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A ‘hub’ for immigrant entrepreneurs is opening in Mt. Airy

A Hub workshop. February 2, 2016 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
Twenty-four-year-old Mercy Kitonga, an immigrant from Kenya, was already crafting boldly printed women’s blazers and layered infinity scarves for sale on her website.

But it wasn’t until she linked up with the Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub, a new project of Mt. Airy USA, that she began to think about the “bigger picture” for her business.  

Kitonga, a self-taught seamstress, is part of a cohort of entrepreneurs who receive free workshops in business fundamentals, along with professional support and coaching from industry experts, courtesy of the Hub.

Located at 6700 Germantown Ave., the Hub uses “a multifaceted approach to helping immigrant entrepreneurs,” said Brad Copeland, the executive director of Mt. Airy USA.

The Hub, which is hosting its public launch this Thursday, received startup funding through the Knight Cities Challenge and is laying the groundwork for an immigrant-centered, place-based solution to economic development in Mt. Airy.

Along with business basics, services tailored for immigrant communities round out the Hub’s offerings. Finata, a nonprofit community lender, and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians offer credit counseling and English classes, respectively, for entrepreneurs who may need to pursue a business loan or polish their language skills.

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Since the start of the Hub’s pilot phase in November, about 20 immigrants from around the globe with “pretty diverse business ideas” became members, Copeland said. Though many of the initial participants were referred from partner agencies, more entrepreneurs are expected once the Hub rolls out a dedicated marketing campaign.

One of Mercy Kitonga’s pieces. (Photo from mercykeyfashions.com)

An anticipated challenge for the Hub, according to Copeland, will be to ensure that individual entrepreneurs receive the right formula of support and resources to move their business ideas forward, a task that will likely require experience and finesse.

“We have some folks who are already operating businesses and folks who are more on the conceptual level,” acknowledged Copeland, whose organization is prepared to leverage its established connections within the Mt. Airy business community.

For emerging entrepreneurs like Mercy Kitonga, who dreams of opening a brick-and-mortar retail location one day, that means touring the nearby commercial district, meeting with local business leaders, and receiving guidance from an expert in the fashion business.

Although she lives outside the city and was not previously familiar with Mt. Airy, Kitonga would consider setting up shop in the neighborhood when her business grows.

“I went around the place and it looked really great,” she said.

Her new familiarity with the area is the driving idea behind the Hub — one that Mt. Airy USA ultimately hopes will draw more residents, fill vacancies and lend an already-distinct neighborhood a global vibrancy.

“We’re looking to have immigrants consider this section,” Copeland said. “We would love to have everyone settle on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy, but we’re not that greedy.”

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