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🎙 Podcast: Building Cincinnati's Black entrepreneurship hub

“We’re three young Black men in a community that was once 90% Black and constantly changing. And people were being displaced. This [was] an opportunity for me to…do something that I’m good at to help people to figure out how they can become their better selves, if given the tools and resources. And so that was essentially how we created MORTAR.”

Allen Woods is a designer, photographer, social change leader, and the co-founder of MORTAR—Cincinnati, Ohio’s entrepreneurship hub. MORTAR is working to create diverse communities by enabling Black, Brown, and women entrepreneurs to access the resources needed to start and run successful businesses. Their entrepreneurship academy provides culturally competent curriculum and materials, one-on-one mentorship, brand development strategies, and a cohort model for entrepreneurs to support each other. Tune in to learn how Allen’s background in photography and design led him on a path to bolstering aspiring entrepreneurs, and how MORTAR’s vision has impacted the Cincinnati community and beyond.

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This episode of the On Course podcast is supported through a grant from Echoing Green partner, Barclays. Since 2010, Echoing Green and Barclays have partnered to support and accelerate social innovators, who are building an equitable and sustainable world. Barclays employees have volunteered more than 7000 hours to help select and provide technical support to Echoing Green fellows. Thanks to Barclays support, Echoing Green is proud to continue amplifying the voices and solutions of innovators on the front lines of systemic change.

For more episodes of On Course: The Podcast from Echoing Green, visit anchor.fm/echoinggreen.

Episode Transcript

Eric
Hi, and welcome to On Course the podcast from Echoing Green that explores social entrepreneurship, and the pieces of people’s lives that they tend to leave out of their bios. Echoing Green is a premier global investor in new leaders who are boldly working to change the world, providing fellowships, community, seed stage funding, and strategic support at that critical stage where they’re just trying to get off the ground. My name is Eric Dawson. I’m a father, husband, social entrepreneur, storyteller and I have the distinct honor of serving as a chaplain for Echoing Green. I, along with my colleagues support fellows on their spiritual and emotional well being as they mediate between who they often feel they need to be publicly with how they often feel privately. I’m a fraud, I’m not good enough, I don’t know what I’m doing. On Course is about the journey that these leaders take from the moment they decide to act, to create to change. Today, y’all will have the chance to meet Allen Woods, Co-Founder of MORTAR, Cincinnati, Ohio’s entrepreneurship hub. MORTAR is working to create diverse communities by enabling historically marginalized entrepreneurs to access the resources needed to start and run successful businesses. Their entrepreneurship academy provides culturally competent curriculum and materials, one on one mentorship support, brand development strategies, and a cohort model for entrepreneurs to support each other. Today’s episode was made possible with the support of Barclays. So Allen, I want to I want to start with this, this idea of entrepreneurship, right? We, we often think about entrepreneurship, as people running tech companies, or starting things, and in their garages that go on to make billions, and you are in the business of helping entrepreneurs get off the ground. Tell us about your first venture when you were a kid, that first entrepreneurship moment from your life.

Allen
Wow. Um, I definitely remember, I mean, I remember it like it was yesterday. I mean, it was one of those things where I had a conversation with my parents. And, you know, I told them that I really felt a connection to photography. And my parents, you know, they tended to be as supportive as they could, or as they chose to be, depending on, you know, reflective of my behavior. And, you know, it must have been a good week at school, and I got a chance to go to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, which is the largest Children’s Museum in the world. And they always have kind of these traveling exhibitions, and they try to be really cutting edge. And even though it’s a children’s museum, they try to always bring things that are not geared only to children. Yeah. But my parents took me to a photography exhibition. And I remember just kind of walking through the exhibit, and, you know, just really falling into these pictures, like, you know, if you can imagine, like someone, like, really being as engaged with the photos as you can be, you know, I was really looking at these images, and they, they weren’t just pictures, it felt like it was something that I could like, like, if I touched it, I would kind of fall into the image. That’s how connected I felt to it. And so we get to the end of the exhibition, and this is the opening weekend, and we get to the end of the exhibition, and I’m just like on cloud nine. And my mom tells me that some of the photographer’s that did the work were there. So I’m like, oh, you know, like, we got to meet him. So we go over to the table, and I’m just, you know, I’m talking to all the photographers and I’m having this conversation about how blown away by their work, you know, I was and that I hope to one day be a photographer. And, you know, one of the artists that I was talking to was Gordon Parks. And you know, at that time, I don’t understand the magnitude of Gordon Parks. I’m just like, first of all, this dude’s mustache is cool. You know, he’s got his wavy white hair, you know, he’s just like, a really cool dude.

