Diversity is just good business, said LaDonna Gooden, emphasizing that companies with a variety of perspectives consistently outperform their competitors.
“The opportunity really exists for everyone in this ecosystem to benefit and participate [in Kansas City’s startup scene],” said Gooden, entrepreneur in residence and coach for NeXt Stage KC, a program of AltCap. “I don’t think we have seen that yet.”
Through a partnership with Interise, NeXt Stage KC focuses on closing the gap for under-represented entrepreneurs in Kansas City — specifically those with businesses that have been operating for two or more years, she said.
“Minority businesses typically do not last the five-year mark and female-led businesses in Kansas City average about $18,000 in revenue annually, so it is really about providing the community that will enable businesses to thrive,” said Gooden.
Participants pay $1,000, which represents only a portion of the six-month program’s $10,000 tuition cost. The remainder is subsidized by AltCap and through contributions from partners and sponsors. Scholarships are available on a limited basis.
Click here to apply for the March program, which has a Feb. 14 deadline.
In addition to understanding business concepts, NeXtStage emphasizes removing barriers for minority entrepreneurs — from networking to access to capital — fueled by the Interise Streetwise “MBA” curriculum, Gooden said.
Click here to view the full program course overview and specific training details, under “Curriculum Overview.”
“There is a 25-minute process to apply online and then there is a short interview,” she said, noting NeXt Stage requires participation for three hours every other week for six months. “It is to assess if the business is ready for growth as well as the time commitment that it will take.”
Supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, NeXt Stage has been launched in 75 metropolitan areas with key drivers linked to metrics, outcome and impact, Gooden said.
Among those impacts: the program already has proved its ability help minority entrepreneurs close the revenue gap, she said. Such success helps participating business owners build confidence in their abilities to grow their ventures without sacrificing themselves, Gooden added.
“Presenting our authentic-self is often very challenging if you are African American or an enthic group. You are not sure if you are supposed to have all of the answers, so there’s this duality you are always living. You feel like you cannot truly be your authentic self in business,” she said.
NeXt Stage KC aims to keep members motivated as they face some blameless challenges regarding their race or gender, Gooden said.
“African American women receive 40 ‘no’s’ for the average 23 that caucasian women receive when asking for money,” she said. “Being an entrepreneur is really tough, so if you get ‘no’s’ more frequently, being able to stay motivated is hard.”
“It is really about starting a conversation and making the ecosystem more inclusive. It is important to make everyone more aware of the challenges and possibly shifting the focus,” Gooden added. “We want people to think ‘How am I looking at this entrepreneur … and what bias am I bringing to the decision?’ Hopefully that will create a snowball effect in changing mindsets.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.