Determination, Incorporated’s new partner in compassion places a new lens on the impact the prison-to-founder non-profit could have, said Kyle Smith.
“I’ve gotten this non-profit this far, but I can’t do it alone,” said Smith, founder of Determination, Incorporated, which uses entrepreneurship to curate new opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, on the addition of his partner, Johnny Waller Jr. “Having a buddy on board to help with everything that’s happened but also to think strategically about the future is going to be huge help.”
“Johnny’s experience, but also his strategic and business brain, is going to catalyze our vision,” he said.
“Entrepreneurship helped me turn my life around,” said Waller, whose own past landed him three years in prison, according to a press release from Determination, Incorporated. Upon his release, Waller started a janitorial company and ran it for seven years, along with eventually gaining a masters degree in management from Rockhurst University.
“I made a commitment to my son and my family to get an education, and to devote my life to helping other formerly incarcerated people reach their full potential,” Waller added.
Waller’s ability to share his personal story adds a new level of effectiveness on the target audience, said Smith, noting the co-founder served on Determination, Incorporated’s advisory board before stepping into his new role.
“I just know that having Johnny be able literally say to people, ‘Man, I sat right where you are now in that exact same jumpsuit and I got out, started with a job and then I started my own business,’” he said. “His firsthand experience and his lived experience is going to change hearts and minds in ways that we’re not capable of without him.”
The freshly joined pair is now gearing up for the inaugural Rise Up, Get Started grants competition for the formerly incarcerated on May 30 at Plexpod’s Medallion Theater, said Smith.
“I think it’s Kansas City’s first entrepreneurship competition specifically for formerly incarcerated people. I think I could even say Missouri’s first, but I don’t want to backtrack that later. We’ll stick with Kansas City,” he laughed.
Click here to learn more and register for the event.
The competition is expected to include Determination, Incorporated members presenting business projects to judges, he said, noting the celebration event is expected to feature the presentation of the grants to the winning students.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between an idea for a business and their proof of concepts,” Smith said. “That’s what we built the competition for.”
“An example I always give: If your goal is to someday open a restaurant, your business project is that this year you’re going to do five small dinners to test out some recipes, get your name out there, and make some money,” he added.
Three winners will be chosen to each receive $1,500 to complete their business projects, he said, noting the members’ curated paths reflect a more realistic outlook on entrepreneurship and works to dispel the false notion that a “rich uncle” is needed to start a venture.
“A lot of people get started by working a full-time job, saving money, paying their bills and building their business on the weekends or evenings, with the goal of someday focusing on that business full time,” Smith said. “That’s the path that we’re trying to set our students up on and then we work with a lot of re-entry partners in town who provide help with job placement and other needs that our students may have.”
A similar competition is expected in November 2019, as the non-profit works to secure crowdfunding options during its next steps to better provide access to capital, he said.
“As everyone guesses, one of the biggest barriers to getting into entrepreneurship is that startup capital, which is why we’re opening new avenues, but also helping people make a sensible plan that works for their life circumstances,” Smith said.
Click here to read Smith’s KCultivator Q&A where he talks serious work, socks with sandals, and pickled pig brains.