Eric
And how old are you in this moment?

Allen
I was around 12. You know, I told him that I wanted to do photography. And he said something to me, and I don’t remember what he said. And I thought about you know, since then I’ve thought about like, man, should I go get hypnotized and see if I can remember what he said. But then I saw Get Out and then it was like, nah, I’m never getting hypnotized like ever. But it always was like, kind of like this murmuring in my ear where I couldn’t make out the words, but he said something to me on that day, that was literally like a spark that was like I was I was in 100% at that point. And I told my parents, you know, I was like, I want to camera, I want to do this for real. Tell me what I need to do. You know, like, do I need to bring home certain grades, whatever, like, I’ll fix my attitude at school, whatever, I need a camera. And then ultimately, we ended up going to this used camera store in Indianapolis called Roberts, it was like the place that everybody went, that was like, really into photography. And telling all of my age, like, there was no such thing as digital photography. So this is a film camera, you know, like, so, you know, we went and got a couple rolls of film, got this used camera. My stepdad was also into photography. And so he kind of walked me through how to do it, I started taking weekend classes. And from there, like that was it, that was all I needed to get started. And it took me a long time to realize how privileged I was, you know, like, as an adult, I look back and like, I was privileged. I was in a position where several things happened, where I told my parents that I had this thing that I was engaged in or wanting to be engaged in. And the first thing they did is they purchased tickets and took me to a place. The second thing they did was invest in my talent, by buying me a camera, and it was just like, they also bought me classes. So it was just like all of these things, that at the time, I didn’t realize, Hey, this is not something that everybody’s parents can do or will do for their kid. And so you know, in thinking of that, that has carried me through this entire journey of becoming an entrepreneur and knowing how sometimes it can just take one spark to really like, ignite this entire flame in someone else.

Eric
And how does your skills, identity, role as an artist, show up in your work now?

Allen
Creativity. Number one, I mean, I, I asked God a long time ago, to give me a constant flow of ideas. And I would figure out the rest. I like the challenge. So it’s just like, God, just give me the ideas, and I can figure out how to make them happen. Or I can figure out how to disperse them to other people, because I get ideas every day, that I’ll call a friend of mine and say, hey, I had this idea, I think you should have it. And it’s not on me anymore after that, like, you know, they can choose whether or not they run with it. And once I once I give it to somebody, you know, I feel like I freely give in the way that God freely gives to me. And so if I have an idea, and it turns into a million dollar idea, and I give it to someone else, because I feel like they are better suited for it, or my time just doesn’t match up, then you know, I feel like it’s in good hands. And it’s kind of up to them to determine what happens after it has been planted.

Eric
I love that spirit of generosity, right? And, and, you know, not all artistic, you know, communities connections have that same spirit, but a lot of them do. Right? They bring this sense of, of collective ownership, right? We share ideas, we move things around. And I think that’s really powerful. Um, so you fell in love and are still in love and this love brought you to Ohio. my home state as well. Go Bucks. What was Cincinnati like when you arrived? You know, what I love about your work is it’s it’s based in a place, right? That’s digital. Whatever, it’s based in humans and streets and politics and pain. You know, so what was Cincinnati like when you arrived?

Allen
When I first arrived, I couldn’t even tell you what it was like, because I refused to leave the house. You know, I moved to Cincinnati, kind of reluctantly. Um, you know, my wife got a job here. She’s in media. She got a position at one of the local news stations. For the first several months, she was driving back and forth to Indianapolis, you know, like it was a thing where she got hired in like November, or it was like September, and we didn’t move until December and she was just driving back and forth every day, which it’s 100 miles, you know, so and then to make it even more of a challenge, you know, her shift that she was on when she was on the morning show, that starts at 4am so she was leaving our home in Indianapolis at two something in the morning to get to the station in time. So when we came to Cincinnati, my thoughts were we are here. This is a pitstop, you know, ultimately, she wanted to do something bigger, she wanted to ultimately end up on the Today Show or somewhere that allowed her to really kind of flourish in a larger environment. She wanted to do morning news, because her personality is just very bright. And so she wanted to do that. So we thought that we were going to be here for three years, five years max, to give her time to kind of, you know, figure out what her role was going to be. And so for me, I didn’t invest any of my time or energy in the city, because I had no plans on being here. I was like, I don’t want to make new friends. I just left an entire city full of friends. I don’t want to meet new people, I don’t want to network, I don’t want to do any of that stuff. I want to get a job, and then go to work. Come home, not talk to anybody. And 200 –

Eric
Sounds like you were a lot of fun.

