The Making Space Initiative: Empowering Philly’s young entrepreneurs 

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Earlier this month, the city’s Park and Recreation Department established their newest partnership with REC Philly (Resources for Every Creator) to create the Making Space Initiative. This initiative will be monumental for Philadelphians ages 18 and over and is designed to expand and further develop REC Philly’s work in empowering young and aspiring entrepreneurs. 

“Making Space is an opportunity to forge intergenerational connections that make communities stronger and uplift individuals,” said Charlotte Merrick of the Philadelphia Parks and Rec Department.

This initiative will empower and give Philadelphia youth the opportunity to hone in on their entrepreneurial skills and dreams, and allow them to take a shot at running a small business and becoming community entrepreneurs. They will do so by using community recreation centers to host and carry out their small businesses rent free. Additionally, this will increase the use of community spaces and bring more stewardship to community assets. 

Thanks to funding from the The John S and James L Knight Foundation, each selected winner will be given between $25,000 and $75,000 to be able to accommodate the needs of their business. REC Philly and the Philadelphia Commerce Department will handle business support for the entrepreneurs. 

Interested participants can apply in a formal application process. Applications will then be turned over to the advisory board composed of eight individuals who will make the final decisions. The winners chosen will have a group of mentors that will coach them through the development of their business idea to make sure they have the information and tools to succeed. 

The one caveat in exchange for the support is that the entrepreneur has to include a workshop for younger kids in their community who also have an interest in starting a business and would like to find a new way to earn a living.  

A major part of this partnership came about from the support of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell—it has been part of her vision to modernize and expand on the assets of community spaces. In 2019, Ott Lovell  was awarded a Knight Fellowship for innovative public space visionaries. The fellowship came with seed money, which she directed to build her vision for this project, which reimagines the ways recreation centers can be used.

The Making Space Initiative is special in the sense of truly utilizing community centers for small-time business development and hands-on real life skills for young teens and adults in Philadelphia. 

This is about empowering a generation right now, but also instilling from the start, each one teaches one and being able to pay it forward to the next generation as well,” said Will Toms of REC Philly

Toms is a North Philadelphia native and co-founder and chief creative officer of REC Philly, an organization that achieves its mission by giving creatives the space and empowerment to bring their entrepreneurial ideas to life. Toms is a member of numerous other organizations and boards that are advocates for a more equitable Philadelphia. In 2021 was named in Forbes 30 under 30 as a social impact entrepreneur. 

REC Philly will be a facilitator in operating this program at a high level. REC has played a major part in the vision and the model of the Making Space Initiative. Toms, along with other program mentors, will also have a hand in entrepreneurial coaching along with helping the participants develop their business plans.

This partnership is going to allow us to literally make space for entrepreneurs in their own neighborhoods and their own communities. It’s going to allow kids in their own community to see the success they can become,” said Toms.

According to Toms, the initiative has received tremendous support and positive feedback, and the amount of applications so far has exceeded expectations. 

The application process is open through Oct. 7. Finalists will be announced in November. To apply, visit