Editor’s note: This story is sponsored and was produced by Forward Cities, a non-financial partner of Startland News and a national nonprofit that is managing the implementation of the ESHIP Communities program as a grantee of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Any opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.
Gabe Muñoz is a man on a mission
This Kansas City-based entrepreneurial ecosystem champion has been reaching out to and building relationships with a handful of local small business owners and entrepreneurs every day for the past few weeks in an ongoing attempt to find out what they need right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacts the livelihoods of many.
Muñoz is an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder and local director of the ESHIP Communities program in Greater Kansas City. In essence, he helps to build a system of support and resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners, specifically in the Central/Minnesota Avenue corridors in Kansas City, Kansas, and Prospect/Troost neighborhoods in KCMO.
The ESHIP Communities program — an initiative of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that utilizes a community-driven approach to foster inclusion, relationships, collaboration, and social capital across networks of entrepreneurs and those who support them — launched in Kansas City in 2018. As the local director, Muñoz leads a cross-sector council and working groups of engaged entrepreneurial champions in strengthening and supporting Kansas City towards creating a more inclusive, healthy, and authentically connected entrepreneurial ecosystem — which was critical before the COVID-19 pandemic and will be essential as they continue to respond to the crisis.
“Entrepreneurs are problem solvers by nature,” said Muñoz. “And so they’re all going to work and find ways as a community to come together and help support the small businesses here. I think what ESHIP Communities did within the first two months of 2020, when we were able to reach some of the communities that had been disconnected previously and started laying the foundations for building those initial relationships, is so important right now.”
Muñoz’s early work at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City taught him the importance of relationship building in supporting small business owners and entrepreneurs. Fresh out of college in 2006 and as the organization’s director of sales, he found he had a lot to learn quickly without a clear rulebook to follow.
With that in mind, he followed his instinct and went door to door, discovering what Hispanic and Latinx business owners needed in KC and how he and the Hispanic Chamber could best support them. The relationships he built there and the dedication to putting the entrepreneur first eventually landed him in his role as local director with the ESHIP Communities program.
Earlier in 2020, Muñoz and the council organized two public events to support aspiring and existing business owners in KCK and KCMO. The events were created to address barriers that aspiring and existing small business owners in both the Central/Minnesota Avenue corridors in KCK and Prospect/Troost in KCMO neighborhoods had identified as being most significant for them. These include:
- Trust issues amongst entrepreneurs toward service providers being able to meet their specific needs
- Cultural competency challenges on the side of entrepreneurial support organizations
- Lack of multilingual programs
- Entrepreneurs’ lack of awareness of existing resources
To address these barriers of language and access to resources, the event materials were created in English, Spanish, Nepali and Burmese, and had interpreters present in each language. Close to 75 percent of the 120 participants spoke English as a second language. Participants Muñoz spoke with left feeling excited about funding that was available to them, many of whom did not know about these resources before the events. In light of the economic impact of the current health crisis, Muñoz began his outreach efforts to many of the participants of these events.
“We are able to help get a lot of the business support-related information to communities and individuals that would have otherwise been overlooked, especially in communities where awareness of resources and not having information in their primary language was a big barrier,” said Muñoz. “We’ve started to help remove some of that which has come at a very crucial time. We’re able to help them deal not just with entrepreneurship, but also in regards to information in general when it comes to the COVID-19 crisis and being able to get that information out to them.”
Before the COVID-19 crisis, one participant, with the help of Muñoz, was working toward her Individual Development Account grant application and was incredibly excited about the potential to leverage $3,000 in savings toward a total of $18,000 with matching grant money to grow her business in Kansas. As a single mother, this would offer a huge boost to her retail business. However, with the shift, she is having to learn how to adapt and move her business online, including bringing her inventory home so she can continue to care for her family while they navigate all of this together.
Whether he’s working with the ESHIP Communities council to create solutions to barriers for under resourced entrepreneurs, or in the community helping a small business owner move inventory to their home so they can continue their business online in response to COVID-19, Muñoz is committed to always put the entrepreneur or small business owner front and center, while maintaining the long term vision of how to support the larger needs of the community.
He leads humbly with a passion for service and the wellbeing of others at the core of any action he takes, while always thinking strategically on how to best build a healthy ecosystem for all small business owners and entrepreneurs, particularly those who may be underutilized, under resourced or who have faced significant barriers.
Forward Cities is managing the implementation of the ESHIP Communities program as a grantee of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. For additional information or to get engaged with the ESHIP Communities program in Kansas City, contact Gabe Muñoz at firstname.lastname@example.org.