Allen
Oh, yeah, I was, I was amazing. 200 resumes later, I still didn’t get hired. And so I was like, but I, you know, we’re here, I need to do something that gets me out of the house, I was still doing graphic design, I have my own company doing graphic design. So I was doing freelance work. You know, and in the environment that we’re in now – a lot of people are experiencing COVID – that’s how my life was like I was in the house, working with clients on, you know, using video conferencing. And so I never even had to leave the house to make money. You know, I had clients from all across the country. So until it wasn’t until I finally started to walk out into the community that I was like, okay, this isn’t that bad. You know, so, two years in, I was starting to explore and really kind of fell in love with what Cincinnati. I saw the potential in Cincinnati. And I think as a designer, as an artist, as someone who is always kind of looking to create something, it was a perfect scenario for me, because I always viewed myself – when I was doing design as and brand strategist – as a like a diamond cutter, you know, like, there is something raw that’s there. And underneath all of the things, there’s value, and there’s just some things that need to be cut away. There’s some things that need to be trimmed, you know, and then we polish it up. And then this is what, you know, we create. And so I saw this raw, you know, gem of a city. And I fell in love not with what it was, but what I thought that it could become. And at the time, I had no idea that I was going to be the person who would help it become the sparkling you know, gmm that it is today.

Eric
My name is Eric Dawson. And this is On Course. I’m speaking with Allen Woods, social change leader and Co-Founder of MORTAR. We’ll be back with more after a short break. Welcome back. I’m Eric Dawson. And this is On Course, the podcast from Echoing Green. Today I’m speaking with Allen Woods, social change leader and Co-Founder of MORTAR. How did MORTAR get started? What was the impetus? And what were those early days like?

Allen
Yeah, it was crazy. Um, Derrick Braziel, was a guy I met in Indianapolis, we had actually done an event together. We were both helping entrepreneurs. I went to one of the weekend workshops he was doing, it was just kind of a roundtable for entrepreneurs. It was the first time I had ever met him. But he was doing different events for like pitches where people will come together, everybody would pay a fee at the door, and then it was kind of a winner take all type thing. And another friend of mine, we had decided to do a one day business boot camp, and it was just going to be an intensive, all day panels, everything you know, and I was like, we should add a pitch night. You know, I know this guy who does pitch nights, you know, we should bring him in. And he came in with the worst attitude ever. And I was like, I’ll never work with this dude again. He was terrible.

Eric
So not love at first sight.

Allen
No, absolutely not. But you know, then he ends up moving to Cincinnati, like a year after I moved to Cincinnati. And then he’s like, you know, he reaches out to me, actually, the real story is I saw him post something on Instagram. And he was eating at a restaurant, that’s in Cincinnati and that he and I reached out to him and I was like, oh, you know, like they have, you know a Taste of Belgium in Indianapolis. He was like I just moved to Cincinnati. And I was like, oh so you wasn’t gon tell me that you moved to Cincinnati. Yeah. And so, you know, we kind of were jabbing each other for a little while. And he told me that, you know, he had a friend and he went to college with, and they wanted to talk to me about something that they were considering trying to put together. I met with them, it was the absolute worst pitch I had ever heard in my life. Those are Derek’s words, not mine, but he basically said, hey, we want to do something to help entrepreneurs in the area, the three of us have this common thread of entrepreneurship, we’re three young black men in a community that is, was once 90%, black, and constantly changing. And people were being displaced – it’s currently 60%, black, but the population of black business owners in that community called Over the Rhine did not reflect that margin at all. You know, so on the street, where MORTAR is currently located, there were two black businesses out of about 30 businesses on the street. And so he was like, we have to do something about this, you know, is this something you’re interested in? And, you know, I was 100% in because as I said, I see the potential. So I didn’t look at the fact that the pitch that they gave me was terrible, it was, Hey, this is an opportunity for me to actually walk out of my house every now and then, and do something that I’m good at, to help people to figure out how they can become their better selves, if given the tools and resources. And so that was essentially how we created MORTAR.

