Pictured above: Ebony McQueen-Harris talks with Ignite Northside 2.0 participants (L-R) Erika Johnson (Beata Beatus), Anne George (iXMessage), Courtney Plaszenski (Midnight Zone Productions)
By: Alyse Horn-Pyatt, Photography by: Haggerty Media
Alloy 26 was a wire of earnest energy on November 29 during the Ignite Northside 2.0 Showcase Celebration, where participants and supporters gathered to recognize the entrepreneurial success of the program.
The common area outside Alloy 26 held a marketplace, where Igniters hosted booths to explain their business plans, and three participants were invited to compete in a pitch competition where founder of Beata Beatus Erika Johnson won $1,500 to put towards her work.
Influenced by her own experiences, Beata Beatus was created by Johnson “to encourage adolescent girls to heal and live healthy holistic lives through the creative arts, integrative health techniques, and faith-based encouragement,” according to its website. Johnson said the money received will go towards creating partnerships with a nutritionist and yoga instructor, and buying other equipment and materials to begin operating once a space has been obtained.
Courtney Plaszenski, founder of Midnight Zone Productions, and Anne George, creator of iXmessage, were the two Igniters who participated in the pitch competition with Johnson and won $500 each. Ebony McQueen-Harris, Ignite NS program manager, said she had an “Oprah moment” when she was able to reveal that all three participants would walk away with prize money.
“An Oprah moment of any kind is indescribable. This moment in particular wasn’t created alone. It involved a cast of characters and experience that pull together to make the moment happen. Those cast of characters are: first-our communities, then New Sun Rising, One Northside and Jamie and myself. Ignite Northside helped to chip away at one of small businesses oftentimes debilitating barrier; that of access to funding,” McQueen Harris said.
Wadria Taylor, founder of Style Week Pittsburgh, was one of three judges that also included Mac Howison, program officer for creative learning at The Heinz Endowments, and Ayisha Morgan-Lee, founder, CEO and artistic director of the Hill Dance Academy Theatre. Taylor said what stood out to them about Johnson’s business “was her why.”
“Hearing how passionate she was about not just [authentically raising confidence], but the population of young girls [in general] and the fact that she can relate shows a personal connection,” Taylor said.
Johnson recalled the first time she pitched her business concept to McQueen-Harris and Ignite NS Program Assistant Jamie Johnson, feeling like she had a “weird idea” that didn’t make sense, but the two helped Johnson take her plan to the next stages of development.
George, the developer of iXmessage said similarly that McQueen-Harris has a “fantastic way of pushing you and keeping you engaged.” Through workshops and one-on-one sessions, George said she is now able to adequately articulate her business and the ethicacy behind it. It also drove her to apply to the 4.0 Schools fellowship program, which is an incubator program that focuses on innovating the next generation of schools. Recently she was accepted and plans on officially releasing her app in the near future.
“It’s really empowering seeing the connection within the Northside and the cross pollination with businesses,” Taylor said. “Pittsburgh is very fragmented and sometimes that works as a disadvantage because people tend to move and make decisions in silos. It’s great to see such community engagement and such a diverse pool of businesses as well.”
Over the last year, Ignite Northside has helped start and strengthen 32 businesses, utilized four caterers and activated five spaces on the Northside including: Bistro To Go, Chateau Cafe and Cakery, Sprezzatura, Cafe on the Corner, The Pittsburgh Project, Oakglade Realty, Alloy 26, and the Carnegie Library-Woods Run.