Openness, willingness, humility, diligence and kindness.
These are the words that Donald Carter would use to describe Kansas City’s startup community, which he said had a profound impact on his life perspective.
“(These values) are prevalent among all the people from the startup community I’ve met, which made a deep impression on me,” Carter said. “They’re willing to do whatever they can to help and boost what you’re doing. That doesn’t exist in a broader sense.”
Little did he know he would soon become the embodiment of these infectious startup values.
On Friday evening, Carter saw a spark on the other side of the drive-through window at the Popeyes Chicken off Prospect — a young girl with a dream to go to nursing school. While sitting in front of his house eating the chicken, he decided to pay it forward.
“I don’t know her. Never seen her before today. Nothing. The thought just dawned on me,” Carter said on the GoFundMe page that he created for her that evening. “I have about 1,300 or so friends on Facebook, I think. If I put the call out there, maybe people would want to do something kind for this random young woman. So I’m doing something a little different than I’ve ever thought before … What if I got some friends together and we put this girl through school to get her CNA license?”
And as a reporter, I’ve seen that it’s this “give-first” mentality that makes Kansas City’s startup community so magnetic, and it’s something I’ve heard time and time again since joining Starland News in July.
When Techstars announced the launch of its Kansas City program in the fall, managing director Lesa Mitchell nodded to the “thriving” Kansas City startup ecosystem. When international coworking firm WeWork also announced its decision to open a Kansas City office, Adam Wacenske expressed its interest in the metro’s startup community.
In my nine months of reporting on Kansas City entrepreneurs, I’ve yet to meet a founder that has not directly credited their success to the generosity of the Kansas City startup community. Is it the Midwestern hospitality, or the nature of entrepreneurship? Maybe it’s a beautiful combination of both. Either way — people like Carter can’t stop talking about it.
“It’s been monumental, (the startup community) has been more than a mere inspiration,” Carter said. “It’s made me more excited and happier about things than I’ve ever been before.”
It is fair to say that Carter’s positivity stems from his faith in humanity. Always passionate about helping others, Carter left a decade-long career as a police officer to explore entrepreneurial opportunities and build his community.
After being randomly introduced to members of the startup community a year ago, he was hooked. He currently works with the local startup HipHire and volunteers regularly at MECA Challenge as a mentor for teams of high school and college students.
When Carter originally created the GoFundMe campaign Friday evening in an effort to help the young woman, his goal was $1,500. Carter said that the first people who responded to the call to action were members of Kansas City’s startup community.
“One of the things that I realized was that people when they come together around an idea, which I learned through MECA Challenge, is that the ideas that people are going to come up with collectively are greater than any idea that could have been come up with individually,” Carter said. “If you’re isolated, you lose out on the synergy that happens. It’s a power and a magic that happens when a group of people come together.”
To his surprise, the random act of kindness quickly received national attention and the goal was surpassed in less than 24 hours.
Thanks to encouragement from members of the startup community — whom he calls the “early adopters and cheerleaders” for the GoFundMe campaign — Carter went on to dream bigger, upping the goal to $7,000 to help the young woman become a licensed practical nurse.
On Sunday after merely 36 hours and over $3,000 committed toward the goal, Carter and startup community friends decided it was time to go to Popeyes to deliver the good news to the young woman, Shajuana Mays.
It was then when Carter realized how well spoken and passionate Mays was, and that he did the right thing believing in that spark.
“This is about you,” Carter told Mays when surprising her at Popeyes. “It isn’t about the money we raised, it’s about supporting somebody that wants to do better, wants to step up and wants to level up, and you are just shining.”
As of Tuesday morning, the GoFundMe is less than $600 away from its goal. With 271 contributions thus far, Carter is confident that the goal will be achieved.
Carter challenges Kansas City to continue the momentum, modeling the “give-first” mentality shown in the startup community.
“What if Kansas City was known for being a city that extended this kind of kindness?” Carter said. “What if we treated each other this way, even people who we’re competing with? Just that genuine connection, a community that looks for ways to add value to those around us.”
Readers, you tell me.
Watch the video of Carter surprising Mays at Popeyes below.