Last year's UI21 winners included, from left, Bob Starzynski (Innovation Works), Naomi Johnson (Something Borrowed Boutique-2013 Hill District Winner), and Kimberly Slater-Wood (Director of Outreach, Pittsburgh Penguins ​)​

Nearly $150,000 in grants from Urban Innovation21‘s “Inclusive Innovation” small business grant competition were awarded to startups in Homewood and the Hill District.

“The competition is only the beginning,” says UI21 spokesperson Haeshah Cooper. Nearly 100 businesses in those two neighborhoods – both start-ups and existing concerns – began the competition by attending workshops on writing business plans, defining their markets, managing credit and finances and much more. Half applied for the grants, and those 50 businesses will receive continuing help from UI21’s entrepreneurship coaches and consultants. They’ll also receive free legal help from UI21’s downtown law partner, Reed Smith. Even the top applicants who didn’t get grants will be eligible for zero-percent loans from a $10,000 loan fund.

This year’s winners of $5-10,000 grants were:

In the Hill District:

  • Jesse Mae Peoples Construction
  • Uniquea Dry Cleaning
  • On the Go Fitness
  • Power 59 Construction
  • Sub Urban Services
  • Visions Towards Peace
  • EZduzit Commercial Cleaning

In Homewood:

  • Be Smart Energy
  • Pittsburgh Barber College
  • One Story
  • The Studio
  • Homewood Purpose (Loungedramat)
  • Cutting Edge Lawn Services
  • Wine and Words
  • The Wheel Mill
  • Productivity LLC
  • S.H.I.N.E.

Cooper was particularly pleased, she says, to see the diverse group of applicants this year, including Go Fitness, a start-up helping young girls and women achieve weight and fitness goals “in a friendly and supportive environment”; Be Smart Energy, which conducts energy audits and solar installations (“It was a business like no other entering the competition,” she says) and Pittsburgh Barber College. “There’s definitely a need for young people to start a trade that’s going to keep them out of trouble and keep them off the streets,” Cooper notes.

The 2013 winners, in the competition’s first year, “have definitely grown,” says Cooper. “Some of them that won start-up money last year, they actually have their own facility now.”

A celebration of the awards will be held on May 21 at 5:30 p.m. in the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium at the Hill District’s Kaufmann Center. There, the Urban Innovation21 “Inclusive Innovation” Champion Awards will be given this year to:

  • George Germany – manager, subcontractor relations, Massaro Corporation
  • Aaron Gibson – executive director, Hill District YMCA
  • Dwight Mayo – former owner, Transportation Solutions
  • Gonzalo Manchego – business consultant, Duquesne University Small Business Development Corporation
  • Dan Richey – associate attorney, Reed Smith
  • Bill Recker – chairman, Energy Innovation Center

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.