A familiar face from pop culture and $300,000 in entrepreneurial support are just two highlights tied to the Opportunity Hub’s new effort to build a more inclusive startup ecosystem in Kansas City.
“Many times, [building an inclusive community] involves hosting a series of frequently held, branded events that introduce community stakeholders to black and Latinx founders, investors and subject matter experts,” Rodney Sampson, founder and CEO of OHUB, explained of the organization’s “3rd Friday Trep Series” and coming “CEO of My Life” workshop.
“This may be the first time that an attendee from a socially disadvantaged community is exposed to someone from that same community that is building a company, investing in companies or helping to build companies,” he added.
On Friday, OHUB is expected to welcome Keisha Knight Pulliam — best known for her role as Rudy Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” — and Arian Simone, co-founders of the Fearless Fund, which invests in women and minority entrepreneurs.
Pulliam and Simone will be joined by Brian Brackeen, General Partner, Lightship Capital; and Candace Matthews Brackeen, Founder & CEO, Hillman & NewMe at the Trep Series event at Belger Crane Yard Studios.
Click here for tickets and more information.
“By featuring minority founders, investors, ecosystem builders and our program partners, OHUB is able to inspire an inclusive ecosystem to scale,” Sampson noted. “By including our entrepreneurship support program partners, we are able to showcase the programmatic process that founders will have the opportunity to complete upon acceptance into the OHUB accelerator.”
A double dose of entrepreneurial support, OHUB will follow August’s 3rd Friday with the “CEO of My Life” workshop on Saturday, Sampson explained.
OHUB plans to award 100 scholarships — valued at $500 each — during the day-long intensive event at Crossroads Hotel, he explained.
“Unapologetically, OHUB exists to create racial equity in socially disadvantaged communities by closing the racial wealth gap by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, especially black people, have access to equitable opportunities in tech, startups and beyond,” Sampson said.
Founders who complete the workshop will be invited to OHUB’s startup bootcamp in September.
In partnership with NewMe — an entrepreneurship education program which supports early-stage founders — a pre-accelerator program is expected to follow the OHUB bootcamp and award 10 startups with $5,000 grants.
A formal accelerator program is planned for launch in January 2020 and expected to see $50,000 investments made in five startups, giving founders the chance to pitch their companies at SXSW.
“It is important that people of color are adequately exposed, proficiently trained and skilled, quickly hired and given the freedom to work and solve hard problems in industry, community and beyond. Our targeted and synthesis based approach to ecosystem building is our differentiator,” Sampson said.
The $300,000 worth of investments are being paid in partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City and KCUP, Sampson said.
“We also aim to work with existing stakeholders in a community to amplify and scale what is already being done,” he said. “We don’t presume to have all the answers; and we work to leverage the experience and global network we do have to influence hyperlocal communities.”
OHUB’s selection committee for the programs include: Tammy Buckner, Techquity Digital; Kira Cheree, Entrepreneur Business Basics; Melissa Hazley, University of Missouri-Kansas City; Philip Hickman, Plabook; Quest Moffat, Project United Knowledge; Tina Pearson, Sprint Accelerator; and Drew Solomon, EDCKC.
Local founders are encouraged to take hold of opportunities presented by OHUB programming, because they haven’t always been excited, Sampson said in reference to his startup journey.
“Twenty years ago when I launched my first tech startup company in Atlanta, Georgia, there was no place to go to learn how to actually build a company, particularly for people of color,” he said. “You learned real time and made a lot of mistakes — many times very costly mistakes. With hindsight, we understand that company building is a learned science. … This is why [we offer these programs.]”
In order to participate, entrepreneurs must be OHUB members, Sampson clarified.
Click here to join OHUB for free.
“Our goal is to work with the KC community to build a sustainable, inclusive, high-growth startup ecosystem … We also plan to introduce our innovative workforce development programs in the near future. That includes our technical sales and software development bootcamps,” he said.
In addition to programming and events, OHUB is working to develop an opportunity zone-based coworking, coliving, colearning development, which will be co-owned by area stakeholders, Sampson revealed.
Such an undertaking won’t come without community support and OHUB is eager Kansas City will rise to the challenge, he said.
“Pray for us. Seriously, pray for us. Join OHUB. Tell everyone you know about OHUB. Attend our monthly events … bring someone with you,” he said. “Stop by the space when we open in September on 18th and Vine. Hold us accountable. Don’t badmouth us. Grow with us. Let’s make history together.”