Rather than continue as an entrepreneurship competition for formerly incarcerated people, “Rise Up, Get Started” is pivoting to a matching grant program that supports more individuals seeking a new path through small business, said Kyle J. Benson-Smith.
“I was inspired by hearing the stories of second chance entrepreneurs from folks who were starting successful businesses after incarceration. I thought, ‘I wonder if there are more people who are interested in that sort of thing — and if so, we can build a community to help more people reach their goals of success,’” recalled Smith, who founded Determination, Incorporated in 2018.
The Rise Up, Get Started entrepreneurship matching grant program — an effort of Determination, Incorporated — is accepting 15 second chance entrepreneurs who will earn $750 on top of $300 they are required to save.
“Write off the bat, [Determination, Incorporated] will ‘invest’ $150 into their entrepreneurial tool belt; I put ‘invest’ in air quotes because we’re not taking a piece of anyone’s business,” Smith explained — adding that once a participant saves $300, they will receive an additional $600 to put toward their business.
After being accepted into the program, participants will be invited to Determination, Incorporated’s “Be the Boss” business support group for formerly incarcerated people, as well as work on their business plan, action plan and budget.
“This will all then culminate in July at the Rise Up, Get Started entrepreneurship showcase event — which will likely be virtual — where we’ll get a chance to introduce all the entrepreneurs we’ve been working with to the community,” Smith said.
Folks within various types of industries and startup stages are encouraged to apply. Previous participants in Determination, Incorporated’s entrepreneurship competition have worked in fashion, health products, painting services and landscaping.
“Whatever they’re passionate about, willing to put time into and can make a profit with — we will work with them,” Smith noted. “Also, they can still be in the idea stage [or] maybe it’s a side hustle at this point or perhaps they’re working full-time on their business.”
The applications for the Rise Up, Get Started matching grant program are open through Tuesday, March 16. Click here to apply.
Watch the grant program’s announcement video below, then keep reading.
Impact through partnerships
Determination, Incorporated increased the number of participants it is able to help financially from four to 15 through a significant donation from the local giving circle, Impact KC.
“Their generosity is why we were able to relaunch ‘Rise up, Get Started’ as a matching grant program,” Smith stated.
With additional funding, the program will also pair participants with business mentors. The team has prioritized training mentors and selecting people who will intentionally build relationships with the second chance entrepreneurs, Smith said.
“We want mentors to be an accountability partner as well,” he shared. “Someone that the entrepreneur can check in with, respect and trust, as they are working through the issues that may arise in their business. … Hopefully, zooming out, this mentorship helps bridge some gaps here in Kansas City, by creating new connections that otherwise wouldn’t happen very easily.”
This time around, the organization will also be partnering with Reconciliation Services — a local nonprofit that offers social and mental health services to the unserved community, and operates Thelma’s Kitchen, the pay-what-you can cafe and social venture at 31st and Troost Avenue.
“It’s been an integral part of Determination, Incorporated to work with organizations that are already helping formerly incarcerated people in all the other areas of life where we don’t — since we’re just focused on the business,” explained Smith, who also works as the social innovations and marketing coordinator at Reconciliation Services.
Personal growth is just as important as professional growth, Smith said — adding that the therapy aspect can be a remedy for the stress brought on by having a history with incarceration, starting a business, the COVID-19 pandemic and any other factors going on in one’s life.
“Reconciliation Services will offer case management to the entrepreneurs we’re working with,” he said. “So they will help with goal setting, any resources [participants] may need and therapy services. I’m very excited to have that partnership for this go round.”
Coming full circle
One of the four winners in the 2020 Rise Up, Get Started Entrepreneurship Competition was Sean Gasaway — founder of outdoor property maintenance and beautification business, JEFE, LLC.
“My passion is the outdoors,” Gasaway said. “… I started from scratch, using money out of my own finances, but I wanted to be giving back to the community. This just felt right.”
Gasaway got connected to Determination, Incorporated through Connections to Success — a Kansas City-based social service organization. Despite working long hours with JEFE, Gasaway gave Rise Up, Get Started his all, Smith said.
“Sean [Gasaway] is such a hard worker and the fact that he was able — during COVID and his busy season — to take the time to compete in our competition and really put his all into it was quite remarkable to see,” Smith shared.
Click here to check out the other 2020 winners of the Rise Up, Get Started Entrepreneurship Competition.
Winners were awarded $1,000, but even more valuable than the money was the relationships building with the team at Determination, Incorporated, Gasaway said.
“It helped me out a lot, and it was more like a source for building a network,” Gasaway shared — noting that Smith and Leslie Walton, the organization’s entrepreneur success manager, ended up being his customers in JEFE. “… So we all became like one big family. They are very warm people, and good people to have in my support network.”
The best part of Smith’s job has been getting to come full circle with the Rise Up, Get Started participants, he said.
“To be far enough along in the journey, where now I get to be a customer of the entrepreneurs we serve and actually just do business with folks — in a lot of ways, that’s more fun than all the rest of it,” Smith said, smiling.
For other second chance entrepreneurs, Gasaway encouraged them to find their passion and stick with it regardless of the hardships.
“You can’t succeed if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to,” Gasaway shared. “Do your research and find programs like Determination, Incorporated. It’s not going to be easy; you have to keep going. It’s like an exercise — you don’t see muscle mass over night, but with consistency.”
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.