At tomorrow’s State of the City Address, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan will formally announce the city of Akron’s Rubber City Match program, which pairs new and existing businesses with financial aid, technical assistance and vacant retail properties in Great Streets Akron districts. The program has been designed to achieve two goals at once: boost Akron’s neighborhood retail zones and remove barriers for new and expanding businesses to thrive locally.
Entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their businesses often face three major hurdles: Lack of training to create retail ready businesses at a meaningful scale, finding the right space for their business and finding the necessary funds to open. Rubber City Match aims to help entrepreneurs overcome these major hurdles to not only start up their businesses but to grow and expand, providing a catalyst for a booming local economy.
Over the last few years, Akron has adopted several place-making strategies, including Great Streets Akron, an initiative aimed at improving the neighborhood business districts (NBDs) in each ward of the city. The goals of these initiatives are to improve public spaces, encourage private investment and support talent retention and attraction in the city.
“Our small and startup businesses will fuel Akron’s revival, and supporting their success is a key pillar of my economic development strategy,” Horrigan said. “The Rubber City Match program will take the guesswork out of opening a new brick and mortar business – by guiding entrepreneurs through the steps to viability. It will also help our property owners find vetted tenants who will be partners in renovating these important neighborhood corridors.”
Applications for Rubber City Match are open now through April 2. The program features four award levels for business and building owners:
- Business Plan Award: Free tuition to attend Mortar at Bounce, sharpen your business skills and develop your business plan. Mortar is a 15-week accelerator course that helps both existing and aspiring non-tech entrepreneurs learn the nuances of business ownership and build a comprehensive business canvas, the goal being to launch businesses that create jobs and circulate dollars locally. The program focuses on entrepreneurs who are often under-served.
- Space Award: Get matched with the right space for your business, receive technical assistance to help you choose your space and be eligible for microgrants to have attorneys review your lease documents
- Design Award: Meet with architects and be eligible to receive grants to pay for architectural drawings for the build-out of your new space
- Cash Award: Meet with lenders who focus on supporting small businesses. If there is a gap between what the business owner can put into the project and what the lenders are willing to lend, business owners are eligible to receive grants from the city to fill the financial gap. Up to $100,000 in grants will be given away to small businesses in year 1 of Rubber City Match.
“This program will prepare small businesses to be successful, thereby making them better and longer lasting tenants,” says Todd Ederer of Ederer and Associates, a real estate development firm in Akron. “The discipline will provide greater confidence for business owners, property owners, lenders and the city of Akron to invest in our neighborhood business districts.”
Rubber City Match is based on a successful program launched in Detroit in 2015, which has now served over 1,300 businesses and leveraged over $41 million in investment. In Akron’s program, competing businesses will be scored on five criteria, including Vision and Plan, Experience and Capacity, Market Opportunity, Community Support and Leverage of Investment. Winning businesses must also agree to locate within the city of Akron for at least two years and demonstrate a benefit to the community.
“The goals of the Rubber City Match program stem from bold but achievable ideas like creating a continuous pipeline of small businesses and filling retail spots and vacant commercial space with passionate entrepreneurs,” said James Hardy, deputy mayor for Integrated Development. “I’m confident that this program will be a game-changer for Akron by matching our most promising businesses with our top real estate opportunities.”
Partners including Bounce, the Minority Business Assistant Center at the Akron Urban League, Small Business Development Center, Economic Community Development Institute, ASIA Inc., HFLA of Northeast Ohio, American Institute of Architects (AIA)- Akron Chapter and the Akron Bar Association.
For info or to apply, visit www.rubbercitymatch.com and tune in to Mayor Horrigan’s 2020 State of the City speech. For those unable to attend in person on Feb. 26 at the John S. Knight Center, the speech will be live streamed through the Mayor’s Facebook page and will also be broadcasted on 89.7 WKSU at 8 pm on March 4.
Representatives from the city’s Office of Integrated Development and Bounce will also team up to host public informational sessions about Rubber City Match and Mortar at a number of times and locations:
- Friday, Feb. 28, 10:30 a.m. to noon: Kenmore Financial Empowerment Center, 1060 Kenmore Blvd.
- Saturday, Feb. 29, 1 to 2:30 p.m.: Exchange House in North Hill, 760 Elma St.
- Monday, March 2, 8:30 to 10 a.m.: The Well in Middlebury, 647 E. Market St.
- Thursday, March 5, 7 to 8:30 p.m.: The Library Branch on Copley Road, 1187 Copley Road
- Friday, March 6, 1 to 2:30 p.m.: Summit Lake Community Center, 380 W. Crosier St.