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Urban Innovation21 Launching New Business Start-up Innitiative

A public-private economic growth organization in Pittsburgh is hoping an additional $100,000 in grants to small businesses in Homewood will help jump-start the micro economy.  Urban Innovation21 has attracted national attention for its mission to ensure that the region’s rapidly growing innovation economy is inclusive and benefits all communities.

The Pittsburgh region has begun to rebound from the economic downturn but many neighborhoods have yet to see unemployment and other economic indicators recover. 

"We just can't stop there," said William Generett Jr., President and CEO of Urban Innovation21.  "We have to make sure we are willing to do the work necessary to connect all communities to the success."

Urban Innovation21 has provided over $2.8 Million in direct capital and business assistance to local startups since its inception in 2007 with the goal of ensuring that the region’s rapidly growing innovation economy is inclusive and benefits all communities.

Earlier this month Urban Innovation21 launched its annual $100K grant program for technology-based companies located in the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone.  (A Keystone Innovation Zone or KIZ is a geographic area in which businesses can take advantage of local and state tax breaks and other support.)  This fall, a $50K grant competition for community-based businesses in the Hill District attracted more than 60 initial applications, which resulted in 45 entrepreneurs completing an educational program and submitting business plans. Winners of the Hill District competition will be announced in January.

According to a study prepared by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services in 2009, the Homewood community has significantly more low-income households than the City of Pittsburgh.  It is estimated that 50 percent of the Homewood community is not in the labor force and more than one in three people in the neighborhood are living in poverty. 

With that said, what kind of businesses could possibly thrive there? William Generett Jr., President and CEO of Urban Innovation21, thinks that the sky is the limit.

“…All different types of businesses. You know, when we first got involved, and we started looking at the businesses it was interesting. You know, we found a pretty interesting tech business which has a couple graduates from CMU, so you have potential to have some tech there, you could have some retail, as well as some service based businesses.”

In Homewood, Urban Innovation21 will present grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000, plus up to 10 awards of $500 to augment no-interest micro-loans of up to $5,000 from Kiva Zip. Additionally, two technical support awards to raise funds through a crowd-funding platform will be presented.

Generett said this is the organization’s first step to begin connecting historically disconnected communities like Homewood, the Hill District, as well as parts of the North Side to the city and region’s economic transformation.

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