New nonprofit seeks to increase Black businesses in Over-the-Rhine

A collaborative effort several years in the making, Represent Cincy – whose goal is to connect more Black-owned businesses with brick-and-mortar spaces in Over-the-Rhine – is ready to launch as a nonprofit with a new leader.

Jared Simmons, an Alabama native with an extensive background in diversity and inclusion efforts, has been tapped to serve as executive director for the organization.

Jared Simmons

Represent is an initiative that began in October 2018 following a conversation between Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., Congressman Greg Landsman and other stakeholders about why the number of Black-owned businesses in OTR didn’t reflect the demographics of its population. Since then, work has been underway to create a healthy Black-owned business community in the neighborhood.

“3CDC has made some progress on this effort, with 26% of its street-level commercial spaces in OTR filled with Black-owned businesses,” said Lindzie Gunnels, Represent’s board chair. “While Urban Sites, Model Group and other landlords have made headway as well, everyone involved in Represent recognizes that that progress is not enough and more must be done.”

Currently, there are more than 60 Black-owned businesses in the neighborhood (accounting for 12% of all businesses). Represent is looking to increase these numbers and provide opportunities to those who may not think they’d have the chance otherwise.

“I believe in a world where race, place, ethnicity, and income don’t predict someone’s future,” said Colin Growth, a Represent board member.

“Represent’s mission is built around transforming the Black business community in OTR,” Simmons said. “I want us to be seen as a place where you can get advice and not just as a source of capital or marketing support. Our board is one that understands entrepreneurship at a level that allows us to be helpful and supportive in a different way. We view Represent as an additive organization to all the other groups doing great work in this area.”

Many minority business owners and entrepreneurs either aren’t aware of the initiatives and assistance available to them or struggle to navigate a process that is vague and cumbersome, a disparity the nonprofit hopes to alleviate. To do so, the organization’s mission will focus on three key components: Recruiting Black-owned businesses into storefronts in OTR, retaining healthy Black-owned businesses in their respective storefronts and advancing Black entrepreneurs’ journeys to their next steps. More than just locating and recruiting Black-owned businesses, Represent will aim to ensure entrepreneurs have the capabilities and mindset to not only open a business but to make it thrive and provide the resources to sustain it in the future.

Simmons has a background at corporations including Coca-Cola and P&G, the latter of which brought him to Cincinnati. He founded OUTLAST Consulting LLC, a consultancy with services in product development and diversity management, and a professional development program called Chrysalis, which aims at making it easier for people of color to flourish in their corporate careers.

Simmons operates out of the Globe Building at 1805 Elm Street, across the street from Findlay Market, and will report to the Represent board, a group of local professionals from 3CDC, TriVersity Construction, Dinsmore, Habitat for Humanity, Nostalgia Wine Bar, UBS, Jostin Construction, Visit Cincy, Cincy Nice, Cincinnati Bell, Mortar and StriveTogether.

“We’ve worked hard to make OTR a thriving, diverse business district,” said Lann Field, board chair for the OTR Chamber of Commerce. “Represent is a meaningful and vital piece of the puzzle that the chamber is thrilled to be able to collaborate with moving forward.”

Represent differs from other programs and the typical approach because it’s a concentrated effort leading with partnership versus simply opening businesses. Ultimately, Represent’s focus is on uplifting one demographic in one neighborhood. But the Board and organizational leadership believe that if this proof of concept works in OTR, it can be exportable to other neighborhoods in the future.

“Over-the-Rhine is a special neighborhood, and there is a lot of opportunity for diversity and economic inclusion in the neighborhood’s business district. Represent will help drive that inclusion as it relates to Black-owned businesses not only moving into more storefronts but also staying in those spaces – remaining healthy and scaling as appropriate,” Gunnels said. “This will result in positive change, not just for the neighborhood but for the city as a whole.”

Represent received its initial funding from the Haile Foundation and Greater Cincinnati Foundation, but the organization recently received significant funding from the City of Cincinnati to advance its work. Additional information on the organization, including opportunities for donating to support Represent’s mission and the chance for Black business owners to contact the nonprofit with business ideas, can be found at www.representcincy.org.