The Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem, NC, is located at a crossroads.
It’s where U.S. Route 52 meets Salem Parkway, a thoroughfare that winds through the heart of the city.
It’s where a once-thriving tobacco district becomes a cutting-edge hub for tech and entrepreneurship. And it’s where people of all different backgrounds and identities collaborate and thrive.
All of these unique conditions combined make the Innovation Quarter a place where, for decades, diverse communities have come together to live, learn, work and play. Yet, while people, industry and infrastructure have come and gone and come again, centuries of racial, spatial and economic inequity remain—putting this innovation district at a crossroads of another kind.
A Commitment to Equality and Social Justice
Amid local and national calls to end police brutality and racial injustice, the Innovation Quarter publicly acknowledged that systemic racism and socioeconomic hardlines create deep divisions within the Winston-Salem community. It also announced plans to help repair inequities, disparities and misconceptions through collaborations that level the playing field.
The Innovation Quarter also recognizes that to manifest true inclusivity and equity, it must first acknowledge, with reverence, that its prosperity derives from the success of generations of innovative Black entrepreneurs, workers and families who thrived in the iQ neighborhood-at-large. This Black community has contributed significantly to Winston-Salem’s growth and development, both economically and culturally.
With this in mind, the Innovation Quarter will intentionally support local entrepreneurs of color by continuing to partner, collaborate and share resources with the organizations that serve them. This commitment to inclusivity and equity is essential to empowering any entrepreneurial pipeline. The Innovation Quarter also believes in the power of representation, whether in tech and entrepreneurship, medicine, education, art, or media. To further its commitment to inclusivity and diversity, the iQ will help promote its diverse community members and partners by helping to share their stories.
First, meet HUSTLE Winston-Salem and Soy Emprendedor.
Leveling the Playing Field through Collaboration
iQ Partner HUSTLE Winston-Salem is a force of positive turbulence that provides resources to women, people of color and those in marginalized business districts.
Magalie Yacinthe, a Winston-Salem transplant from Miami, FL, by way of the Bahamas with Haitian roots, is a prominent Black entrepreneur who cofounded HUSTLE WS, an organization that makes sure the local community addresses disparities in economic opportunities. She explains, “We have to make sure that the [entrepreneurial] ecosystem partners in our community understand that inclusion needs to be at the beginning. It needs to be at the root of the organization—or else there won’t be progress.”
Yacinthe, currently HUSTLE’s interim director, founded this organization with J. Matthew Williams, Fay Horwitt, Kellie P. Easton, Daryl Shaw, and Tonya Sheffield in 2015 with the objective “to help grow the local economy by accelerating underrepresented entrepreneurs” by assisting women, people of color and those living and working in marginalized business districts.
HUSTLE combats broken economic systems head-on through efforts like leveraging their relationships throughout the community to open doors of opportunity for minority-owned businesses. “Our small businesses and startups sometimes struggle to get on the radar of major community stakeholders who have big contracts,” Yacinthe shares. “We work to bring them to the table with a Reynolds America or a Hanesbrands, for example.”
A recent HUSTLE success story is their intentional partnership with the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity that allows them to put local, minority-owned businesses at the forefront of MACHE’s vendor list, when appropriate. Two key examples are Honeybee Grocery and Opin Media Agency. “We were able to provide the Maya Angelou Center with two Black-owned businesses we work with that are able to meet their needs,” Yacinthe explains. “We are really proud of that, and more so we’re proud when entrepreneurs like Tamika Wells [Honeybee] and Eric Green [Opin Media] are ready to take on these clients. That’s HUSTLE at our best, helping others be their best.” Baptist Health is now Honeybee’s biggest client.
On top of triumphs like this one, HUSTLE has proven its ability to adapt in the face of adversity. In February 2019, HUSTLE hosted a Black Entrepreneurial Think Tank in the Bailey Power Plant, located in the Innovation Quarter. Over a year later, despite the limitations of COVID-19, it’s virtual learning series “Marketing Outside the Box” has drawn nearly 1,000 participants since the pandemic’s start.
