Editor’s note: The following open letter was produced independently of Startland News by a coalition of small business and entrepreneur support leaders and signed by more than 210 members of Kansas City’s startup and business community. The opinions expressed in this commentary are the authors’ alone. The signatories are provided courtesy of the authors.
Mayor Quinton Lucas and KCMO City Council,
We’ll be honest, we don’t envy your position given the difficult decisions in front of you. The budget priorities you are looking to fund in the name of equity and inclusion are admirable — free public transportation, affordable housing, and public safety. We too would like to see them become a reality because we too are deeply passionate about building a more equitable community.
Women and minority-owned businesses struggle to access capital at the same rate as white and male-owned businesses. The average revenue growth rate of minority-owned businesses in this region lags that of white-owned businesses. Adding to the urgency to address these issues, communities of color in this region are projected to grow faster than almost any other region in the country over the next 20 years.
For these reasons, equity is not only a societal imperative. It is an economic imperative.
We — a united Kansas City entrepreneur community — are writing to you today because funding community services should not come at the expense of small businesses and entrepreneurs — our city’s primary job creators and renewable source of the tax revenues needed now and into the future to fund impactful community services.
Our ask is for 0.1 percent of the 2020-21 budget to support small businesses and entrepreneurs.
We find that it can sometimes be difficult to understand just how much struggle, sacrifice, and risk go into building a business, as well as the impact entrepreneurs have on the community. We hope this letter provides some good context and serves as a catalyst for further conversation.
The reality is entrepreneurs often risk their homes, strain their family life, max out credit cards, sacrifice friendships, and forgo sleep to follow their passions and create change in their community and world. Statistically, about half will fail, but many will beat the odds and build companies that employ neighbors, inspire those around them, positively impact our city and maybe even become the next iconic Kansas City brand. Yet, entrepreneurs don’t ask for much.
Between 2014 and 2018, entrepreneurs — new firms with fewer than 20 employees — created 75,359 new jobs equating to 58 percent of all net new jobs in the Kansas City metro over that time. In 2018, all companies with fewer than 20 employees plus early-stage companies with more than 20 employees contributed $37.6 million in earnings taxes alone — 13.9 percent of the total earnings tax revenue — not to mention the many other taxes and fees they paid. This number is near 25 percent when considering small businesses under 100 employees.
Despite this, the updated proposed budget shrinks the already meager funding for small business and entrepreneur support efforts outside of KC BizCare operations — KCSourceLink, LaunchKC, OHUB, and the Urban Business Growth Initiative (UBGI) — from $470,160 to $251,667, a 46 percent decrease. City funds were leveraged at least 1-to-5 by all of these programs to garner more funding and there are many other programs that would do the same.
Additionally, the 46 percent decrease doesn’t include the elimination of $300,000 supporting the Keystone innovation district. In total, that is a $518,493 reduction in entrepreneur and innovation support efforts outside of KC BizCare, which itself provides critical small business services and needs a larger operating budget to grow it’s efforts.
It is especially notable that the defunding of support for our most prolific job creators comes on the heels of the $35 million Waddell & Reed incentive package that included the diversion of Economic Activity Taxes.
Also notable is that despite a nearly half-billion-dollar smaller budget, Johnson County committed $682,000 to support entrepreneurs in 2019. Over the past 10 years, they calculated a whopping $694,768 return on every $1,000 invested. And Topeka, despite only having a $96.5 million budget, has allocated $500,000 annually to support entrepreneurs or 0.5 percent of their budget. 0.5 percent of KCMO’s budget is $8.65 million.
Can you blame us for feeling under-appreciated and under-valued?
If we truly want to be the Most Entrepreneurial City in America as many civic leaders have proclaimed, it will absolutely require support from our city.
Our ask is 0.1 percent.
KCMO funding has supported countless entrepreneurs of all types; high-tech to no-tech and high-growth to lifestyle. Here are small sample of the companies KCMO funding has supported:
- Potion Yarns has scaled online, routinely exceeded quarterly goals and increased profitability by over 10 percent thanks to Entrepreneurial Mindset Training made possible through UBGI attributed founder Johanna Miller.
