Economic incubator pumps up Galveston entrepreneurs

For the past six weeks, a group of 15 business owners has been meeting for an intensive, 15-week course aimed at giving entrepreneurs the knowledge to start, maintain and grow a business.

Galveston Mortar Academy is an arm of a Cincinnati-based entrepreneurial incubator program called Mortar Cincinnati. The program helps existing and aspiring business owners with everything from drafting a business plan to branding and marketing, program officials said.

Director Candy Hattingh said Vision Galveston, a nonprofit focused on planning the island’s future, is managing the course through its Incubate Galveston initiative.

The group meets for about three hours each Wednesday night, which includes a lecture and discussion session with a weekly speaker. Hattingh and two entrepreneurs selected by Vision Galveston lead the discussions and manage readings from the group’s business textbook.

The discussions are lively and jovial, but always focused on improving everyone’s individual businesses, Hattingh said.

One student in the first week told Hattingh she now understands what her grandmother meant when she talked about standing on the shoulders of people and picking the fruit they never could, she said.

An advisory committee reviewed about 17 applications when picking the 15 who would represent the first Mortar class in Galveston.

“We interviewed everybody and asked why they want to do this, what are they looking for, where are they at in their business,” Hattingh said.


Husband and wife hot sauce proprietors Melynda Hart and Antonio Lovett have been in business for a long time, so they wanted to learn how to scale up their operations, Hattingh said.

The couple moved to Galveston from Seattle, Washington, about two and a half years ago specifically to expand their hot sauce business, Lovett said.

“We moved to Galveston because, No. 1, it’s Texas,” Lovett said. “Texas hot sauce has more value than hot sauce from anywhere else. Louisiana has their own thing; Tabasco people are Tabasco people. But when you say hot sauce, you think Texas.

It’s like buying cigars from Cuba, Lovett said,

“Mortar has allowed us to know there’s a network out there we didn’t know about,” Hart said. “It gives you a bit more confidence that if you hit hard times there’s going to be some people to back you up and help you figure out what’s next.

“That, I think, has been the biggest benefit to us of joining Mortar.”

The program has helped Lovett and Hart to have a better direction, and to reaffirm their passion for the business, Hart said.

“It also just helps us to find what it is we want,” Hart said. “It’s sometimes hard to see the questions when it’s just the two of us. When other people are asking those questions, they open angles we didn’t see or don’t even think to think about.”


Zurisaday Robbins Briz learned that maybe her business name needed changing, she said.

Robbins Briz’s business, Gulf Coast Alianza, is, “an attempt to help bridge the gap of language access in our community by offering translation services,” she said.

Her business name originally was in Spanish, but she decided to change that to a mix of English and Spanish to reflect her business’ aim, she said.

“My company will be consulting on an individual basis with a client or company to see how we can translate their information to better convey to the community,” Robbins Briz said.

There’s a hot market for Spanish translation, especially among hospitals and schools, Robbins Briz said.

“There isn’t even an attempt to translate a lot of information that goes out in our community,” Robbins Briz said. “We don’t have the reputation, so I want to make sure we capture that need by providing equitable language access and not excluding members of the community because of language.”

Robbins Briz, whose parents emigrated with her from Mexico when she was nine in 1991, has seen firsthand the lack of access Spanish speakers have in Galveston schools, she said.

“I have seen it being a first-generation Latina immigrant, and I have seen it in my 18 years in professional roles,” she said, citing work experience at the University of Texas Medical Branch and Galveston Independent School District.

“Many of my professional roles have involved working with translation and also advocating for the Latina community, even though it wasn’t part of my job description. It just had to get done.”


The class will hold a pitch competition at the end of the course, where each student will give a business pitch with a chance to win a grand prize of more than $5,000 for their business.

The class has quickly come together and formed a family-like unit. The discussions are productive and friendly, with a touch of humor. Every student who spoke to The Daily News spoke about the class with reverence and gushed about how much positivity they feel in the meetings and the helpful business tweaks they’ve made thanks to the class.

“Watching their growth over these six weeks makes you feel like a proud sibling,” Hattingh said.

MORTAR of Galveston's first cohort began in January 2024, with the support of CGMF grantee Vision Galveston and the Ippolito Charitable Foundation of Galveston.

A CGMF-funded and organized learning journey to Cincinnati in October 2022 introduced Galveston leaders to MORTAR Cincinnati. Leaders were impressed with its model of enabling historically marginalized entrepreneurs to access the resources needed to start and run viable businesses.  

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