Collaboration helps Dayton entrepreneurs build resilience and foster collective responsibility
Earlier this year, businesswomen Charlynda Scales, Jamaica White and Dabriah Rice announced they were launching a new, large-scale commercial and training kitchen. (Photo by Stephen Starr)
For the co-founders of 6888 Kitchen Incubator, having partners to share financial and logistical burdens has proved essential.
By Stephen Starr, Elevate Dayton
In the fall of 2020, when COVID-related restrictions closed many restaurants, Dayton-area food businesses focused on a single plan to survive: collaboration. Cafes and restaurants got together to create the cooperative 937 Delivers, a food delivery service established as an alternative to Uber Eats, DoorDash and others whose fees were taking a chunk out of restaurants’ earnings.
The Dayton public responded, and many businesses are still operating today as a result. And while 937 Delivers shut down in October 2021, it illustrates how strength in numbers is particularly helpful for Dayton-area companies during tough times.
“Particularly in the Black and Brown communities, we have a lot of sole ownership,” says KeAnna Daniels, program manager at Parallax Advanced Research, a Dayton nonprofit that performs applied scientific research and development and tackles global challenges by accelerating innovation, and developing technology and solutions through strategic partnerships.
“One thing that we’ve been talking about in the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Dayton is the opportunity to co-found and to do joint ventures.”
In the heart of downtown Dayton, three entrepreneurs are taking collaborating to the next level. Earlier this year, businesswomen Charlynda Scales, Jamaica White and Dabriah Rice announced they are launching a new, large-scale commercial and training kitchen. White and Rice co-own Divine Catering & Events and DCE Management, a kitchen management business.
“We were in a position (through existing businesses) to advise new entrepreneurs, but there was nowhere for them to go,” says Charlynda Scales, who also owns the Mutt’s Sauce line of condiments. “There was an issue around access to space and access to healthy food.”
The 6888 Kitchen Incubator (pronounced “six-triple-eight”) will be a two-story, 10,000-square-foot commercial kitchen, retail space and classroom situated inside the Dayton Arcade when it opens late next year or in early 2024. The kitchen will help train around 50 food-specific entrepreneurs at any one time in the essential aspects of running a business, such as project management, balancing the books and connecting with the public.
The Fifth Third Foundation has backed the project with a $1 million grant.
Key to the initiative getting off the ground has been the collaboration between White and Rice, co-owners of Divine Catering & Events and DCE Management, and Scales – all previously successful entrepreneurs in their own rights.
“The difference between finding the right people to collaborate with or not can be the difference between getting to where you want with your business in two years instead of five,” says Rice, adding that the Downtown Dayton Partnership, a nonprofit that works to develop a thriving downtown core, helped bring the three together after Scales reached out to the organization while looking for business partners.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the women say now is a good time to start a business in Dayton. While Dayton’s socioeconomic well-being has suffered in the past when large scale employers closed down or moved away, today, community leaders are focused on supporting small businesses—through grants, training and skills advancement, which are more likely to give back to the community.
Exhibit from “COVID-19’s effect on minority-owned small businesses in the United States””, May 2020, McKinsey & Company,www.mckinsey.com. Copyright (c) 2022 McKinsey & Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
To that end, a plethora of organizations and co-ops have been established around Dayton in recent years with the goal of assisting new business ventures. The rise of joint ventures and co-ops like Gem City Market, which has more than 5,000 members, 937 Delivers, and 6888 Kitchen Incubator help to foster a more inclusive economy, a sense of community, and collective responsibility.
“Not everyone starting up can afford a $5,000 sewing machine or equipment such as our large cutting table. I love it when people come in and use the facilities,” says Brenda Rex, director of the Dayton Sewing Collaborative, a nonprofit that hosts workforce training and community sewing initiatives from a large, shared working space just south of downtown. “The hive mentality that comes from that is very important. Everyone brings their wisdom to the table.”
Still, experts say, entrepreneurs who are just starting can be overprotective of their ideas or resistant to new ones.
“Ego is the killer of opportunity,” says Scales. “You have to learn to be OK with not being the smartest person in the room.”
For the 6888 Kitchen Incubator founders, the challenges of starting such an ambitious business from scratch—finding a partner organization willing to house a commercial kitchen and securing funding, for example–means pressure and a lot of work. But that’s where having partners such at the Arcade-based Hub and the Fifth Third Foundation to step in to share financial and logistical burdens has proved essential.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Rex.
“The network allows someone to say, ‘I know someone who can help with that,’” says Rex. “If it ever hit tough times I could reach out to our partners,” she says.
“And we know they’d help out. If I need something we can find it.”