- Bungii — which has now raised over $13 million and currently employs 30 Kansas Citians — was a recipient of a LaunchKC grant which “was the thing that kept Bungii’s doors open thru some tough times,” said co-founder & CEO Ben Jackson.
- Empire Highrise USA is expected to grow its team by 50 percent in the next year and 150 percent in the next three thanks to guidance from the ELEVATIONLAB Growth Venture made possible by UBGI which has helped owner Jorge Aguilar mindfully expand his operation.
- BacklotCars — which now has 180 employees, raised over $38 million and recently leased the entire 11th floor of Lightwell — was invested in by the KCRise Fund thanks to a chance meeting at a KCInvestED dinner, a program of KCSourceLink.
- Ladybird Style Lab & Salon at 503 Southwest Boulevard likely would not have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for multiple ELEVATIONLAB courses made possible by UBGI according to founder Molly Bingaman.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. For more insights into the impact of Kansas City entrepreneurs, see KCSourceLink’s 2019 We Create KC report and Startland News’ 2019 Top VC-Backed Companies list.
So, if we want more jobs, let’s not take our small businesses and entrepreneurs for granted.
We challenge you to dig deep and think creatively to find 0.1 percent to support Kansas City business builders. They are, after all, the backbone of our economy and a major reason we are able to fund the impactful community services in this and future budgets.
And finally, this letter obviously puts the focus on you as KCMO leaders but this challenge extends to all Kansas City institutions and corporations especially those that have a stated focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs. Actions speak louder than words.
We stand ready to collaborate however possible to make Kansas City the Most Entrepreneurial City in America.
It takes a village!
Sincerely, the Kansas City entrepreneur community
(If you would like to sign, click here.)
Adam Arredondo, Co-Founder & CEO, STARTLAND (formerly Kansas City Startup Foundation)
Eze Redwood, Founder, Twenty30CEO
Danny O’Neill, Bean Baron, The Roasterie
Christine Kemper, Founder, Kemper & Company LLC
Bill Gautreaux, Managing Partner, MLP Holdings LLC
Neal Sharma, Co-Founder & CEO, DEG
Jeffrey J. Jones II, President & CEO, H&R Block
Lenora Payne, Founder & CEO, Technology Group Solutions (TGS)
Darcy Howe, Founder & Managing Director, KCRise Fund
Ron LeMay, Managing Director, Open Air Equity Partners
Toby Rush, Founder & Entrepreneur
Tim Barton, Founder, Edison Factory
Jeff Simon, Office Managing Partner, Husch Blackwell LLP
Thalia Cherry, Founder & CEO, Cherry
Marshall Lockton, SVP, Lockton Companies
Harry Campbell, Founder, Outlook Partners
Anita Newton, Co-Founder, MightyGood Solutions
Victor Hwang, Founder & CEO, Right to Start
Greg Kratofil Jr., Kansas City Co-Office Managing Partner & Chair of Technology Transactions Practice Group, Polsinelli PC
Alan Lowden, Chief Information Officer, H&R Block
Elizabeth Solberg, Chief Executive Officer, Communications Partners LLC
Mary Jeannine Strandjord, Director on Corporate Boards
Entrepreneur community leaders:
Ruben Alonso III, President, AltCap
Susana Bruhn, Founder & Director, GUILDit
Lauren Conaway, Founder & CEO, InnovateHER KC
Kevin McGinnis, President & CEO, Keystone Community Corporation
Dan Smith, Co-Founder, The Porter House KC
Dennis Ridenour, President & CEO, BioNexus KC
Donald Hawkins, Founder & CEO, Griffin Technologies and Co-Founder, KC Collective
Bo Lais, Founder & CEO, Lula and Co-Founder, KC Collective
Matthew W. Marcus, Co-Founder, STARTLAND
Davin Gordon, Business Development Officer, AltCap
Quest Moffat, Founder & Digital Mercenary, Block Knowledge (ProjectUK)
Xander Winkel, Executive Director, Ennovation Center
Jeff Shackelford, President & CEO, Enterprise Center in Johnson County
Melissa Vincent, Executive Director, Pipeline Entrepreneurs
Lyndon Breckenridge, Ecosystem Development Lead, OHUB.KC (Opportunity Hub)
Tim Denker, Chair of the Board of Directors, Velocity Lee’s Summit, Inc.
