REDI starts new minority business incubator The Shops at Sharp End

Columbia and Boone County business-minded minorities will have a new space in which to learn, sell and grow their ventures with a newly established downtown Columbia incubator.

A partnership of Regional Economic Development Inc., Central Missouri Community Action and the Downtown Community Improvement District was established Wednesday by the REDI board to be known as The Shops at Sharp End at 500 E. Walnut St., Suite 109.

It will take up to six months before the trio of organizations are ready to welcome clients, though, as REDI and the partner organizations works to prepare the space and review current client lists, among other preparations. Initial costs are being covered by tapping $30,000 of reserves for renovations. REDI already has leased occupation of the space.

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The Shops at Sharp End working title is intended to “highlight innovative and creative retail businesses in a collaborative gathering space where passionate entrepreneurs come together, connect with the public, share their ideas, and grow their businesses,” said Stacey Button, REDI president, reading the business plan’s vision statement.

The location is in the historic Sharp End, which was Columbia’s Black business district before urban renewal programs and policies throughout the U.S. in the 1950s and into the 1960s uprooted these businesses and nearby residential areas.

REDI and the partner organizations aim to “embrace the rich and vibrant history of the Sharp End and be intentional by nurturing minority business enterprises and underserved populations,” Button said, reading in part from the business incubator’s values statement.

“In addition to the physical space where they can sell products, we are going to have programming around it with our business coaches, putting on workshops, training courses, peer-to-peer mentoring and access to resources,” she said.

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The focus is more on retail startups, rather than food-based businesses, such as through The Loop’s CoMo Cooks Shared Kitchens and The Packing House, or to some degree tech startups through The REDI Innovation Hub.

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The incubator will aim to help clients grow into successful brick-and-mortar spaces or e-commerce.

One goal of the incubator is to ensure that at least 51% of clients are minority business enterprises. It will work very much like a boutique retail space with a style of products flowing coherently from one to the next, explained Nickie Davis with The District and Jayme Prenger, director of the Missouri Women’s Business Center.

The only types of ineligible enterprises for the incubator are multi-level marketing or resale businesses.

The partner organizations will work with low to middle-income individuals. There will be a tiered monthly fee depending on how long a business utilizes the business incubator space. A scholarship program will be available, currently with a maximum five scholarships available.

Once the incubator ramps up, the aim is to continually have 40 active clients. This includes 25 clients within their first six months of operation, 10 in sustained operation for up to one year and five in extended operation for up to two years.

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“We do want to have pop-ups. More established businesses that can be on-site to drive that foot traffic as well. Then we also have talked about curating original art on a commission basis to specifically represent the Sharp End heritage, its culture and people,” Button said.

The Shops at Sharp End also will have a permanent staff member aiding clients, with the position advertised in the coming months.

REDI Board members expressed excitement over the new venture during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I have seen similar (business incubators) in other communities,” said Todd Hoien with Hawthorn Bank and REDI vice chair, referencing one in Lenexa, Kansas. “This has a lot of potential and adds a lot to this specific area of town, which is needed.

“There are so many retail businesses that don’t have a home yet. The biggest obstacle is that loan and that lease to get a business off the ground. If we can provide that support and a place to pop up and showcase their business … then I think we’ll have some folks come out of the program with a real shot at success.”

Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: REDI approves development of new minority business incubator

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