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Akron Launches Rubber City Match to Support Entrepreneurs, Fill Storefronts

North Hill storefronts
Akron's Rubber City Match program aims to support entrepreneurs while matching property owners with vetted business tenants to help strengthen the city's small business districts.

At his state of the city address Wednesday, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan will announce a new program to help entrepreneurs launch or expand their businesses while filling vacant storefronts  in 10 of the city’s small business districts.

The Rubber City Match program asks entrepreneurs to apply to win one or more awards to help them overcome obstacles that often thwart new businesses.  According to the city, the program is based on a similar successful project launched in Detroit in 2015.

The competitive program offers four levels of support, including:

  • Business Plan Award - free tuition to attend Mortar, a 15-week accelerator course at Bounce, designed to sharpen business skills and develop a business plan.  The program focuses on entrepreneurs who are often under-served.
  • Space Award - technical assistance to help choose the right space for the business, and micro-grants to pay attorneys to review lease documents
  • Design Award -  grants to pay for architectural drawings for the build-out of a new space
  • Cash Award – grants from the city to fill the financial gap between what a business owner can spend and what the lenders are willing to lend. Up to $100,000 in grants will be given away to small businesses in year one.

“Anyone with an entrepreneurial idea is eligible to apply and the further you are along on the journey, the higher level you’re going to qualify for, but Mortar’s going to be great for those people who have a vision but they don’t quite know how to take that to a business plan,” said Akron Press Secretary Ellen Lander-Nischt.

Rubber City Match is also intended to help property owners looking to fill business spaces in 10 neighborhoods in Akron’s Great Streets program, which aims to improve the small business districts around the city to help revitalize neighborhoods.

In the Rubber City Match program, Akron property owners can apply to be matched up with a potentially viable business.

“We have already put that tenant through an evaluation process and we know that they are viable so I think that gives that property owner a lot of assurance that that tenant is going to be as promising as it can be,” Lander-Nischt said. “We get to be that intermediary kind of matchmaker between a viable and either growing or new business and a vacant property.”

In Akron’s Rubber City Match, competing businesses will be scored on five criteria, including vision and plan, experience and capacity, market opportunity, community support, and leverage of investment.

Visit Rubber City Match to apply as an entrepreneur or a business owner.