Raised voices and a commitment to civic engagement earned entrepreneurs an additional $350,000 in city support for the 2019 budget year and a second attempt is about to begin, explained Rick Usher.
“It really goes back to when the resident work sessions started in 2018,” Usher, KCMO assistant city manager for entrepreneurship and small business, said in anticipation of three resident work sessions set to return Aug. 3.
“We put the word out and from my tracking, I’d say about 20 people who identified themselves as entrepreneurial community activists attended our resident work sessions,” he said, noting the sessions led to the formation of a group that asked the city to prioritize entrepreneurial support during a budget hearing in March.
Click here for a look at what was said during the hearing.
“These are listening sessions in the design thinking format,” Usher said of the way the meetings appeal to entrepreneurial thinkers. “It’s meeting with residents; we have table discussions, they’re facilitated by different city staff … listening to people’s new ideas.”
Sessions also breakdown how the city funds various programs and offer insight into how they function, he noted.
Express your thoughts! Click here to RSVP to a coming work session.
“We saw a lot of good ideas come out of [last year’s] sessions and then they really formulated themselves into the presentation that others made at the city council budget hearings back in March,” he said.
Over the course of three years, Usher worked closely with Jim Malle, coordinator of entrepreneurship and industry initiatives at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, and entrepreneurs Sarah Shipley and Eze Redwood to advise a growing advocacy group of what they should ask of the city council as they looked for additional financial support.
“[We told them they should] propose things to the city council that we knew additional funding could be used for quickly and that was leveraging other dollars outside of city government, which is really key to the whole conversation,” Usher said.
The group, which continues to attract new members, meets monthly as a means of staying engaged, he added.
With mixed messages in perception, people often say the city isn’t doing enough to support startups and small businesses, Usher said. Such an idea might not be the case if a person knows where to look, he said.
“When the city supports grant applications, when we put funding into different programs like we’ve seen with LaunchKC over the years, it attracts other funding to [those programs],” Usher said.
Aware of allocations, the advocacy group could then find gaps in funding and focus on requesting support in those areas, he detailed.
“[While it] looks like close to $800,000 in the budget for entrepreneur initiatives, we’re leveraging almost $4.5 million in additional funds from other sources,” Usher said, noting how outside support for entrepreneurial endeavors has grown because of city funding.
“That’s what’s important about the entrepreneur ecosystem in Kansas City … it’s a whole host of organizations, entrepreneurs, support organizations out there doing things,” he said in reference to the way additional funds have helped enhance the Urban Business Growth Initiative in 2019.
“It’s going to include micro grants, an interesting partnership that formed with Project United Knowledge, [which] received the JP Morgan Chase Grant a year or so ago,” he said of new opportunities.
“Maria Meyers [KCSourceLink] partnered with [Project United Knowledge] so that those funds could be utilized and Project United Knowledge is becoming a part of the Urban Business Growth Initiative. They were able to obtain an additional $100,000 recently from the Kapor Institute … so as the city and KCSourceLink endorse or partner with other organizations, more dollars comes,” Usher said.
Similar partnerships and enhanced momentum could be on the horizon in 2020, he noted.
“The key to it is the entrepreneurial community. We’ll have these three resident work sessions, we’ll have the ideation that comes out of that,” Usher said. “City staff, like my office, Nia Richardson [KCBizcare] and I … we’ll put together some budget decision packages based on what we’re hearing from the community.”