A slowly recovering job market is pushing more people — many of whom previously didn’t imagine ever running their own businesses — into entrepreneurship, said Kyle J. Smith.
“The Kauffman Foundation would say they’re starting a business out of necessity rather than choice,” Smith elaborated, describing the importance of programs that provide a second chance for those looking for an economic life line. “This could be even more true for formerly incarcerated people who are already barred from jobs too often because of their record.”
The Rise Up, Get Started Entrepreneurship Competition — an initiative of the social enterprise Determination Incorporated, led by Smith — provides an opportunity for formerly incarcerated people to not only compete for a $1,000 grant to put toward a business, but also to receive free support from experts that will help generate revenue and “grow the business faster than anyone ever could alone.”
The virtual competition recently wrapped its third round of judging, awarding funds to four winners:
- Sean Gasaway, JEFE, LLC — provides full outdoor property maintenance and beautification, including: landscaping, tree pruning, lawn care, leaf, brush, and snow removal.
- Na’im Al-Amin, Personal Legends, LLC — sells fashionable apparel that is culturally relevant, socially conscious and authentic, that supports SWAGG INC., a non profit that advocates for criminal justice reform.
- Samuel Lane, Lane Contracting, LLC — provides painting services, specializing in interior and exterior, residential and commercial projects.
- Brandon Webb, Freshly Made Scents — sells natural products from natural ideas to natural people that want fresh ideas. Products include perfume oils, Beard oil, Black seed oil, and hand creams.
Check out the Rise Up, Get Started Enterepeneurship Showcase video below, then keep reading.
Rise Up, Get Started tweaked its judging rubric for the competition to give credit to entrepreneurs who are dedicating time and effort toward their businesses, and also prioritized businesses that can thrive given the current social climate and circumstances, Smith said.
“In this important cultural moment that we are in the midst of, more and more people are becoming aware of the injustices inflicted on our communities, particularly communities of color, by the criminal justice system,” he said. “As reforms become more possible given the surge of activism we are seeing around the country, we must remember that people with lived experience are an important part of the solution.”
Second chance entrepreneurs are the epitome of that solution, because they create jobs, Smith added.
“Take Sarah Muntean, owner of All American Construction Contractors right here in Kansas City, who was our featured second chance entrepreneur during the Rise Up, Get Started Entrepreneurship Showcase,” he continued. “Sarah started her business after getting out of prison, while she was homeless and working multiple dead end jobs. As her peers returned to their lives of crime — selling drugs and prostitution — she took a different path and started a construction cleaning business with nothing, other than hard work and a ton of determination.
“Seven years later, I’m still in business,” said Muntean during the recent virtual event. “I’m doing three different scopes of work. And last year, I had 50 employees working 40 hours a week downtown. They were all either living in halfway houses or in recovery. I’ve been able to help those who want to change their life, too.”
Entrepreneurship is forging your own path and creating value, opportunity, and hope for others, Smith said.
“I know the Kansas City startup community can get behind that,” he said.
And that support has shown through three competitions now, Smith said, noting support from the Shumaker Family Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, as well as Leslie Walton, entrepreneur success manager for Determination Incorporated, and the 2020 judges (Morgan Perry, Jason Egli, and Damion Alexander).
“And kudos to Na’im Al-Amin, who has competed in all three of our competitions,” Smith said. “This is his first win, which means he has heard ‘no’ twice, and still he kept learning and kept growing his business.”
Finding more women entrepreneurs to feature in the competition remains a primary focus moving forward, he said.
‘As an organization, we’re proud that we had more women compete this time around than ever before,” Smith said, crediting Walton’s inclusive work. “But I know that we need to do more to better reach, support, and nurture women in our program.”
Leaning on the second chance entrepreneurs in the program for solidarity — even in a virtual format — helped Smith personally make it through the COVID-19 shutdown so far, he added.
“‘Ubuntu’ is an African term meaning humanity that is often translated as ‘I am, because we are.’ That ethos is at the very core of our burgeoning second chance entrepreneurial community,” Smith said. “As they sang in High School Musical, ‘We’re all in this together.’ It’s cheesy, but damn if it isn’t what we need to be working on right now — togetherness, building relationships with people different from ourselves, being in community with folks who are marginalized and oppressed, not uniformity, but unity.”
“Entrepreneurship can bridge any divide, and it can help our country heal,” he continued. “Social entrepreneurship is my protest, it is my prayer, and it is a path to freedom for anyone who is willing to put in the work.”
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.