Above: The second cohort of the Innovate program during a showcase in November 2022. Photo by Akyera Thompson. To view more photos from the event, click here.
During Christina Leeman’s time as a social worker, she became highly aware of the lack of affordable housing in Aliquippa.
According to the Vibrancy Index, there are 9,238 residents in the community and 56 percent of residents are homeowners compared to 71 percent in Beaver County.
“I never realized the problem and how hard it was to find safe housing,” Leeman said. “It was really put on my heart to pursue this, then Covid happened. But now doors are opening and now is the time.”
In November of last year, Leeman completed the Innovate program to help formalize her business Unique Grace Properties, which aims to connect rent burdened families with safe and affordable housing so they can thrive. The three month cohort is for early stage entrepreneurs with the goal of launching leaders in the direction of their dreams.
Greenhouse Lab hosts Innovate, and Leeman learned about the program from its Executive Director John Jordan.
“Innovate is specifically designed for people who are either starting new businesses and nonprofits, or who desire to get more serious about a side hustle they’ve been operating,” Jordan said.
Leeman currently has one house she and her husband are fixing up to rent with the vision of acquiring four more houses over the next two years. Through her involvement with Innovate, she was able to work individually with a coach who helped her hone in her business plan, and in group sessions she could talk through her ideas with the other 12 participants to get feedback.
Ferdinando Turkovich was in the latest cohort with Leeman for his business Crossroads Craftsmens Shoppe. He said the six group sessions and one-on-one coaching sessions worked out perfectly with his schedule and provided him with the direction he needed.
“Innovate helped me synthesize my dream and make it something more tangible,” Turkovich said. “I was able to process the information in my head in such a way that allowed me to put it on paper and see it as something that is obtainable instead of something that, in the mindspace, dies on the cutting board.”
Crossroads Craftsmens Shoppe is a custom woodworking shop with the goal to provide heirloom quality wood products at affordable prices, but the ultimate goal is to create a makerspace that provides access to professional tools, advice, and “allow individuals to explore their healing through tactile activities.”
Turkovich would like to work with adolescent kids who’ve experienced trauma and provide them with coping mechanisms through woodworking. Eventually, he would like to add metal fabrication and auto-body repair to the shoppe.
“Those are the three main areas that if you learn one of those trades you are most likely to be successful, and when I say successful, I mean it’s something that you can rely on that ultimately gives you a [profession] and a way to escape the things that are going on around you in a healthy way,” Turkovich said.
The Innovate program also included: Michelle M. Gabriel, Good Noodle Neighborhood; Stephanie Mason, Mason’s Delectable Delights; Karyn Stuart, The Sanctuary; Jamyra Harrell, Traveling Arrows; Melissa A. Rhines, Broken in2 Beautiful; Chynna Wilcox, The Table ESL Center; Lakeshia Tucker, B3 Women’s Empowerment Community; Erik Kerr, Getting Ahead Beaver County; Maximilian Elliot, The Lemonaide Lab; Marquay Priest, Priest Cleaning Solutions; Troi Moon, Moonlight Hair Co.
When Jordan co-founded Greenhouse Lab in 2020, he wanted to create a social impact incubator to help people start new businesses and nonprofits that would “revive and renew” the Aliquippa community. They offer five different services to leaders through a platform that builds on relational, practical experiences of the grassroots leaders in the area: strategic coaching, relevant trainings, marketing support, shared workspace, and financial management.
Innovate is one of the two main programs offered by Greenhouse Lab, the second being Cultivate, which is designed for Innovate participants to continue receiving support as they implement their plans and launch their initiatives. Jordan said the development of these programs was largely based on materials from New Sun Rising’s Launch Incubator curriculum.
“NSR said ‘Here is our stuff, adapt it if you need to,’” Jordan said. “Scott [Wolovich] and I have met pretty regularly for him to coach me through this and make sure we are adapting stuff well. I really value his input into the process and helping me think through things differently.”
The first session of Innovate was held in the early months of 2022 with seven participants, and the second cohort nearly doubled in size with 13 participants. The third cohort will begin February 2023 with a cap of 10-12 participants.
Jordan said the program is able to work at the capacity of how many coaches are available for the number of participants, which is volunteer based. When the second cohort concluded in November 2022, the program held a showcase for participants to present their full-formed ideas.
“A lot of the coaches left saying, ‘If we could just bottle up that showcase and give that to people [to hold on to].’ It was a really cool night to experience what these folks represent in our community and what they’re bringing to our city and the cities around us,” Jordan said.
If you’d like to volunteer as a coach for the Innovate program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to learn more and support Unique Grace Properties, email email@example.com. For Crossroads Craftsmens Shoppe, email firstname.lastname@example.org.