Megan Adams, Founder & Manager, Firebrand Collective
Terri S. Turner, Founder & President, Kansas City Coworking Alliance
Morgan Perry, Business Outreach Specialist, Mid-Continent Public Library
Entrepreneurs & small business owners:
Harrison Proffitt, Founder, Bungii
Gerald Smith, Founder & CEO, Plexpod
Davyeon Ross, Co-Founder & President, ShotTracker inc
Matthew Condon, Founder & CEO, Bardavon Health Innovations
Erika Klotz, Co-Founder & CEO, PopBookings
Bo Nelson, Owner-Operator, Thou Mayest
Justin Davis, Founder & CEO, BacklotCars
Blake Miller, Founder, Homebase
Bek Abdullayev, Founder & CEO, Super Dispatch
Chris Cheatham, Founder & CEO, RiskGenius
Chris Costello, Co-Founder, blooom
Jeff Rohr, Founder & CEO, SquareOffs
David Embry, Co-Founder & CEO, Mylo
Ben Jackson, Co-Founder & CEO, Bungii
Chris Brown, Founder, Venture Legal
Zarif Haque, Founder & CEO, DRAIVER
John Boucard, Founder & CEO, Tesseract Ventures
Brad Sandt, Founder, President & CEO, Menlo, Inc.
Luke Einsel, Founder & CEO, Thirsty Coconut
Mark Davis, Co-Founder & Chief Data Officer, realquantum
Doug Burris, Co-Founder, Growth Acceleration Services
Brett Posten, Co-Founder & Principal, Highline Partners
Matt Sellers, Co-Founder & CEO, Rack Performance
Hugh Khan, Principal, Highplume, LLC
Stacey Johnson-Cosby, Founder, Real Estate Investor & Real Estate Sales, ReeceNichols Realtors
Tammie Wahaus, Founder and CEO, ELIAS Animal Health
AY Young, Founder, Battery Tour & AY-MusiK
Matt Watson, Founder & CEO, Stackify, LLC
David Biga, Founder & CEO, Particle Space
Thuong Ngjyen, Co-Founder & COO, Lean Start Lab
Mark C Ferrel, Founder & CEO, Amanda Blu & Co.
Casey Reyner, Owner, Casey Reyner Arts
Anurag Patel, Founder & CEO, Helix Health, LLC
Pierre Barbeau, Co-Founder & CEO, Moblico
CaRessa Hutchinson, Founder, ModRN Health
James L Bogle, Owner, Just In Time Consulting
Dr. Saroj Gupta, Founder & CEO, Asuun and Interacshn
Shekhar Gupta, CTO, Interacshn
Julie Cortes, Founder, The Freelance Exchange Of Kansas City
Joshua Montgomery, Founder & CEO, Mycroft AI
Andrew Kallenbach, Founder & CEO, LendingStandard
Ricardo Dimarco Bare, President, The 816 Technology Company
Lauren Lawrence, Founder, Stenovate
John Rake, Founder, GorillaBot Labs
Isaac Collins, Owner, Yogurtini
Lisa Ragan, Founder & Owner, Safely Delicious, LLC
Michael H Fry, Co-Founder & CEO, Brown Button Estate Sales
Kaitlin Abdelrahman, Co-Founder, The Souk/Global Caravan
Jeff Evans, Founder, Mean Mule Distilling Co
Steven Coen, Founder & CEO, SaRA Health
Jillian Carlile, Founder, TravelHive
Rachael Qualls, Founder & CEO, Venture360
Glen Dakan, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Liquify Group
Delvin Higginson, Founder & CEO, Relay Trade Solutions
Mishawnda Mintz, Co-Founder & CEO, WhatupHomee LLC
James Mintz, Co-Founder & COO, InvestMintz Properties, LLC
Larissa Uredi, Co-Founder & CEO, No-Where Consultants
Crystal Sheffield-Baird, Founder, Crystal Clear Storytelling
Lyndsey Gruber, Founder & CEO, PEPPR LLC
