Nobody gets to put entrepreneurs in a corner — that is, except the Van Aken District. Inside its new pop-up space, the Corner, jewelry makers share space in the district’s Market Hall with cookie bakers, candle creators and T-shirt designers. The common thread? They’re all local makers.
The Corner, part of Van Aken’s Entrepreneurial Initiatives program, which launched in July, provides dedicated shelf, wall or kiosk space for 30- to 90-day spans. But the Food Incubator program, which invites food entrepreneurs to take over a Market Hall stall for three days, is what drew in Stefanie Lenor.
The founder of Cakefully Delicious, a home-based cake shop, Lenor was the first to set up inside the Food Incubator in October, and returned again in early November.
“I’d done vendor markets before, but I wanted to see what else I could do to get my name out there,” says Lenor.
It’s all part of a larger local movement to empower entrepreneurs, alongside initiatives such as the Merchant’s Mrkt at Legacy Village and the Tremont Storefront Incubator, which helped launch businesses such as Brewnuts.
And it’s resonating: Megan O’Donnell, marketing and events manager for the Van Aken District, says they’ve received more than 100 applications as of mid-November.
“It’s a way for budding entrepreneurs to showcase their products and better understand how to build a business,” says O’Donnell.
And it’s affordable, too: Pricing for space at the Corner ranges from $12-$100 per month, while the Food Incubator charges $250 for a weekend.
“We found that a lot of entrepreneurs saw the idea of a longer-term lease as a hurdle,” says O’Donnell. “We wanted to remove barriers.”
Risk aversion is understandable, especially since more than 163,000 U.S. businesses have closed their doors during COVID-19. But U.S. Census statistics also show that applications to start new businesses have increased by almost 16% in 2020, the fastest growth rate since 2007.
Along with providing vendors affordable space and a built-in shopper base, the program offers additional small business education and support via partnerships with Shaker Heights and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland.
“At the end of the day, we want to create distinctly ‘Cleveland’ experiences through products and foods,” says O’Donnell. “We believe this will be a pathway to success for people with unique and creative ideas.”