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How these creative entrepreneurs are looking to grow in Baltimore after BCAN’s Founder Fellowship

At a Jan. 28 demo day at MICA, entrepreneurs offered their vision for inclusive and sustainable growth.

BCAN Founder Fellows and program partners at 2020 demo day. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Mission, community and plans for sustainability.

There’s a lot that goes into creating a new creative business, and the details can vary across a host of sectors that range from design to food. But at the latest Founder Fellowship demo day hosted by Baltimore Creatives Acceleration Network (BCAN), pitches showed that each of those three areas were key ingredients.

After 12 weeks, founders presented their plans before a packed house at a Jan. 28 event inside the BBOX theater at MICA, which is sponsoring BCAN’s work with entrepreneurs across the city.

Launched in 2017, BCAN aims to galvanize the creators in Baltimore with resources to help turn talents and passions into businesses that can support them. Yet through the founder fellowship, there was also a sense that these businesses can create new models for growth in Baltimore.

As with many pitch competitions, each had a plan for sustainable business growth. But there were also plans to create more inclusive and welcoming communities in the city. Here’s a look at how the founders are looking to grow as they exit the program:

Vent Coffee

With a storefront inside Union Collective in Medfield, Sarah Walker and Andrew Young gained a brick-and-mortar space in 2018 to offer a cafe and roasting to provide wholesale coffee for other local businesses. Undergirding each of these are well-established values of the business: They see coffee as a means to connect folks and inspire community, while also working with importers to ensure that growers earn fair wages.

Meanwhile, word is getting out. They attracted 13,000 unique visitors to the storefront in 2019, and established partnerships with spots like Guinness Open Gate Brewery near Halethorpe. Going forward, they’re keying in on further activating the physical space. With an open floor plan, they can host community events and celebrations. One plan for 2020: a community dialogue for folks to “vent” frustrations, ending in guided meditations.

Mera Kitchen Collective

Mera is making a name for itself in Baltimore, both with food and model. It combines international cuisine that’s found at farmers markets, in-home pop-ups and festivals with a worker cooperative model that gives refugee and immigrant chefs ownership. There’s a clear mission behind this work.

“We exist to highlight the knowledge and assets that newcomers bring to our community,” said Mera’s Aishah AlFadhalah, speaking alongside cofounders Chef Iman Alshehab and Emily Lerman.

To grow the business, Mera is focusing in on catering, which offers consistent and sustainable income for the worker-owners. They’ve been catering office lunches, weddings and more.

Fruit Camp

Body art is increasingly prevalent. Yet there’s room for more inclusion at the places where folks go to get tattoos, where Emilynn Holler and Georgia McCandlish say a macho and paternalistic culture persists. That’s why they’re opening Fruit Camp in Remington: The queer-founded studio is specifically seeking to create space for groups who feel alienated, such as queer people, women and people of color. Employing a worker-owned cooperative model, they’re also looking to create a platform for artists that face barriers, whether they are from Baltimore or other cities. And it goes beyond tattoos, as all artists will be welcome.

Starting work in the now-shuttered DIY art space at Station North’s Bell Foundry, they also see the benefit of creating a lasting home for those artists. They took a big step by opening the space at 2658 Miles Ave. with a celebration on Saturday. Going forward, they have a goal of owning their own building.

Mebane Design Studio

Brandi Mebane is seeking to transform how businesses in Baltimore and beyond are known. During the Founder Fellows program, her own went through a rebrand: Entering as Branding by Brandi, Mebane is finishing up the program with a wider vision that includes UX/UI design, marketing and app development along with branding. The result is a new name. It comes with an aim of helping Black and Brown creatives who may have products and services that are gaining traction, and providing a voice.

It was a fitting close to the pitch event. BCAN’s program looks to help creatives in Baltimore hone and scale their business. In Mebane’s case, she’s now set up to help more creatives.

Companies: Maryland Institute College of Art

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