Erin Zimmerman, Founder & Visibility Strategist, EZ Visibility
Allison Berey, Founder & CEO, M:CALIBRATE
Edna Martinson, Co-Founder, Boddle Learning
Catina Taylor, Founder, Dreams Consulting
Sarah Shipley, Founder & CEO, Shipley Communications LLC
Kiersten Firquain, Co-Founder, Happy Food Co
Jordan Williams, Founder & CEO, Keefe Cravat
Kim Naramore, Co-Founder, TravelHive
Katie Mabry van Dieren, Owner & CEO, The Strawberry Swing (SSICF, LLC)
Tony Caudill, Founder & CEO, aware3
Adam Herbig, Founder & Owner, DigBig
Katherine Alsip, Co-Founder, ThriveOn Concepts LLC
Parker Graham, Co-Founder & CEO, Destiny
Sheryl Vickers, Founder & CEO, Select Sites and CRV LLC
Gwendolyn & Debra Washington, Owner & Manager, Wanna Scoop Cafe & Ice Cream
Heather Spalding, Co-Founder & CEO, Cambrian
Joel Teply, Co-Founder & CTO, Cambrian
Sunny Sanwar, Founder & CEO, Dynamhex
Neelima Parasker, Founder, President & CEO, SnapIT Solutions
Ben Schultz, Founder & CEO, LaborChart
Brody Dorland, Co-Founder, DivvyHQ
Matt Moody, Founder & CEO, Bellwethr
David Hulsen, Co-Founder & COO, RFP360
Eric Tucker, Founder & CEO, Digital Baron, LLC.
Jeff Lynch, Founder & CEO, Idle Smart
Bruce Ianni, Co-founder & CEO, ShotTracker
Jay Peterson, Owner & CEO, Apex Energy Solutions
Mary Kay O’Connor, Founder & CEO, PatientsVoices, Inc.
Debra Washington, Co-Owner, 2 Washington LLC
Janay Reliford-Davis, CEO, Camp CHOICE, Inc.
Jeff Dunn DO/MBA, Founder & CEO, Redivus Health
Allen Gibson, Founder & CEO, CAPE Industries, LLC
Dominique Davison AIA, Founder, DRAW / PlanIT Impact
Rachel Clara Smith, Co-Founder & CTO, SquareOffs
Edgar Palacios, Founder, Latinx Education Collaborative
Teresa Dirks, Founder, Artist Teresa Dirks
Maxfield Kaniger, Founder & Executive Director, Kanbe’s Markets
Grant C. Gooding, Founder & CEO, PROOF
Stephen C. Wilson, Owner & Creative Director, WilsDesign
John Epperson, Co-Founder & VP Product, Retail Software Solutions Group, LLC
Edson Soriano, Founder & Managing Director, Parallel 42
Dustin Abercrombie, Founder & CEO, PreScreend
Laura Gilchrist, CEO, Kid Champions Consulting, LLC
Nick Yecke, Co-Founder, Picwood
Christopher Eads, CEO, Alphatech
John Bertrand, CEO, Daupler, Inc.
Reginald Gray, Co-Founder & Investor, Co-Founder of Black Privilege, Inc & Co-Owner of Sabor Latino Restaurant & Bar
Henning Schwinum, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Vendux LLC
Lacey Ellis, Founder & CEO, Loom/LittleHoots
Roberto Pietrogiovanna, Manager, Legacy Fence
Matt DeCoursey, Co-Founder & CEO, Full Scale
Brian Kearns, Founder & CEO, CTEGig
Nicola Price, Principal, B2BC Mobile Tax & Solutions
Waira Mungai, Founder & CEO, Lume Lifestyle LLC
Dodie Jacobi, President & CEO, Dodiodo, Inc
Johnny Wolff, Founder & CEO, HomeRoom
David Bentley, Co-Founder & CEO, DEA-Media LP
Alec Grawe, Co-founder, SteerLyfe
Colton Ropson, Founder & CEO, Unscale LLC
Stuart Minshew, Founder & CEO, The Unleashed Startup
Jeffery T Kostos, Founder & CEO, Spear Power Systems, Inc.
