As East Liberty continues to experience an economic rebirth, we are working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) and our other vital community partners to ensure that minority and women-owned businesses benefit from the influx of people and capital. Through initiatives like Catpault: Start-up to Storefront and Gallery on Penn, we are striving to lower barriers to entry and get local entrepreneurs and business owners the resources and guidance they need to grow their businesses.
“East Liberty has seen a lot of growth over the last couple of years and with that growth has been this feeling that minority and women-owned businesses were not being effectively represented or preserved in the neighborhood,” explained Diamonte Walker, Deputy Executive Director of the URA. “Working with ELDI and other East End neighborhood groups, we’ve been able to start to rebuild and reknit some of that fabric.”
An East End incubator and retail space for minority and women-owned businesses
We launched Catapult: Start-up to Storefront, our minority and women-owned business incubator program, in April of 2018 alongside Circles Greater Pittsburgh, a non-profit fighting generational poverty in the city.
The 12-month Catapult program provides individualized coaching, lessons, and support led by Paramount Co-Op to a cohort of 15 local, minority and women-owned businesses. Opening in November of 2018, Gallery on Penn was a natural extension of the program. The Gallery is a retail space at 5935 Penn Avenue offered to Catapult members at little charge. It serves as an ideal testing ground for these growing businesses to sell their products and build up their clientele in the heart of East Liberty’s sought-after business district without the burden of expensive overhead.
Walker explains that after access to capital, high capacity technical assistance is what these businesses need most in order to be successful.
“Folks need coaching. They need mentorship, they need guidance, and they need customers,” she said. “So finding opportunities to get them into spaces with high foot traffic and high visibility is key.”
Bringing entrepreneurs and service providers together at the Gallery on Penn
Another mission of these initiatives is to foster a well-networked business community in the East End. To that end, the URA teamed up with the City to host a small business resource fair at the Gallery on Penn on February 27th of this year.
The fair brought together service providers from non-profit groups all over Pittsburgh who can support small businesses with everything from building construction to business plans and financing. The goal was to meet the businesses where they are.
“This is something that we’ve been doing for a few years now, and we are intentionally focusing on the locations that really need us to be there, boots on the ground, so that folks see that we’re in this fight with them to build a vibrant, diverse business community,” Walker said.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners from all over the East End came out for the event. People milled about the Gallery, stopping to get information from exhibitors about the opportunities available to help them start or expand their businesses. Attendees were also able to do some shopping at the businesses operating out of the Gallery and speak to the owners about their experience working with many of the service providers present at the event.
Overall, Walker is optimistic about the ecosystem the URA, ELDI and other partners are building in the East End with Catapult and the Gallery on Penn, noting the unique approach they are taking to bring the nonprofit, private and public sector together.
“In the end what you have is a retail incubator unlike anything I’ve seen in the country in one of the busiest business districts in the city of Pittsburgh,” explained Walker. “These businesses have all the potential in the world to eventually take on their own space because they’ve had that experience in the Gallery paired with the technical assistance and business development from the Catapult program.”
Support local businesses during the COVID-19 crisis
With the coronavirus outbreak taking its toll on Pittsburgh’s business community, Gallery on Penn is temporarily closed and now more than ever it’s important to find ways to support our local area businesses.
Many East Liberty businesses are offering takeaway or pick up services or online shopping opportunities for customers.
Find out how you can help in The East Liberty Chamber of Commerce’s latest newsletter and by checking out our COVID-19 Community Resource Guide.