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UC engineering alumna speaks to aspiring entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is not a journey to embark upon lightly, UC grad Victoria Sumner says: 'This is not just being your own boss’'

headshot of a young African American woman wearing glasses and long braids, smiling

Victoria Sumner and her team offer vital resources to startups

An entrepreneurial consultant urged University of Cincinnati students harboring dreams of launching their own businesses to get started now.

Victoria Sumner (chemical engineering, ’16), spoke to an Intro to Business class at University of Cincinnati Blue Ash.

Sumner was invited to speak on non-traditional entrepreneurship by class instructor Cindy Jones, MBA. Sumner presented on services provided by her employer, Mortar, a nonprofit incubator that helps underserved entrepreneurs start or grow their businesses in redeveloping areas. Topics included steps to starting a business, hardships associated with business start-ups - business knowledge gap, capital gap, network gap, and more.

To demonstrate paths to success, she shared several of Mortar’s success stories.

Founded in 2014, Mortar has a mission statement to tear down as many historical and systemic barriers as possible, with the goal of launching businesses that create jobs and circulate dollars locally.

Serving aspiring and current business owners, Mortar offers prospective entrepreneurs direct exposure to career paths and best practices.

At Mortar, we seek to serve the people who hear ‘no’ a lot.

Victoria Sumner, UC graduate

As a program and evaluation manager for Mortar, Sumner performs a variety of crucial functions that contribute to the company's continued success.

She coordinates the communication between stakeholders, manages curriculum beta testing and assesses programming content for culturally inclusivity. To help Mortar stay on trajectory, she analyzes current and future barriers in entrepreneurship and other incubators, and collaborates to propose responsive, scalable solutions.

“Being aware of the past can inform us on where we need to head in the future,” she says, “and how we can bring people along with us.”

The centerpiece of Mortar’s educational program is its MORTAR Entrepreneurship Academy, a 15-week course, which includes on-site legal support provided by UC's College of Law. 

We want to show people that these are spaces you can occupy."

Victoria Sumner, UC Chemical Engineering graduate

Sumner offers advice to students pursuing a similar career path: “Start now! Do your research – find out if your business idea has a part of the market. Ask yourself: ‘Will people actually pay for my product or service?’”

Passion for your idea is crucial. Sumner encourages entrepreneurs to stick with it, even when things seem daunting.

“No one will take your business more seriously than you,” Sumner said. “You have to show professional and personal conviction for your idea.”

Sumner said her experiences at UC helped solidify her commitment to creating “the sense of community and commitment to excellence that were invaluable to my success in college.”

Her participation and leadership in the Darwin T. Turner Scholars Program, Emerging Ethnic Engineers Program, National Society of Black Engineers and serving as a missionary through Chi Alpha Campus Ministries helped shape her as a person, she said.

Sumner she was grateful for the help she received along the way from influential and supportive people, particularly staff in the Emerging Ethnic Engineers program such as Ken Simonson and Christine Johnson and Cheryll Dunn, PhD.

Cheryll Dunn is a champion of students who may be overlooked. She makes sure students have doors to walk through.

Victoria Sumner, UC alumna

In the future, Sumner hopes to continue cultivating her interest in water sustainability and access, which was partly inspired by her work in the Summer NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  

In alignment with her personal values and professional goals, she has developed the passion and desire to have a career in water treatment and in ministry.