Steff Hedenkamp, Founder, Owner & President, Red Quill Communications, Inc.
Pierre Yancy, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Lumova Energy
Kwinton Scarbrough, Founder & CEO, PawConX, LLC
Hai Chen, City Director, House of Genius
Latoya Redick, Owner, RedickBeautyAffect
Brandy Archie, Founding Director, AccessAble Living
David Barnes, Owner & COO, Tallgrass Freight
Jeff Callan, Founder & CEO, Tyghtwyre
Heaven Hamilton, Founder, The Marketing Paralegal
Aaron Elyachar, General Manager, Elyachar Investments LLC
Jeffrey Weiner, Co-Founder & CEO, Realquantum
Luke Wade, Founder, KC Crew and LeagueAlly
Roberto Camacho, Founder & Managing Partner, Wobblrs
Tracey “the Safety Lady” Hawkins, Founder, Owner & CEO, Safety and Security Source, LLC
George T Brophy, Founder & COO, Ultimate LLC
Theresa Schekirke, Founder, Schekirke Consulting
Connie Campbell, Founder & President, Human Interactions, Inc.
Nicholas Franano, MD, President & CEO (both companies), Artio Medical, Inc. and Flow Forward Medical, Inc.
Oie White, Owner, I Brew Perfume
James McGee, Founder, Black Vine Worldwide Media Group, LLC
Grant Trahant, Founder, Causeartist
Robert Zhou, Founder & CEO, Big 6 Media, LLC
Kurt Van Keppel, CEO, KVK Consulting
Tim McCoy, Founder, Brands That Speak, a Yoodle company
Entrepreneur community members & supporters:
Matthew Mellor, Strategy & Development, STARTLAND
Jessica Powell, Director of Engagement, KC Collective
Stephanie Campbell, VP, Communications & Operations, Leanlab Education
María Miller, Engagement Manager, STARTLAND
Chad Feather, Associate, KCRise Fund
Ashwin Shashindranath, Managing Director, Evergy Ventures
Apurva Kasam, Product Manager, Super Dispatch
Kevin McPherson, Machine Learning Engineer, Bellwethr
Adam Rukin, Manager, Pepper IoT
Ivraj Seerha, Product Manager, Bellwethr
Nate Crosser, Business Analyst, The Good Food Institute
Nduulwa Kowa, Program Manager, OHUB.Campus, Opportunity Hub
Veronica Alvidrez, Experience Manager, STARTLAND
Elaina Brownlee, Community Manager, Spark KC
Tommy Wilson, Program Manager, LaunchKC
James Thomas, Vice President, Wells Fargo Bank
Hanna Taylor, Small Business Specialist, Mid Continent Public Library
Ethan Hutcheson, Wealth Manager, Metcalf Partners Wealth Management
Nate Olson, Director of Sales, Crema
Katie Kimbrell, Director of Education, STARTLAND
Wilson Horn, Associate Product Manager, Super Dispatch
Jeff Phillips, SVP, Landmark National Bank
Isaac Thibault, Sales Manager, Swell Spark
Sterling Douglas, SPM, Sony Music
Kirk Lakebrink, Senior Product Strategist, H&R Block
Hannah Lakebrink, Senior Campaign Strategist, Digilant
Jake Edwards, Project Lead – Municipalities & Non-profits, Fre3dom Interiors
Dustin Sollars, Career Navigator, Liberty Public Schools
Natalie Berigan, Product Manager, RFP360
Authors’ note: Many other community leaders are supportive and would add their names if not for conflicts of interest.
If you would like to sign, click here.