Eric
So you had the team, the inspiration, you could get out of your pajamas on a daily basis? Well, first of all, tell us what MORTAR does, like just walk me through the process. And then what was the first class like?

Allen
oh man, so what we do have to I have to tell you the full story. So you know, we started this idea. we pitched it, you know, we did some posters, and started telling people in the community, hey, we want to do these classes to teach entrepreneurship. And we just knew that it was a perfect idea. And we got three applicants. And we were like, oh, no, we didn’t – something’s wrong. Like maybe nobody cares about this. Maybe nobody needs what we thought they needed. Maybe nobody wants to open a business, open a business in this neighborhood. You know, then someone heard about us and did an article. Next thing, you know, there was like an outpouring of favor, you know, we had about 20 applicants within the next two weeks, we had a guy who reached out to us and said, hey you know, I have an office in Over the Rhine that I rarely use. He had a whole other company doing plastics. And you know, he was like, I use this to do venture capital, like twice a week for meetings, but I never use it for anything else. Would you guys like to use the office when I’m not there? Absolutely, sir. And, you know, yeah, Derrick is our resident skeptic. And he said, well, why are you like, what do we have to do? And he was like, nothing. And he was like, but then why are you doing this? And he said, well, do you believe in God? And we were like, yeah, He’s like, well, God is telling me to do this. And I said, well, if I were you, I would listen to God, you know, like, we you should definitely let us use the office!

Eric
And is God saying anything about $100,000 grant maybe?

Allen
Not at that time. Not yet. I’m still waiting, you know, but at that time, you know, we started our classes in this very small office, that was about 500 square feet. We piled 15 people into the room, we, you know, found a curriculum that could get us started. And we started this process, you know, with 15 people who believed in what we were doing, though, we had nothing to show for it. We had no proof of concept. These people didn’t know us, it was just like, hey, we’re willing to take a chance because this is something that we believe in as far as starting their businesses. And they felt like you know, maybe they didn’t have anything to lose. And that’s how MORTAR started.

Eric
Let’s say I’m, I’m a budding entrepreneur in Cincinnati. I, I apply, I get in, what’s my experience like with you? What, what walk me through what you provide what it’s like, what it feels like?

Allen
Absolutely. Um, so first off, we want to provide an environment that feels comfortable. So from the time you go to the website, we want everything to feel very familiar. And so we connect everything kind of to music and to hip hop, you know, when you think of like, the elements of hip hop, all of those things show up in our work. So we have a 15 week accelerator, that includes a curriculum that we wrote. So the one that we licensed in the beginning, we transferred over and we were like, okay, we have to write something that speaks in our language to our people. Something that is culturally competent, and make sure that it includes the additional challenges that come from being a black entrepreneur or a woman entrepreneur, those things that were not included in the previous curriculum. So we have people apply, they go through the process of doing interviews with us, they bring in if they have like a physical product, they bring that we kind of check it out, you know, we want to hear like, what is your dream? What are you doing? Why are you doing this, you know, you, we don’t want people to come and try to start businesses, because their ex-girlfriend told them, they would never do it, you know, we want people who are like, you know,

Eric
revenge entrepreneur

Allen
I mean, yeah, they exist, you know! We want people who are like, yo, I feel called to do this, you know, there’s something that I have, like, whether it’s my gift, my talent, my calling, but I want to use that thing to not only help people, but to monetize, so that for one, you know, in a lot of these communities where there is displacement, they can make enough money to not, you know, be displaced. In the meantime, you know, the policy side comes later, we’re working on that. But in the meantime, if you can just make an extra $200, and stay in your apartment, you know, that’s what we’re working towards. And so, you know, we really build these relationships with our entrepreneurs, we try to build a family environment, you know, so it’s not just a program where they come in for 15 weeks, and then they disappear. We have an 18 month alumni program afterwards, where we offer additional guidance and mentorship, and we’re introducing them to people. Because as we make, you know, new friends and new relationships, we want to make sure that we’re passing those on. So in the same way that I talked about passing on ideas, I want to make sure that anybody I know, you know, you know, we want to make sure that we’re helping them in that way, we also have identified space as a barrier for a lot of people. So we have a network of pop up shops that they can lease from us, it’s difficult to go and get a lease, if you don’t have any paperwork that says, hey, this is my income for last year for my business, because you just started the business. So what we do is we license it, and then we have them come in and use the space and they just pay us to use the space. And then they are able to build up their credit and their business credit and be able to show a landlord that, hey, I can do this, and I have these receipts of the different payments that I have been able to make, you know, and you know, here’s my income for last year. And then, you know, the last component of our programming is that we also have built a fund that allows us to make sure that people have the capital that they need to get started, you know, so for some people, it’s the it’s in the form of loans, some people with grants and other people, it’s equity investments, and we want to just make sure that people have what they need to get started in the process.

