to opportunities along the BeltLine, starting with six Minority Business Enterprises in this first year.”
The program received overwhelming interest from the local community, with 217 applications from local businesses received over two weeks. Ultimately, six were selected for the pilot season, which will run from July through November 2022.
The pilot participants will each have their own artistic, architecturally-designed shipping container developed by Black-owned architectural design firm Atelier 7. The commercial spaces will give the entrepreneurs direct access to the Atlanta BeltLine’s roughly two million annual visitors. They will be joined by a curated collection of food trucks to create a full shopping experience.
The selected businesses and their locations are below – a media kit with bios and headshots can be found here:
EASTSIDE TRAIL BELTLINE MARKETPLACE
Located under the Freedom Parkway Bridge at 830 Willoughby Way NE, Atlanta, GA 30312
Kina Morgan wants everyone on the BeltLine to grab one of her custom cake slices, on the go. In business for six years, she will use the BeltLine MarketPlace location to “test our new concept of ‘build a chunk,’ which will allow a customer to select cake and a variety of toppings for a unique dessert experience.” The shop also sells whole cakes and has soft drinks, water, milk and coffee. She currently has one location.
On social @cococakesbycoco
Cornoy Watkins’ goal is to build a national chain like McDonald’s – for vegans. “We create a fun and tasty way to make the vegan lifestyle mainstream, saving the lives of hundreds of animals and reducing damage to our environment, one Good As Burger at a time.” In business for two years, the eatery offers all plant-based burgers plus sides and desserts.
On social @goodasburgers
Online apparel company founder Alexander Albritton says Grady Babies have changed the world, secured civil rights for all and achieved educational success. (“Grady baby” is a term for people born at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital.) From music moguls and superstars to world class athletes – many started as Grady Babies. “It’s our mission to spotlight and celebrate that greatness. The Grady Baby Brand represents the soul of Atlanta, the heartbeat of a culture, and you don’t have to be born at Grady to wear it,” he says. Known for the classic “We Full – Atlanta” t-shirt, the brand sells tees, hoodies, shorts, jogging suit sets and accessories and aims to become a national brand.
On social @gradybabyco
WESTSIDE TRAIL BELTLINE MARKETPLACE
Located at 1089 Allene Avenue SW, Atlanta, GA. 30310
Founded by Ashley Carlton seven years ago, the cookie company now has one location and 12 employees. “We’re a gourmet cookie shop that specializes in scratch made cookies, artisan cookie sandwiches, handcrafted shakes and deep dish cookie skillets. We make a better cookie!” He hopes to grow the company into a national brand.
On social @notasfamous
Lakeisha Jones wants to add visual interest to people’s space, one plant at a time. “I sell custom-made fabric plant pots.” She’s looking to expand into her first retail location selling plants and accessories. Currently only on the web, this will be her first physical location.
On Instagram @pinkpothosatl
Sixth business to be announced soon!
Breaking Down Barriers
Black-owned businesses experience greater barriers to entrepreneurial success than other minority- or white-owned businesses. In the process of applying for the BeltLine MarketPlace program, the BeltLine surveyed the Black small business owners to identify what some of those pain points are.
According to the applicants, the most common roadblocks are access to capital and resources; access to customers; and rising rental rates on commercial space.
Of BeltLine MarketPlace’s 217 applicants, 64 percent, or 138, said access to loans or investment capital is a barrier to securing a physical retail location and 55 percent said monthly rent was too expensive for their current revenue and cash flow. Other barriers they cited include lack of available commercial space in the neighborhoods where they would like to rent space and not having enough capital for a rental deposit.
The program applicants represented a diverse cross section of business owners:
- 68 percent of applicants’ businesses are helmed by Black women
- 44 percent are family-owned
- 11 percent had Black LGBT owners
- 97 percent have the capacity to operate a business seven days a week for at least five hours a day, given the resources and opportunity.
