Ascender’s team of experts and coaches worked closely with 10 creative businesses to transform growth ideas into actionable plans. The CBA will now continue to help them pursue their Next Leap goals over the following six months to realize financial resilience and social impact.
“Many can learn from the rapid growth and heart these creative businesses displayed during an intense program like Next Leap,” says Nadyli Nuñez, executive director of Ascender. “We couldn’t have partnered with a better team than the CBA, and we look forward to empowering the next cohort in 2021.”
The Next Leap pitch competition was held virtually on the evening of November 19. Participants synthesized and prioritized everything they learned over the previous six weeks into a cohesive vision for their future. The three judges included Wendy Downs of Moop, Khamil Scantling of Cocoapreneur, and George Cook of Honeycomb Credit.
Featured below are the 10 participating creative businesses, starting with the three pitch competition award winners.
First Place: Otto Finn
Established by Rona Chang, OTTO FINN provides comfortable and modern clothing, fashionably functional children’s accessories and home products for the design-conscious consumer. Rooted in designs that are characterized by simplicity, minimalism, and functionality, OTTO FINN offers handcrafted pieces of enduring character.
Next Leap: Rona and her team will pursue an aggressive marketing campaign to reach online customers in national and global markets for her growing line of sustainably produced products.
Second Place: Frank and Myrhh
Raised by parents who were themselves entrepreneurs, Baiyinah Brookins learned to sew and began translating her love of West African fabrics into products through Frank & Myrhh, her lifestyle brand. Using her beautiful new website, she sells ethically made goods from artisans and her own fashion accessories. Her fabrics, patterns, and products celebrate African diasporic heritage, culture, spirituality, and history.
Next Leap: Baiyinah will expand her offering of artisan-made goods to include seasonal lines for conscientious consumers and improve her online marketing and storytelling capabilities.
Third Place: Driving While Black Records
Driving While Black Records is an independent, Pittsburgh-based record label that represents local hip-hop artists. Led by Jordan Montgomery, the mission of Driving While Black Records is to elevate Black creative voices and to grow a record label that puts artists’ needs first.
Next Leap: Jordan plans on diversifying his offering with more virtual experiences including follower subscription services, multimedia online content, and expanding their line of streetwear merchandise.
Carin Mincemoyer’s creative practice encompasses sculpture, installations, public art, and design in diverse materials including wood, metal, discarded packaging, and live plants. She has been recognized with grants and awards from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the International Sculpture Center, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
Next Leap: After Next Leap, Carin will systematically boost her outreach efforts to secure larger public art projects, both locally and regionally, and expand her creative output with a range of art prints and smaller sculptures.
Design duo Jocelyn Avila and Rob Hackett began crafting fine leather goods as Clark Morelia in 2019, hoping to fill a niche in the greater Pittsburgh maker scene. Committed to creating simple, modern, and hyper-functional accessories, they use a sophisticated design process to make beautiful items for daily use.
Next Leap: Jocelyn and Rob plan to refine their emerging creative business by pursuing more brand collaborations to expand direct-to-consumer sales and wholesale orders from retailers across the country.
Gingerly Press publishes a line of dynamic products employing a classic, handset letterpress process of printing, as well as hand-mixed, sustainable inks and 100% recycled paper. Founder Lindsay Schmittle exclusively uses a collection of antique metal and wood type and creates paper products that embody colorful modern design.
Next Leap: Lindsay will focus on products and projects with higher profit margins by pursuing commission with corporations and national brands and feature limited-edition collections of art prints.
Lovett Sundries is a family company working out of Wilkinsburg, PA. They feature a line of handcrafted soaps, grooming, and cleaning products that are carefully measured, mixed, and packaged by their own hands. They believe that the sustainable ingredients, containers, and packaging they use make a big impact on the world.
Next Leap: Jeff and Marit will tap into the huge increase in online spending by implementing data-driven marketing action, grow their internal and external team members, and pursue the use of certified organic ingredients.
Rebel Bred Clothing
Nathan created Rebel Bred Clothing in 2016 with the intention of educating, uplifting, and inspiring individuals to further themselves and find their life’s purpose. Rebel Bred Clothing incorporates fashion, diversity, education, spirituality, and social responsibility into its apparel and approach.
Next Leap: Nathan will expand his apparel offering and e-commerce infrastructure to pivot from in-person to online sales, and connect to local and national consumers focused on social justice. locally and nationally.
Stone + Sparrow Studio
Stone + Sparrow is a small-batch ceramics business that creates hand-built and wheel-thrown goods with a focus on minimalism and functionality. Originally established in California, Stone + Sparrow now operates out of Pittsburgh where owner Kate Marchand is quickly growing her creative business.
Next Leap: Kate plans on moving into a larger production space and expanding her equipment to capture the demand created by enhanced marketing efforts and the additional focus on B2B opportunities.
Daggerfish Gear Co.
Daggerfish Gear Company makes functional and beautiful products that help people feel calm and confident in the wilderness. Their flagship product, the Daggerfish Handreel, is an ultralight backpacking fishing kit that comes with everything you need to catch a wild trout. Daggerfish’s founder Adam Nelson is the son of a National Park Ranger and learned from an early age to treasure our natural resources.
Next Leap: Adam will continue his significant progress by expanding his team and pursuing more brand partnerships for Daggerfish that get him closer to the outdoorsy customers who love his products.