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This Business Incubator in Flatbush is Paving the Way for a Thriving Brooklyn

Located in the bustling intersection of Flatbush and Caton Avenue, The Mangrove is putting power back into the people's hands.
Caton Flats, a community-based development, is home to not only Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace, but the Mangrove, a business incubator and learning annex. Photo: Provided/Marino.

If you're starting a new business venture and need support, fear not: The Mangrove, a business launchpad center in Flatbush, is teaching crucial entrepreneurial skills and providing resources so locals can sow the seeds of success and flourish right here in Brooklyn.

The one-year-old business incubator is located within the historic Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace, formerly known as Flatbush Caton Market, and is geared specifically to local entrepreneurs of color in food, design, body care and craft. 

The center offers a 12-week Community Business Academy, a membership to a shared commissary kitchen, a state-of-the-art design studio, a dynamic schedule of courses, an extensive library of resources and business coaching with free and low-cost options. Public housing residents and entrepreneurs living in the 11226 ZIP code can apply for subsidized memberships. Otherwise, rates start at $20 an hour. 

And, the center will soon begin accepting applications for the latest offering to the already-extensive list available to business owners: A six-month fellowship program in partnership with the Parsons School of Design. 

The former Flatbush Caton Market building in 2013. Photo: Google Street View. 

The Mangrove x Parsons School of Design Fellowship includes a $30,000 stipend and unrestricted access to both Mangrove and Parsons facilities for a year. This program seeks individuals with a deep understanding of community needs and a strong collaborative vision for enhancing life in Brooklyn, Abdullah Elias, interim director of the Mangrove, said. The first cohort graduated in March 2023. 

"Originally the fellowship was meant to get students to take classes down here but then we started to have conversations around gaps in [Parson's] programming and how there is a huge issue around the translation between community and development," said Elias.

"Development is not only about getting somebody a seat at the table but it also means to fill the room.”

The business incubator is just the latest venture in the more than 20 years of impact the market has had on the neighborhood, Elias said.

The interior of Flatbush Caton Market. Courtesy of Urbane Development.
The newly redesigned Flatbush Central. Photo: Provided/Urbane Development.

In 2000, the first Caribbean-born woman elected to the city's legislature, Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, founded FCM to address the vulnerability of Flatbush's Caribbean street vendors and act as a shield from gentrification and rising rents.

"The Mangrove was established just a year ago but The Flatbush Caton Market has been a community force for over 20 years," Elias said.

"Dr. Una Clarke always had a vision of having an incubator space on this space... She always envisioned a space where this can be the welcoming center for Caribbean people and Black and Brown people in the area to start up businesses and develop their cultural and economic wealth together." 

In 2015, developers Urbane Development and BRP Companies proposed a mixed-use building on the site of the market and got approval from the City. In May 2022, the building was officially opened. The new building, known as Caton Flats, has more than 250 units of affordable housing, offices, secure space for more than 40 merchants, 10,000 square feet of retail and a 5,000-square-foot community space.

The Mangrove's acclaimed 12-week Business Incubator aims to help small businesses get off the ground and prepare them for long-term success. Photo: Provided/The Mangrove Community Business Academy.

During the construction, Urbane established Mangrove in a temporary space adjacent to the project site, Elias said. Together, Mangrove and Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace now stand as a vibrant hub for community prosperity, offering cutting-edge production facilities and guidance to foster entrepreneurial ventures.

Through monthly community market days, sewing classes, school brunches with Erasmus High School students and cooking sessions with vendors and community members, Elias said the Mangrove extends its influence far beyond its front doors.

And, as summer approaches, Brooklynites should expect a bustling season of programming with each event forming a transformative vision of what Brooklyn life can truly be, Elias said. 

“Flatbush is an epicenter of Caribbean and Black culture in, not only New York, but also the country,” said Elias.

"As far as business is concerned, there are a million independent businesses in this neighborhood. They each have amazing products, concepts and geniuses the list goes on and on. Flatbush is a neighborhood of entrepreneurs.”

The application for the fellowship will be announced here