Nearly half of the applicants are retail or product businesses with 42 percent being food and beverage. Close to half operate their businesses single-handedly. Two-thirds of applicant businesses operate with approximately between $50,000 and $74,000 in annual revenue.
The survey responses of the applicants reflect trends in the region showing lower revenue and fewer employees at Black-owned businesses, on average, compared to other businesses. According to a Prosperity Now report, the average Black-owned business in Atlanta is valued at $58,085, compared to $658,264 for white-owned businesses. This report cites that only four percent of Black-owned businesses in Atlanta have one or more paid employees. The latest Annual Business Survey data from U.S. Census Bureau shows that Black-owned businesses make up less than seven percent of all employer firms in metro Atlanta.
It Takes a Village: Collaboration Key for BeltLine MarketPlace Initiative
In addition to providing fully built-out commercial spaces at an affordable rate, ABI is committed to its unique partnership with The Village Market to provide the entrepreneurs full wrap-around services before, during, and after the inaugural season.
For ABI, collaboration with The Village Market was a central component of the program. Through living its signature phrase, “Support is a Verb,” The Village Market connects Black-owned businesses to dedicated community partners, like ABI, as a way to tackle racial wealth gap issues. For both organizations, BeltLine MarketPlace is one strategy targeted towards closing the wealth gap in Atlanta between Black-owned businesses and other minority- and white-owned businesses. Microsoft will be the technical partner supporting the business accelerator programming provided by The Village Market.
“Black business ownership is growing at an exceptional rate since pre-pandemic. However, Black businesses encounter disproportionate barriers to accessing retail or commercial opportunities and resources to scale compared to their counterparts. The goal of this partnership is to create a sustainable solution that connects local Black-owned businesses to Atlanta’s bustling economy and can serve as a cooperative model that can be replicated in growing economies across the country,” says Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, Founder and CEO of The Village Market.
In addition to the Kendeda Fund, other organizations have pledged support for the program. Fiserv, a leading global provider of payments and financial services technology with a significant presence in the Atlanta area, will provide each business owner with its Clover® point-of-sale and business management system. Clover will enable MarketPlace merchants to securely accept a broad range of payment types, including contactless payments, as well as manage inventory and other back-office tasks. Fiserv will provide Clover installation services, face-to-face training, and on-site support to assist BeltLine MarketPlace merchants with growing their overall business. Google will be providing Wi-Fi for the rail containers, providing a complete suite of Google Nest products (e.g., doorbell, cameras, hub system), Chromebooks that can be checked out for those in need, and free digital skills training to help local, small Minority Business Enterprises reach new customers, thrive online and grow.
The BeltLine MarketPlace businesses will have phased openings starting in July and stay open through November.
Plan for Pilot to Lead to Long-Term Change
BeltLine MarketPlace anticipates growing in scope to include businesses of all backgrounds and more locations around the Atlanta BeltLine loop, taking into account lessons learned from the pilot. Dedicated funding from the Kendeda Fund will enable scaling as part of the grant.
As the program is scaled, it will become an opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain immediate access to BeltLine foot traffic to launch a new product; for existing businesses to test new products and services; for southside and westside businesses to gain new markets and awareness on the eastside for their brands; and for residents on the southside and westside to have access to new amenities in their communities.
The BeltLine MarketPlace is part of ABI’s economic inclusion framework, which consists of four pillars: small business support, commercial district support, workforce development and commercial affordability. Through programs and activities that align with these pillars, ABI will spur inclusive economic growth for small, local, Minority Business Enterprises around the corridor, contribute to wealth building for communities in ABI’s Equity Priority Areas, and drive further job creation through their growth and development.
Summer 2022 will also mark the launch of Atlanta BeltLine’s Small Business Solutions Office, which will deliver tailored solutions to local and Minority Business Enterprises seeking to expand across the 22-mile BeltLine corridor.
For more information on the Atlanta BeltLine MarketPlace, please visit www.beltline.org/marketplace.