By Tanya Christian
For a vast number of Black entrepreneurs, Atlanta has provided a desirable home for a growing business. It’s the hope of local officials and business leaders in, that that never changes. In April, the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and The Village Market announced a pilot incubator program called Atlanta BeltLine MarketPlace to address commercial affordability and help incubate minority-, women- and Black-owned businesses. Six businesses were selected from more than 200 applicants.
“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,” says 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.”
The entrepreneurs behind the selected businesses were announced on Monday, and are now going through an intensive incubator training through The Village Market to help them achieve their business goals throughout the MarketPlace Pilot Program. On the Eastside Trail Beltline located under the Freedom Parkway Bridge, the businesses are Cococakes by Coco, a customcakes company owned and operated by Kina Morgan, Good As Burgers, a fast food vegan restaurant by Cornoy Watkins, Grady Baby Company & Apparel, an online apparel company founded by Alexander Albritton. On the Westside Trail Beltine Marketplace located at 1089 Allene Avenue in SW, Atlanta, they are happy to welcome Dope Coffee Company LLC, a four-year old coffee company founded by Michael Loyd, Not As Famous Cookie Company founded by Ashley Carlton, and PinkPothos a plant company founded by Lakeisha Jones. The businesses are operating out of custom containers at the two BeltLine locations from July through November.
“Black business ownership is growing at an exceptional rate since pre-pandemic,” says Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, founder and CEO of The Village Market. “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,”
Black entrepreneurs have historically faced disproportionate challenges in starting a business when compared to their white counterparts. Beyond the seed money needed to successfully launch these endeavors, many have faced economic, market, sociocultural, and institutional barriers when trying to sustain a business. Those championing the BeltLine project are determined to break down some of those blockades and provide an environment where Black-led companies can thrive.
The 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 this inaugural program. Dedicated funding from the Kendeda Fund will enable scaling as part of the grant. Project organizers anticipate that as the program is scaled, entrepreneurs will immediately be able to reap the benefits. Not only will they have an opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain foot traffic, existing businesses will also be able to test new products and services, and gain new market awareness.
The BeltLine MarketPlace is part of the corporation’s economic inclusion framework, which includes small business support, commercial district support, workforce development and commercial affordability. The hope is that through targeted programs, small, local, minority-, women-, and Black- and Brown-owned businesses will continue to grow.
“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.