Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes.
Kansas City’s female entrepreneurs are begging for the opportunity to champion each other, said Lauren Conaway.
“This community that we’ve built … it’s supportive, it’s kind, it’s helpful and it’s instructive. It’s a really incredible thing to see,” said Conaway, founder of a Kansas City women leadership group, InnovateHER KC, and director of operations at the Kansas City Startup Foundation.
“What’s really interesting about our members is that they represent a lot of different types of women — we’re talking entrepreneurs, educators, politicians — but the unifying factor is that they are committed to enacting positive change in their communities,” she said.
Click here to learn more about InnovateHER KC and get involved.
Originally starting as a Facebook group aimed at building a base of like-minded women, the group — now 536 women strong — is working toward a 501(c)3 nonprofit status that is expected to heighten its level of impact, she added, noting a $1,500 fundraiser is expected to help offset the costs.
“InnovateHER started completely by accident,” Conaway said, laughing. “I looked around and I realized that I was meeting all of these incredible women that I really wanted to get to know. I would run into them at events and I was always either planning the event or it was just a very quick check-in, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ and I wanted to forge some deeper connections.”
After requests for more events together and a group chat that would never die, Conaway realized the potential impact mobilized groups of women could achieve, she said.
The InnovateHER KC leadership team recently developed the “Kansas City Womxn-Led Business Directory” and the “Kansas City Diverse Speaker Directory,” she added, noting the directories are expected to make it easier to find diversity speakers for local events and support women-owned businesses.
Click here to view the Kansas City Diverse Speaker Directory.
Click here to view the Kansas City Womxn-Led Business Directory.
“Finding ways to turn data into meaningful action I think is really important because you can enact change — you can’t fix a problem unless you know specifically what the problem is,” Conaway said. “Moving forward, I am interested to track some more data and analytics on the state of womanhood in Kansas City.”
InnovateHER KC plans to organize a women empowerment week in early September as well, she said, noting Congresswoman Sharice Davids, local innovation coach Diana Kander, and the Latino Arts Festival’s Deanna Munoz are expected to speak.
During the week’s events, the group plans to partner with founder-focused nonprofit KC Collective to put together a woman-founder pitch event with a host of investors attending from outside the area and inside Kansas City, she added.
The leadership team for InnovateHER KC are all putting in hours to achieve the overall mission of the group, Conaway said, noting the help of Carlanda McKinney, Elaina Brownlee, Amber Monaco, Larissa Uredi, Tammy Buckner, Crystal Sheffield, Kyra Colbert, and Jessica Powell, as well as Adrienne Haynes and Sarah Shipley.
“[InnovateHER] is taking on some steam and I’m just very proud of this engaged, and active community of women leaders that we’re building,” Conaway said. “I’m really excited to see where it goes.”
Startland News sat down with Conaway to find out more about her motivations and unexpected passion for Kansas City. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, which reimagines a workspace model where businesses share resources and grow together.
Hometown: St. Louis. Don’t make me go back there.
A historical figure you wish you could follow on social media and why? I have a mild obsession with Nikola Tesla. It’s because he was a true polymath and just quite brilliant. I’d love to have a little bit of insight into how his mind works.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: I used to work for Boeing and we had “Wild Game Night” every Wednesday. They served crocodile and elk and bison … so probably something from there.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: Tavern at Mission Farms has a seafood pie. It just blows my mind.
If you could go to any concert what would it be: I think it would’ve been really cool to go to Woodstock because it was such a pivotal point in time and such a culturally important happening.
Why do you call Kansas City home: When I first moved here, it was always with the intention of moving back to St. Louis and for the first couple years, I didn’t really connect with Kansas City. But, just over the course of time the city just totally won me over. It’s beautiful and culturally vibrant, the people are friendly, there’s so much growth and energy and development happening that you get kind of swept along with the vibrations … you just can’t help but fall in love with it.
What startup do you find most interesting right now: Erin Little has a startup called Episkey that’s a healthcare startup where they track athletic movement to help predict an individual’s training and recover from injuries. I just find that really interesting.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: Can I get paid to travel? I think maybe a travel writer? I love to write. I love going new places and trying new things. So I think travel writer would sit pretty well.
What word or phrase do you hate the most? I’ve never understood the phrase, “It was in the last place I looked,” because of course, it was.
Biggest accomplishment: Getting InnovateHER KC started. I’ve just very proud of this engaged, active community of women leaders that we’re building. I’m really excited to see where it goes.
Biggest failure: I’ve had a lot of failures in my life of course, but I don’t think in terms of “biggest.” Every failure I’ve had has led me to where I am.
Who in your life inspires you: My husband, Aaron. He’s one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever known, he’s put up with me and he works hard. He’s so creative and just a brilliantly amazing writer and human being. He just inspires me everyday.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I would definitely travel in the future. I don’t want to go anywhere that doesn’t have central air conditioning. I would probably go 200 years in the future because I’m just interested to see where we end up.
Favorite travel locale: I did a stint in Istanbul where I taught English to third graders and it was really incredible. They had like dirt floors and things like that, but they would invite us home to eat. They would give everything they had and just to see that side of humanity was really beautiful.
Your mantra or motto: My driving force for every day is to make it better for those who come after.
Guilty pleasure TV show: “Jane the Virgin!”