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With The 3rd, Howard County nonprofit welcomes entrepreneurial women of color

Laura Bacon left her job in 2020 as a Howard County educator to try her hand at entrepreneurship.

It was a leap Bacon, 39, was initially excited about as she investigated the possibilities of striking out and creating her own business, even though she didn’t as yet have a concrete plan.

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The more she looked, however, the Columbia resident began to notice unique challenges women of color, and Black women specifically, faced as they tried to develop businesses. She saw inequities in access to grant funding and an overall lack of support for and collaboration with entrepreneurial women of color.

“What I was trying to do was create a life for myself and my kids and do what I wanted with my day, doing what I want with my time,” said Bacon, who identifies as Black. “Not only putting myself in that position but also bringing other women with me.”

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So, she went to work creating a space that would broaden the scope of entrepreneurship and an inclusive community that was intentional about bringing in women of color.

The work led her to start The 3rd, a nonprofit based in Columbia that aims to help entrepreneurial women of color have the space, resources and development tools to grow their own businesses. Both business incubator and retail operation, The 3rd will open its doors in the spring and be the first of its kind in Howard County.

“We have a space that is Black women-owned that is servicing women of color entrepreneurs and available to all,” Bacon said.

The name, The 3rd, comes from a concept by American sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who coined the term “third places,” referring to social gathering places separate from the home and workplace that instill a sense of community building.

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Together with grants, 10 corporate partners — including the Howard Hughes Corp. which is helping to subsidize rent for the building — and crowdfunding, the nonprofit will be headquartered in downtown Columbia in the space formerly occupied by the Italian restaurant Lupa.

“The idea is that we’re building this with the community and asking for organizations, corporations and individuals to lend their support,” Bacon said. “The beauty of it is that we are a nonprofit; we are a nonprofit that [helps run] profitable business[es].”

Inside the space will be a cafe, commercial kitchen, juice bar, coffee bar, podcasting space, conference room, market space for women of color vendors to sell their locally made goods and four to five private work spaces.

“The idea is that we’re building this with the community and asking for organizations, corporations and individuals to lend their support,” said Laura Bacon, founder of The 3rd. “The beauty of it is that we are a nonprofit; we are a nonprofit that [helps run] profitable business[es].”
“The idea is that we’re building this with the community and asking for organizations, corporations and individuals to lend their support,” said Laura Bacon, founder of The 3rd. “The beauty of it is that we are a nonprofit; we are a nonprofit that [helps run] profitable business[es].” (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

Bacon said she plans to have the building open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, while also allowing community organizations and businesses to come and use the space after hours for their needs as well.

There will be space for eight to 10 entrepreneurial tenants who can be physically located in the building and pay an as-of-yet undetermined rent.

Right now, Bacon is figuring out who those tenants will be, and Aisha Applewhite is eager to be one of them.

Applewhite, 42, calls baking her No. 1 passion and focus. While she’s spent the past 20 years working as a certified public accountant, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had her look to what brought her the most joy. So the North Laurel resident started Applecore’s Bake Shoppe online to cater to dessert enthusiasts like herself.

Applewhite has continued to work as a CPA, while trying to expand Applecore.

“With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the accountant in me understands that you need to be methodical and careful because the future right now is so uncertain,” she said.

Support from family and friends, as well a restaurant in Laurel and one in Silver Spring that sold her baked goods, helped her start strong, but she wanted a commercial space of her own.

“I wanted to find a space that was local. I didn’t want to have to drive to the big cities to find space; I wanted a space that had a sense of community,” said Applewhite, who identifies as African American.

When she heard about the communal concept of The 3rd, Applewhite said she knew she wanted to be a tenant in the space.

“I know that there are opportunities that exist like this in bigger cities, but I never thought they would have something like this in Howard County,” she said.

Last week she saw the space in person for the first time, getting to tour the amenities she would have access to if she becomes a tenant this spring. Applewhite said she would love to be able to use the commercial kitchen and sell her baked goods to customers in the cafe space.

“This is a phenomenal concept and it’s also, again, local,” she said. “It supports women, it supports women of color, it supports small business owners, it supports the community.”

Besides her excitement for The 3rd’s features, Applewhite is elated to be a part of a community that looks like her.

“I wanted to find a space that was local. I didn’t want to have to drive to the big cities to find space; I wanted a space that had a sense of community.”


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“It is an experience that I have not seen in my career,” she said. “In my 20 years in the workforce, I have not been surrounded by women before. It’s an overwhelming feeling; it’s going to be so motivational.”

Bacon said vendors and tenants also will have access to a holistic development program that was built by Leadership Howard County specifically for The 3rd.

The Leadership Premier program offers members of area nonprofits the opportunity to meet with others to share perspectives, act as sounding boards and solve problems. Bacon applied for the program last summer, asking for a group of Leadership Premier students to create a business development curriculum for the entrepreneurs working at The 3rd.

Laurie Remer, vice president of programs at Leadership Howard County, who oversees the process from start to finish, was there for Bacon’s original proposal and at the end when the group gave Bacon a curriculum she could implement.

“The goal is to get folks much more engaged in community and become community leaders, and this [program] is one of the ways we do it,” said Remer, who is white.

Bacon said she is happy the entrepreneurs who work at The 3rd will have what she calls “a road map for their journey.” More than that, she said, the holistic development program will give data to The 3rd and the county to work with monitoring how entrepreneurs are progressing.

With nearly a year’s worth of pandemic living under her belt, Bacon said she sees the future of the space as a “beautiful ecosystem of us learning and sharing, of us being together,” and no longer physically isolated from each other. She said the communal spaces will give tenants the chance to collaborate in a post-COVID world.

“The beauty of opening something with the COVID-19 knowledge is that you can be super intentional with how you set things up,” Bacon said. “The intentionality of building a space during this time feels really unique.”

For now, she is hopeful the cafe portion of The 3rd can open soon, offering limited hours for pastries and coffee.

“For this to be successful, I think that it takes tremendous support, not just from women of color but from the community so I’m really looking forward to seeing that concept succeed,” Applewhite said.

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