They make everything from candles, quilts and dolls to soaps and stationery. They are artists, activists, designers and dreamers, and they’re all jumping into the business world through First Leap.
In March, Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator (CBA) and Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship (CWE) launched the program to help local makers get their products to the masses. Funding is provided by the Hillman Family Foundations and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
Applications are open to any artist, craftsperson or small-batch manufacturer in Western Pennsylvania or northern West Virginia who has at least one year of product development under their belt and aspires to be a full-time business owner.
The goal, says CBA Director Adam Kenney, is to turn passions into professions.
Twelve people representing a wide range of creative endeavors make up the inaugural class of the entrepreneurial readiness program. The seven-month course, which is delivered in two phases, challenges participants to produce data-driven answers about their business goals, including technology use, pricing methods and target markets.
The group recently completed six weeks of intensive, online sessions with the CBA’s nationwide network of business coaches and peer mentors. Wendy Downs, owner of Pittsburgh-based Moop, which designs and manufactures handcrafted bags, is the program facilitator.
Each member presented a virtual exhibition where they highlighted their products and detailed plans for expansion. Over the next six months, the CBA will work with them to promote and fine-tune their businesses. The CBA program is even offering resources and workspace at 7800 Susquehanna St. in Homewood, Bridgeway Capital’s 150,000-square-foot hub for manufacturing, small businesses, nonprofits and job training.
“First Leap channels our business-building capabilities into the creative economy,” says CWE Director Anne Flynn Schlicht. “As new members, these new businesses will have access to other business development programs and counseling services as they grow.”
First Leap will welcome its second class of makers in early 2022. Kenney hosts CBA orientation meetings online each month to provide an overview of the program and information about the application process. The next meeting is on April 14 at 5:30 p.m.
Meet the Makers
Borealis Candle Company
Norah Whitmore makes hand-poured candles using ethically sourced, biodegradable materials.
Kool Image Dolls
Designer and sculptor Dominique Scaife creates dolls, apparel and online content that help Black youth focus on positive self-identity and cultural representation.
Artist Atiya Jones established her multimedia visual art and design studio in 2017 to offer products and services that further Black visibility in the creative community.
Mary Mack Wear
Mary Tremonte, a printmaker, activist, DJ and educator, creates inclusive, queer-centered designs that translate into a range of products including scarves, embroidered badges and stationery.
At her woodworking studio, Hanna Dausch makes furniture and homewares that add warmth and intimacy to a living space.
Karen Womack is passionate about sewing and textiles. Her fabric business, Quiltstyle, aims to help other crafters with online workshops.
Realtor Stefani Schneider designs personalized gifts for folks celebrating the purchase of their new home.
Shannon Richardson specializes in hand-crafted leather bags and accessories.
Jessica Halsband handcrafts all-natural soaps, crocheted plant baskets and bandanas.
Editorial illustrator Sophia Pappas runs a letterpress and illustration studio in Millvale.
Darrin Milliner designs clothing, artwork and other goods with a sense of humor and irony.
Suzanne Pace offers fine gardening, stonework, design and landscaping services.