Eric
And I’m struck by that image of the 12 year old self who falls in love with photography doesn’t necessarily know a ton of photographers, is not necessarily a place where professional photographers are on every block. And the power of that first yes, that you got from your parents and the ways in which you are doing that exact same thing for entrepreneurs in your community being that being that first yes. And it sounds like it’s like a yes and, like yes, and yes, and yes. And I’d love to hear a success story. Like just brag on something for a moment. Like it could be an entrepreneur or something you built or designed. Yeah, be a proud entrepreneur papa for a moment.

Allen
There’s so many. There’s one person in particular, that is a story of resilience, and a story of patience, especially in a world where people tend to want what they want today. And that story is Brian Jackson. And Brian came to us, he actually went to school with William, our third co-founder. They went to high school together. And he had heard about, you know, the program, he was one of the people who took a risk on us and was like, you know, I’ll try this out, he was in the very first cohort we ever did. And he had already started to think about what it would take for him to build his own brewery. You know, he was, like, you know, I’ve won a couple of home brewing competitions, but I want this to be a big thing. And so he came to us, he did all of the work, he was there to absorb and listen and learn. He gets to our pitch night, you know, at the end, and he actually wins pitch night, which gives him a little bit of seed funding. Not enough to do a brewery. But enough to know, all right, okay, I got something here. A couple years later, we check in with them, you know, see how everything is going. It’s like, well, I’m working at another brewery right now I just want to get better at understanding how to run a brewery, I still want to do one, I just need to learn how to do this. Check in again, he’s working at a place that does distribution. He’s like, well, eventually, after I have my brewery, I want to be able to distribute our products to other cities. And so I have to work at this distributor, so I can learn how to do that. And, you know, we’re like, okay, well keep us posted. A couple years ago, we have a conversation with a developer who’s working in a neighborhood called Walnut Hills, they have this huge development, where they just needed a cornerstone piece, they were like, you know, we don’t know what the thing is. But we need something that really stands out something that’s different, something that has a story to it. You know, it would be cool if it was like some kind of brewery or something, because there’s nothing like that, you know, in this neighborhood. And, of course, at that point, we’re like, well, we know a guy, you know, who’s wanted to do that. And his name is Brian. So we introduced Brian to the developers, they hit it off, they have a great conversation, they are able to, you know, put up some seed capital, and they said, you know, if you can raise this much money, we’ll put in this much money we’re talking about like they need he needed, like a million dollars to do this endeavor. Well, none of our businesses have ever started out, like, you know, first time out the gate, I’m going to start this business, and it’s going to be a million dollar business. And so he did his part to start a crowdfunded campaign, because he wanted people in the neighborhood to have partial ownership of the brewery. He was like, people don’t get a chance to own something like this in this neighborhood. He’s like, I’m gonna hire from the neighborhood. And I want the people in the neighborhood to own this. And he had his grand opening a couple months ago, you know, it’s called Esoteric Brewing and he is continuing to, you know, formulate new types of beer, and he has hired from the community, the community owns the space, you know, the developer has bought into it. And it’s a story for us of not just community ownership, and of patience and resilience, but it’s also a story of what happens if a developer works in a way that is asset-based, you know, where we don’t have developers who do math where you have to subtract people to add people, you know, like, how do we get to a system where developers look at the assets and the culture that’s already there. And they say, we want to add to it, not remove it, and then add something else instead, you know, and so, for us, Brian’s story is the story of why we started MORTAR. And really, you know, I hope to do more, you know, organizations like that, that are large enough to continue to grow and continue to hire, and, you know, ultimately changed communities, you know, just because he took a chance on MORTAR and sat in our program for a couple hours.