Inspires and educates students to discover a creative, curious and entrepreneurial mindset.
If entrepreneurs like HUSTLE’s clients grew on trees, someone would have cultivated them by planting seeds and watering roots. Karla Mounts, the founder of Soy Emprendedor and a native of Mexico, recognizes that the desire to become an entrepreneur requires nourishment from an early age.
In 2018, Mounts created Soy Emprendedor to fuel an inclusive entrepreneurial pipeline in Winston-Salem, aiming to connect students to existing resources like Innovation Quarter entrepreneurial initiatives and mentors, who work one-on-one with students. With this in mind, this nonprofit launched the pilot program ACCelera, a five-month accelerator that teaches middle school and high school students to develop an entrepreneurial and creative mindset.
Entrepreneurship isn’t uncommon in the Latino community. According to Stanford University, Latinos are the fastest-growing group of small business owners in America. Mounts agrees: “Within [Latin] culture, we are always thinking about ideas, always thinking about how to make things better. Because when times are hard, for many generations, our culture has taught us to survive and to create.”
This community leader believes that one of the entry barriers for Latinos—like many other ethnicities—is that they often primarily engage in enterprise within “cultural pockets.” Mounts says the first step in breaking the glass ceiling is simple:
“It’s important to bring students in at a young age to the resources within the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the Innovation Quarter. Little things like parking to how, exactly, to enter a building, it opens something in their mind. And by the time we finish the program, after just five days, they walk into Bailey Power Plant with the feeling that they belong there. That’s just step one.”
Soy Emprendedor’s drive to expose students to Innovation Quarter’s networks stimulates iQ’s inclusive entrepreneurial pipeline while also addressing spatial injustice. Both Hustle and Soy Emprendedor strive to create equitable opportunities for clients by making them feel they can thrive in unfamiliar settings. “The solution is to make [Latinos] comfortable—to let them know that they are of this community of innovation and entrepreneurship that’s going on downtown. They can be part of that,” Mounts suggests.
Since its inception, Soy Emprendedor has been able to serve more than 20 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County students have done the programming, an internship, or leading other Soy Emprendedor projects. Even in this age of distance learning, Soy Emprendedor has found new ways to accomplish its vision by graduating a new ACCelera class, as well as holding its first summer camp.
Inclusion Fuels the iQ Entrepreneurial Pipeline
iQ’s inclusive entrepreneurial pipeline extends far beyond HUSTLE and Soy Emprendedor. It is the home to organizations like the ACCESS Center for Equity + Success, which helps minority business owners with financing, access to resources such as HUB certification, tech support and contract matching opportunities. It is also the home of the Forsyth Tech Small Business Center, which assists with everything from business and marketing plans to accounting. People of color lead both ACCESS and the Small Business Center—Hasani Mitchell (ACCESS) and Allan Younger (FTSBC).
HUSTLE’s Yacinthe believes that creating synergy among organizations allows businesses to grow: “I’m looking forward to being a funnel for other entities like ACCESS to really take companies to the next level.” She goes on, “Our community is sick in a lot of ways. And everybody can do something different to help fix it. HUSTLE recognized very early on what the illness was within our entrepreneurial community. And it was truly the lack of inclusion.” The interim director finishes cautiously optimistic, “We’re doing better as a community to try to bridge that gap—but it’s a process.”
Together, HUSTLE WS and Soy Emprendedor have collaborated at least five more times to provide entrepreneurial resources to the local minority community—with the first being in October 2019 in the Innovation Quarter.
Another iQ collaboration is the inclusive partnership between HUSTLE and Mixxer Makerspace called “Handmade by Her”. Through this partnership, twenty women have received scholarships to help them turn their “maker” dreams into a reality. One of HUSTLE’s newest initiatives is Our Place, Our Space, a trauma-informed community-wide campaign that holds systems that produce marginalization accountable while celebrating resilience.