Developing an innovation district takes a village, Kevin McGinnis told a packed room of Global Entrepreneurship Week attendees — a cross-section of Kansas Citians eager to learn more about how his proposed Keystone innovation district could re-shape diversity and inclusion efforts in the startup space.
“I’m not going to suggest that I’m bringing a bunch of Overland Park executives in to mentor the black community,” said McGinnis, CEO of the Keystone Community Corporation, attempting to clarify his plans during the GEW panel on emerging innovation districts.
Developers aren’t out to erase or diminish the heritage and history of the people who make their homes or businesses in the neighborhoods in and around 18th and Vine — the area the former Sprint executive and founder of the Sprint Accelerator intends to redevelop into an entrepreneurial hub, he said.
A series of diversity and community engagement programs are planned for the district, but have yet to be fleshed out, McGinnis added.
Speaking up during a question-and-answer period at the event, Nia Richardson, director of business development at DuBois Consultants, a Kansas City civil and structural engineering firm, challenged the generalities of McGinnis’ announced plans.
Ditching words like “diversity” and “inclusion” are a start, she said, encouraging the panel and attendees to directly address the reality than an innovation district would most impact the black community already living in the area proposed for redevelopment.
“It’s easy to be very specific [in what you’re doing],” said Richardson. “Be very intentional about making sure ‘I can grow black businesses and create more jobs’ to help combat the issues that you have [on the east side].”
The CEO and his partners are open to community-curated ideas and collaboration with local organizations as they navigate their role in diversifying the entrepreneurial ecosystem, he replied.
“We’re not there yet, and I’m not suggesting we have all the answers,” McGinnis said to Richardson, aiming to contrast the Keystone District proposal with fears of gentrification. “What I’m trying to create is a front door to the regional economy of innovation.”
All too often, diversity-led programming doesn’t know where to find a home in Kansas City, McGinnis argued. Establishing a centralized port of economic and entrepreneurial activity — like the Keystone District — could correct the course and provide a welcoming place for diverse and inclusive ideas and activities to flourish in Kansas City, he said.
“I’ve probably picked the most sensitive corridor in Kansas City,” McGinnis told the room, confident in his decision to redevelop in the area. “I’m willing to take [building the Keystone District] on and see what we can do with it.”
News of McGinnis plans for the Keystone District broke last month, shortly after his company secured its first parcel of land near 18th and Vine.