Cultivate Rock Hill, a nonprofit organization which looks to provide a location and training to local entrepreneurs, signed a land deal with Freedom Temple Ministries and can now begin planning and building its restaurant and retail “incubator space.” The site will be located on West White Street between Lee Street and Stuart Avenue.
The organization was founded by Charlotte Brown, adjunct professor of management and marketing and member of the Rock Hill Economic and Development Committee, and Brittany Kelly, owner of the Mercantile, to foster economic development in Rock Hill by offering an affordable location and training for local entrepreneurs to open unique businesses.
According to its website, “Cultivate RH will offer a 2 year program called S.E.E.D. (Supporting Entrepreneurs + Economic Development). In this program, entrepreneurs will learn all the necessary skills to open a business. Classes in financing, marketing, economics and networking will be offered as key to set them on the path for success.”
Kelly said the project is focused on diversity, with over 50% of the spaces leased out to people of color.
“That’s one of our biggest hurdles that we want to make sure that we can figure out, because back when I was head on into the Black Lives Matter movement, I realized there were only two downtown businesses owned by Black people, ” Kelly said. “And it just, like, killed me. And we’ve just got to figure out: what is that? And I think, ultimately, it’s the cost of rent.”
Rent will be intentionally kept low: $500 a month for retail, $1,000 a month for restaurants. After the two year S.E.E.D. program, the organization will help renters get a more permanent location in Rock Hill.
Brown, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Winthrop and is currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration at Northcentral University, said she went to Kelly with an idea for a entrepreneurship training program because she felt Winthrop’s program wasn’t doing enough.
“We have a culture of entrepreneurship in the city, but Winthrop’s entrepreneurship program in my opinion needed some more work to it, like the entrepreneurship culture that’s in the city and what exists at Winthrop don’t match,” Brown said.
Cultivate RH’s original planning was delayed due to a previous land deal which fell through. At that location, it planned to have 23 restaurants and retail locations in a shipping container development, which uses shipping containers instead of custom built structures to lower cost. At the new location, however, Cultivate RH’s Facebook page said it will have three times the space and double the entrepreneurs as originally planned.
Brown hopes the organization will be able to partner with Winthrop to provide new opportunities to students, such as sponsoring a shipping container space for a student who wins an entrepreneurship contest.
“With entrepreneurship students, if you don’t have the funding, when you get finished, then you pretty much just have a business idea that’s going nowhere, because funding is very hard to find. So if we’re already on the front end, saying, if you win this competition, you can go into the space and grow your business there for two, three years,” Brown said.
Kelly said she and Brown want this location to be more than just a place of business, but also a community center.
“Not only is it going to just be an incubator for entrepreneurship, it’s also going to be a community hub. So we have a fitness center in there. We have an EA Games Center in there. We have a community garden,” Kelly said. “And then we want to be able to feature local bands, local groups. I mean, we just want this whole hub and sense of community.”
The new location is being leased from Freedom Temple Ministries, a local “aggregation of multicultural believers,” which Kelly said will be more than just a landlord for the organization.
“They will be our landlord in this, but also a little bit more. They want to be a part of this. They want to sponsor some of our entrepreneurs,” Kelly said. “But we’ll treat it just like a regular landlord lessee agreement. However, we just are thankful that they have a lot of the same visions, and they align with what we’re trying to do, as well, in the community.”
While they have to revisit the plans, and may have to change direction slightly due to the rising cost of shipping containers, get permits from the city and build the site, Kelly said she believes it will be built and ready by, at the latest, fall or winter 2022.
This story was written for and published in The Johnsonian on Nov. 17.