Eric
That’s Allen Woods, social change leader and Co-Founder of MORTAR. We’ll be back with more after a short break. Since 2010, Echoing Green and Barclays have partnered to support and accelerate social innovators, who are building an equitable and sustainable world. Barclays employees have volunteered more than 7000 hours to help select and provide technical support to Echoing Green fellows. Thanks to Barclays support, Echoing Green is proud to continue amplifying the voices and solutions of innovators on the front lines of systemic change. Welcome back. I’m Eric Dawson and this is On Course, the podcast from Echoing Green. I’m speaking with Allen Woods, social change leader and co-founder of MORTAR. So Allen, I know a lot of the entrepreneur space and language and narratives are coastal narratives. Right? It’s the Bay Area, it’s New York. What is it like running an entrepreneurship program in the Midwest? In Ohio? What’s been terrific about it? What’s been hard about it? But what are you learning about what, what the particular Midwestern spin on growing businesses and equity look like?

Allen
Yeah. So I, as somebody who was born and raised in the Midwest, you know, all I know, is what it looks like to work from a Midwest perspective, you know, it’s blue-collar, you know, it’s not shiny, you know, though, there are things that are happening, we are not the place that people are coming to, to look for things, you know, when people were I have yet to see on Wheel of Fortune, a trip to Cincinnati, you know, like, you just won a trip to Cincinnati. So it’s, it’s not some exotic place that you know, people are searching for, which is actually kind of a good thing, because we get to fly under the radar, and almost build anything. Like, when you think about a even some of the larger Midwest cities. So like, when you think about a Chicago, everybody has a picture of what Chicago is, we know what Chicago is, when you think of New York, you think of San Francisco, we all know what those cities are, we think LA, we have a picture in our head of what those cities are, when you think of Cincinnati, or you think of Indianapolis or you think of Akron, Ohio, or Kansas City, Missouri, or, you know, even Tulsa, Oklahoma, you know, there’s a lot of these cities that people don’t have a picture of what they are. And I think that that works in our favor, because we are not tied to any preconceived notions of what we have to be, we are operating on a canvas that is still being painted, you know, we don’t have to be anything but what we decide we want to be, and nobody can make us be anything because there’s no expectation. So I think that, you know, it kind of gives us an ability to, you know, do some things that are unexpected. And then once people find out, you know, everybody leaves like, Oh, my God, I didn’t know that this was here. And so it’s always kind of a surprise that’s waiting for the rest of the world.

Eric
So we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, which is wreaking havoc on everything. But it’s been particularly painful for small business owners, folks without a ton of equity. I have to imagine this has been particularly painful for your entrepreneurs, your program, what’s it been like?

Allen
It has been a series of pivots for us, you know, it’s been a message to us to remember that we can’t quit, because there are people who are depending on us. So, you know, as soon as the pandemic hit, we had to reach out to all 275 graduates that we’ve had, you know, whether they were still within their window of 18 months or not, it was like yo, we had, this is our family, we got to check on them and see how they’re doing. There are people that we knew for a fact had decided not to continue doing their businesses, but we had to reach out to them to see how they were doing on a personal level. So for us, it required a lot, um, where there were times when it felt like, our glass was already empty, but we had to figure out a way to continue to pour from it. And so we had to kind of figure out how we were going to continue to stay plugged into the source so that we could have something to pour out. And I think that that’s been this entire journey of the pandemic. And we have no idea how much longer this is going to be. You know, but I think that a lot of people are really empty right now. You know, like, emotionally empty, financially empty. And, you know, people don’t know how much longer they’re going to need to continue to pour out. And at this point, we’re just we’re doing everything that we can to keep people uplifted and inspired and motivated, and we’re trying to help people figure out, you know, new business methodology. And I mean, things are, I think that innovation comes from things like this, you know, because you have to figure it out, you know, um, and for us, we’ve had, we’ve even started doing like virtual academies and starting to think about, what would it look like to have a tech version of what we do, where it’s self-guided, where people could learn how to kind of recover on their own, you know, with a link, you know, a link that they could just download, you know, something that there’s a free version of, you know, where you don’t have to go through our program or be connected to us, but we just need for you to be okay. You know, so for us, it’s just been a time of pivots, innovation, and, you know, trying to be strong.

Eric
I feel oftentimes in the social entrepreneur space, and in the entrepreneur space period, it’s, you know, it’s about the hustle, it’s about relentlessness, it’s about depletion, and pushing. What’s the other side of that for you? Where do you find rest? Grace? Moments of quiet, like, what is it? What is it that you find that that creates some balance?

