Downtown Partnership Cohort

Business owners of the first five BOOST cohorts stand with Downtown Partnership of Baltimore President Shelonda Stokes (far right). Boost cohorts: The Black Genius Art show, a multimedia creative space and fashion brand owned by Bryan Robinson; Codetta Bake Shop, a café and bakery specializing in desert items owned by Sumayyah Bilal and Christopher Burgess; Elite Secrets Bridal, a bridal design house owned by LaTonya Turnage; Media Rhythm Institute, a hip-hop-inspired media space with a café and educational studio owned by Deverick Murray, Jimmie Thomas and Tiffany Welch; and NKVSKIN, a line of natural beauty products owned by Nikia Vaughan. Photo credit: Downtown Partnership.

In an endeavor to transform Baltimore’s central business district into an entrepreneurial setting more reflective of the city’s demographics, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore recently launched the BOOST (Black-Owned & Occupied Storefront Tenancy) program.

The BOOST Program is an integral part of Downtown Partnership’s initiative of creating a more robust and diverse business community along with inspiring Baltimore’s next generation of emerging Black entrepreneurs.

On July 12, 2021, at Center Plaza, Downtown Partnership executives joined local business and political leaders to announce the first five Black-owned businesses selected for BOOST’s incubator program. The celebratory event was led by Downtown Partnership president, Shelonda Stokes, and featured remarks from Mayor Brandon Scott and City Council president, Nick Mosby.

“Today’s announcement isn’t the end of our journey with these five, amazing businesses. It’s just the beginning,” Stokes said. “We didn’t create BOOST to check off a box and move on. We’re in it with them for the long haul because their success will create opportunities for other entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps.”

BOOST is presented by Fearless, a $40 million Black-owned technology company based in Downtown Baltimore. The company’s founder and CEO, Delali Dzirasa, was also in attendance in addition to dozens of business leaders and community members, including BGE executive Rodney Oddoye.

When Mosby spoke at the podium, he shared what some might consider a concerning statistic. A few decades ago, one could read Black Enterprise Magazine’s Top 100 list of the nation’s most successful Black businesses and easily find about a dozen based in Baltimore alone. Deplorably, that is no longer the case, according to Mosby.

“Look over the past 30 or 40 years, and you see the decline of African-American owned businesses in our city. It was 40 years ago when you could open up a Black Enterprise [Top] 100 list and see 12 or 13, 14 businesses based in the city. That is no longer the case,” Mosby highlighted.

“The last Top 100 report that came out through Black Enterprise only listed one business from Baltimore City, and that’s unacceptable. And that’s why we stand here today.” “We understand and know that it’s pivotal, particularly in our central business district, that it’s reflective of our city. It’s also really important that we create opportunities and incubators that help small businesses grow and thrive.”

Of the 30 applicants for the new incubator program, five were chosen as recipients for BOOST’s inaugural class of cohorts, which were: The Black Genius Art show, a multimedia creative space and fashion brand owned by Bryan Robinson; Codetta Bake Shop, a café and bakery specializing in desert items owned by Sumayyah Bilal and Christopher Burgess; Elite Secrets Bridal, a bridal design house owned by LaTonya Turnage; Media Rhythm Institute, a hip-hop-inspired media space with a café and educational studio owned by Deverick Murray, Jimmie Thomas and Tiffany Welch; and NKVSKIN, a line of natural beauty products owned by Nikia Vaughan.

Robinson, a native of East Baltimore, said being named one of the first BOOST cohorts was “an honor for one because I started out in the city of Baltimore in community settings.” “I’m always looking at social enterprise, linking with other artists and different media,” he added. “It’s all about community outreach, being in the community and representing Baltimore.”

Over the duration of the ceremony, the five businesses had their products displayed for guests to view and inquire about. The BOOST program will provide up to $50,000 in grant funding for capital and operating expenses, according to Downtown Partnership.

Moreover, businesses selected for BOOST will open a physical retail location at one of Downtown Partnership’s pre-identified available downtown storefronts. Thanks to the BOOST initiative, businesses will have access to “a robust cohort of experts for business education and mentorship as well as ongoing technical, legal, accounting, and marketing advice.”

“BOOST businesses will bring new life into empty spaces, and they’ll have the advantage of being in our city’s largest office, residential and tourist areas,” Scott said.

“Already, largely due to the impacts of COVID-19, more people see the value of supporting local business, particularly those who are run by women and people of color. The system has not been fair to these businesses, but we’re changing that with things like this.”

BOOST is supported by BGE; M&T Bank; the Baltimore Development Corporation; Gross, Mendelsohn & Associates; the City of Baltimore Small Business Resource Center; Maryland Small Business Development Center; DLA Piper; the Greater Baltimore Urban League; and the T.Rowe Price Foundation.

To conclude the event, Stokes joined Scott, Mosby, Dzirasa, Oddoye and others along with the five winners for a ribbon cutting to signify the ushering in of a more vibrant, flourishing Black business sector in Baltimore.