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.
As Dan Smith looked around Kansas City, he saw his hometown continuously divided.
“When you grow up in a certain area, you don’t look at your situation [like it’s] as dire as other people look at your situation,” Smith, co-founder of the Porter House KC, said of his experience coming of age on Kansas City’s east side.
“I was born to a middle-class mom who took care of it. So no issues, no problems. But friends around me had major issues — home, life issues and things like that. You never really understood how dire it was until you got out of those situations,” Smith said. “You learn more, you get more cultured and you look back on things like, ‘Oh my God, that was some crazy stuff.’”
Such experiences molded Smith into a man of community, he added.
“This whole thing is a learning experience and I think that’s what keeps me up at night,” Smith said of what it’s taken to bring the the Porter House — an organization dedicated to building an inner-city, co-working community that provides entrepreneurship access and resources to underserved populations in the metro area — to life and how community builders in Kansas City should look within themselves for guidance.
Click here to learn more about the Porter House and its recent Kauffman Inclusion Grant
“We have to figure out better ways to connect with the community — even though I come from the same community as our target population,” he said of challenges the Porter House is presented with but which also excite him.
“The population we’re serving is ever-changing. For [east side] business owners, the population they serve is changing as well.”
Luckily for Kansas City, understanding such evolving landscapes and building bridges that connect divided communities are among what the Porter House does best — one business at a time, Smith added.
“We want to create this 360 approach where you have classroom work, but there’s also a space to practically apply the things that you’re learning,” he explained of ways the Porter House is providing resources to underserved entrepreneurs.
“Instead of trying to figure out eCommerce and how to get in the next pop-up show or First Fridays type deals, we want [founders and business owners] to be able to have their own store and retailer out of their own space,” he said.
Such an approach is all about creating opportunity for east side entrepreneurs — specifically those with a retail focus, Smith added.
“But like I said, it’s all a learning process and we’re trying to figure it all out,” he said, noting the organization’s position for growth and ways it remains fluid to community needs.
“Our whole intention, our purpose in starting this is to create access for underserved entrepreneurs in the urban community,” Smith said. “Access to entrepreneurial resources … to help those individuals who need to feel comfortable and reduce or limit intimidation.”
The Porter House put its community-minded mission on public display Thursday during Global Entrepreneurship Week, organizing a crowdsourced mentoring workshop — Helping Early-Stage Entrepreneurs Solve Tough Challenges.
Designed as a hands-on, problem solving activity, the workshop saw six early-stage founders receive community feedback that could help grow their business.
Click here for a photo gallery from the Porter House KC’s GEW event.
Startland News talked with Smith about his thoughts on gator sausage, how he feels about reality TV and unexpected inspirations found in growing up in a single-parent household. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, which reimagines a workspace model where businesses share resources and grow together.
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
A historical figure you wish you could follow on social media and why? I’ve done a lot of research about a lot of different individuals and one that really kind of stands out to me is Muhammad Ali. If I was able to follow him, as he was [in the past] doing the things that he did then, now — I wonder what that would look like. He was somebody polarizing and with a lot of influence, but he wasn’t easily swayed in his moral values.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Gator sausage in New Orleans and it’s actually really good. But it was the weirdest thing. And now every time I go to New Orleans, I feel like I need to go get some gator sausage because it was so good.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: You know what? Thelma’s Kitchen has really good food. There’s a lot of really great restaurants around, but recently I went to Thelma’s for lunch. They have really good, restaurant quality, five-star quality food right there on 31st and Troost. What Father [Justin] Matthews is doing and the chef over there … I think it’s phenomenal. They have really great food.
If you could go to any concert what would it be: I think going to a Janet Jackson concert with my wife would probably be a really cool thing.
Why do you call Kansas City home: I was born and raised in Kansas City. My roots, my family, my friends, everything is in Kansas City. It’s just one of those things where it’s stitched into your fiber, into your DNA.
What startup do you find most interesting right now: I’ve got a friend of mine, his name is Chris Jones. His company, MatchRite Care, is really trying to change the game as it relates to healthcare and healthcare records. I think he’s going to really do some amazing things. I think his company is one that if it’s not on everybody’s radar, it should be.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: I think I’d be coaching. I was a basketball coach for a while at University Academy High School, JV and varsity basketball. I’ve been coaching since I was probably 19. I used to coach a little YMCA league and [was] assistant coach for some Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams. I got an opportunity to coach high school basketball, which was great, but I have two kids of my own and it was just a lot of time, a lot of commitment and I felt like it was taking away from my family life.
Biggest accomplishment: I’m one of those people that it’s hard for me to pinpoint accomplishments. You set goals and you try to achieve those goals. Sometimes you achieve them and sometimes you don’t. I try to keep it as even-keeled as possible. From a professional space, I’m not 100 percent sure. I just like to work. I like to work hard. I think my biggest accomplishment to this point is I’ve got a 14-year-old who started his freshman year at Barstow, so that’s an accomplishment. I have a 12-year-old who’s still in middle school and a wife that is caring and supportive, and we support each other’s endeavors and what we’re doing. So I think my biggest accomplishment at this point — and probably always will be — is being a father and a husband.
Biggest failure: It’s kind of similar to the accomplishment thing. We all have failures and we all have things that could’ve gone better or could have been different, but I don’t really take them as failures. I take them as opportunities to grow.
Who in your life inspires you: I’ve got so many people who inspire me. My mom is an inspiration — a single parent who raised two boys. Both of us graduated college and my mom’s a college graduate as well. My brother’s educated; he’s a teacher. My grandfather — not with words, but with actions — inspired me to be a better man. Every day, my wife inspires me, she challenges me. My kids inspire me, they challenge me. And it’s reciprocated.
Favorite travel locale: Destin, Florida, and I’ve actually only been there once, but I had such an amazing time. I’ve been all over. New Orleans, Chicago, New York — but Destin is a beautiful, white sand, clear water, beach. That’s my destination.
Your mantra or motto: Keep working. Do more. Keep working.
Guilty pleasure TV show: “Black Ink Crew” is probably my guilty pleasure. All of it, “Black Ink Chicago,” “Black Ink New York” — now they have Compton.