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Mayor Woodfin and Mastercard to announce programs to help grow small businesses in Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA — Aug. 2, 2021 — Mayor Randall L. Woodfin will join representatives with Mastercard and the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity on Monday, Aug. 2 at 11 a.m. to announce Mastercard initiatives designed to help small African-American businesses thrive. The announcement will take place at Ursula Smith Company, 424 16th St. North.

The Magic City is the first municipality in Alabama to offer a Mastercard program designed to help “cash only’’ businesses establish a digital format to accept payment from consumers. It’s known as Ascend Birmingham. The City of Birmingham and Mastercard have found that several small businesses do not have a website. They have also found that several businesses are not set up to accept credit card and debit card payments for their products, leaving them to only accept cash. What Ascend Birmingham will do is give these businesses the tools to grow their business online with free website software, access to a Square to accept digital payments, consult with an advisor and more.

African-American small businesses with “cash only’’ set ups must complete six virtual classes, which will be held Aug. 23 – Oct. 4, to qualify for the resources. To register for the classes, visit

This new initiative is centered on supporting local Birmingham small businesses as they seek to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and provide contactless, safe and socially distanced business practices.

“The City of Birmingham is thrilled to partner with MasterCard on this key initiative, which will go a long way in reaching our goal of making Birmingham a hub for minority-owned small businesses,” Mayor Woodfin said. “Allowing these businesses to flourish in digital spaces not only increases their reach but their creative potential as well. It’s an incredible opportunity for our business community.”

Mayor Woodfin and Mastercard will also recognize three Birmingham businesses Mastercard selected to be part of its national Priceless campaign, which highlights creative businesses offering unique experiences for patrons. Ursula Smith, founder of the Ursula Smith Dance Co.; Evan and Eleny Christen, owners of Pinspiration Birmingham; and Tanesha Sims-Summers, founder and CEO of Naughty But Nice Kettle Co. are the Birmingham Priceless honorees.

Smith said she went digital one month after opening her dance studio on Feb. 1, 2020 because of the pandemic. “My business thrives on personal contact and when the pandemic hit, I had to make a pivot and offer virtual classes,’’ Smith said. “From March 2020 to April 2021 , we had 127 virtual dance classes and rehearsals for children and adults. Digital definitely helped stabilize my business because I was able to make contact with my students and people in the community. Those contacts opened me up to an even broader audience in that I went international. We had people from Japan and Australia to take classes online.’’

Since 2018, Smith has produced “The Brown Sugar Nutcracker’’ every December with children, youth and adults performing in person. But because of the pandemic, Smith shot a film over two weekends in Birmingham to show it online. She tied in the traditional story of The Nutcracker to the history of Birmingham. She said the film gave people a sense of hope, comfort and relief after being indoors for so long because of COVID-19.

“We talked about the resilience, the beauty, and the conquering spirit of Birmingham. The film brought tears to people,’’ she said. “I still watch the movie to keep myself encouraged. I believe it was because of my pivot that Mastercard selected me for Priceless.’’

The goal of Mastercard’s Priceless campaign is to elevate the voices of the small business community by highlighting them on The online profiles showcase how the companies are connecting with their communities, providing unique experiences, and motivating others.

A third initiative Mastercard is offering is an online business resource known as Birmingham Digital Doors. More information about it can be found here.