Crowdfunding Empowers Baltimore Businesses

Posted June 6, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Graphi image of a box with an idea bulb coming out of it and a label tht says "crowd funding." People are approaching the box holding coins.

Charles Street Devel­op­ment — a long­time grantee of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion that sup­ports busi­ness­es along Baltimore’s Charles Street cor­ri­dor — recent­ly part­nered with local non­prof­it Com­mu­ni­ty Wealth Builders to con­nect Bal­ti­more res­i­dents with a new approach for fundrais­ing: crowdfunding.

Through the Mary­land Neigh­bor­hood Exchange, Com­mu­ni­ty Wealth Builders pre­pares and sup­ports Bal­ti­more entre­pre­neurs — espe­cial­ly busi­ness own­ers of col­or and women — to launch investor-tar­get­ed com­mu­ni­ty crowd­fund­ing campaigns.

Many entre­pre­neurs expe­ri­ence fund­ing chal­lenges when start­ing and grow­ing their busi­ness­es,” said Sara Coop­er, a senior asso­ciate with the Foundation’s Bal­ti­more Civic Site. With the Mary­land Neigh­bor­hood Exchange, entre­pre­neurs can raise cap­i­tal using grass­roots invest­ments from com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who care deeply about local businesses.”

Forg­ing Main Street Partnerships

The part­ner­ship between Charles Street Devel­op­ment and Com­mu­ni­ty Wealth Builders was found­ed on a shared mis­sion to eco­nom­i­cal­ly empow­er Bal­ti­more res­i­dents through new jobs and entre­pre­neur­ship opportunities.

Invest­ment crowd­fund­ing real­ly appealed to us as a fund­ing mod­el because it’s a great way for reg­u­lar peo­ple to build assets and wealth,” said Stephanie Geller, Com­mu­ni­ty Wealth Builders’ founder and director.

Last year, the Mary­land Neigh­bor­hood Exchange and Crowd­fund Main­street launched Crowd Fund Bal­ti­more, a fundrais­ing plat­form designed specif­i­cal­ly for Bal­ti­more busi­ness­es. We cre­at­ed Crowd Fund Bal­ti­more so res­i­dents could have a ded­i­cat­ed, SEC-licensed crowd­fund­ing plat­form that was easy to use,” said Geller. A lot of the larg­er plat­forms charge expen­sive fees and just aren’t a great fit for some small businesses.”

Kristin Speak­er, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Charles Street Devel­op­ment, said the Mary­land Neigh­bor­hood Exchange and Crowd Fund Bal­ti­more have been great resources for many of the entre­pre­neurs they work with. There are a lot of small busi­ness­es in the cor­ri­dor, and crowd­fund­ing has been a great tool for them to have access to.”

Crowd­fund­ing Suc­cess Sto­ries in Charm City

To date, more than 70 Bal­ti­more-area small busi­ness­es have launched crowd­fund­ing cam­paigns with the sup­port of the Mary­land Neigh­bor­hood Exchange.

Keyia Yal­cin is one such entre­pre­neur. She raised mon­ey to launch Fishies, a dog treat com­pa­ny that reuses unused pieces of fresh fish from her seafood restau­rant, Fish­net.

Crowd­fund­ing did two very impor­tant things for my busi­ness,” said Yal­cin. First, it gave me the funds that I need­ed to start my busi­ness, in a financ­ing mod­el that is both com­mu­nal and equi­table. Sec­ond, it con­firmed to me that I actu­al­ly had a good idea. The com­mu­ni­ty mod­el is incred­i­bly empow­er­ing because it says to the dream­er that they are seen and that their idea holds incred­i­ble potential.”

Ire­na Stein, own­er of the pop­u­lar Venezue­lan restau­rant Alma Coci­na Lati­na, used the Crowd Fund Bal­ti­more plat­form to raise funds for her new arepa bar, Can­dela. So far, Stein has raised more than $80,000, and con­struc­tion on the restau­rant has recent­ly begun.

Ini­tial­ly, it was real­ly hard to stay on top of the crowd­fund project for Can­dela,” said Stein. Once Com­mu­ni­ty Wealth Builders and Charles Street Devel­op­ment real­ized our strug­gles with tim­ing, they stepped in and pre­pared our to-do list step by step. They also advised us along the way when need­ed and we dis­cov­ered avail­able resources of all kinds for small busi­ness­es, which has been incred­i­bly important.”

What’s Next for the Mary­land Neigh­bor­hood Exchange?

Oth­er Bal­ti­more-area crowd­fund­ing cam­paigns sup­port­ed through the Mary­land Neigh­bor­hood Exchange include:

  • Zehbras, a new Black woman-owned Cross­Fit gym;
  • Boyd Cru Wines, a Black fam­i­ly-owned wine com­pa­ny that plans to open a tast­ing room and com­mu­ni­ty mar­ket­place; and
  • Joy­hound Beer Co., a beer com­pa­ny owned by a fam­i­ly of Black sci­en­tists that plans to open a Bal­ti­more tap­room with an onsite brew­ing facility.

Most busi­ness­es still don’t know that they can access cap­i­tal on their own terms through this amaz­ing tool,” said Geller. Peo­ple want to see great busi­ness­es in their neigh­bor­hood suc­ceed and invest­ment crowd­fund­ing is a proven way to help that happen.”

Learn how one fund backed Baltimore’s entre­pre­neurs of col­or dur­ing the pandemic

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