Allen
All of that stuff is for the birds, man. Like, I used to think like that, you know, like, you know, the whole hustle mentality, and I’ll rest when I’m dead. And, you know, while you sleep, someone else’s working, and it’s just like, man, this is some trash, like, it’s just terrible, you know? And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s flawed thinking, and, you know, for me, I know that there is value in rest, I know that there is like, rest is not a want, it’s a need, you know, so I am trying to be intentional about getting sleep. You know, sometimes I wake up the other day, I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, you know, but in general, you know, I try to get sleep. I don’t, I don’t live the life of the, you know, the lies of what entrepreneurship is supposed to be, you know, I try to make sure that, you know, I rest and whether that’s taking walks, or you know, grabbing my camera, sometimes I just grabbed my camera and just go outside and walk around the neighborhood and shoot, you know, for 10 minutes and hope nobody thinks that I’m the Feds, you know. But, you know, like, who’s the guy with the camera? Yeah. But, you know, I just find the time to do things that bring me joy and don’t feel like work. And sometimes that means that I’m not editing any of my photography, because sometimes that feels like work. So you’re gonna get these raw pictures, you know, out of the camera. I started shooting film again recently, actually, you know, went in repurchased the same camera that my parents bought me as a kid, because I still have that camera, but it broke. And so I re-purchased, actually to have the same model just so I have backups. But so I’m shooting film again, you know, and it’s cool to me to kind of go out and shoot film and not and have that delayed gratification. I think that that’s one of the things that kind of is, you know, refilling for me, is to not have everything right now. And it goes back to that conversation of patience, you know, is I’m going to take these pictures. And in three weeks, you know, I’ll get them developed and it’ll be a surprise to me what happened because I don’t even remember that I took half of this stuff. And you know, it’s, it’s an experience. And I think that for me experiences are where I am being filled right now.

Eric
So many entrepreneurs are focused on reproducing the systems that we’re a part of. And we can build new worlds we can build worlds that mean, being home for dinner with our families, spending Saturdays taking pictures, and as a friend of mine in the church used to say, you know, even God took a day off. So Allen, I want to I want to finish with a round of fast questions. First-word phrase sentence, it comes to your mind. Are you ready?

Allen
That’s dangerous. But yes.

Eric
We like a little danger. So if you could invite one artist living or dead for a walk, who would that be?

Allen
Gordon Parks so I could find out what he said.

Eric
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger?

Allen
That I was capable

Eric
What do you know now that you wish you didn’t

Allen
Ooh, the world is dark, or that it can be

Eric
Favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Allen
At home with my family.

Eric
Worst advice you’ve ever been given?

Allen
I don’t listen to advice, so I don’t know. Like, I’m terrible at advice. Like, I don’t know.

Eric
When was the last time you laughed really hard?

Allen
I don’t know. My daughters probably said something. They, my two daughters are old women. We call them the Auntie’s. I don’t know why they have such old souls. But they probably said something that made me and my wife laugh hysterically.

Eric
Allen, for folks who want to learn more about MORTAR more about you more about your work, how can how can they do that?

Allen
They can find me everywhere. At Just Call Me Allen. I tried to keep it easy. And that’s A-L-L-E-N. And if they want to find anything about MORTAR, its We Are MORTAR, and that’s W-E-A-R-E-M-O-R-T-A-R. And that’s everywhere. So that’s the website, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, all of that stuff.

Eric
Allen from MORTAR, it’s been a real pleasure getting to talk to you. You describe yourself as a husband, father, entrepreneur, in that order. I’d like to close by adding a fourth, which is a diamond cutter. I love the image that you laid out of your calling in life. And what I love about the idea of you as a as a diamond cutter is you’re not you’re not changing the fabric of these folks who come into your orbit. But you’re using your creativity to shape. What the best diamond cutters do is they release the light within right there. They’re not they’re not adding they’re opening up. And you’ve done that for dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs and, and folks who’ve looked up to you, I’ve been inspired by your work and I know you’re just getting started. So thank you.

Allen
I appreciate that. Thank you for the opportunity.

Eric
To learn more about Echoing Green, go to echoinggreen.org. And don’t miss any of our episodes. Subscribe where you get your podcasts. And don’t forget to leave a rating so other listeners can find us. I’m Eric Dawson stay on course.

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