A critical need is driving changes to one of Kansas City’s longest-running annual business events: support for every small business — no matter their scale or the neighborhoods in which they belong.
“This is a time like no other,” explained Vicky Kulikov, small business director for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, detailing changes to the organization’s annual Small Business Celebration.
“We really wanted to celebrate all small businesses — whether they’re a member or non-member. It’s critical that the small business community knows that the chamber is here to support them and recognize and celebrate them however we can.”
While the annual awards luncheon and events series hopes to pivot to a scaled-back, in-person model in late spring — capitalizing on experience gained during a virtual celebration in 2020 to supplement the changes — the chamber’s celebration of local business leaders got its official start earlier this month with the debut of the new Small Business Superstar campaign.
“For the [next] month or so, we’re really going to be celebrating, lifting up, and recognizing small business in a number of ways,” Kulikov said.
More than 1,200 local businesses have earned the initial honor — the result of a community call for nominations — and range in size and sector from Aya Coffee & Books and Shark Off to Social Apex Media and Tesseract Ventures.
Click here to view a full list of honorees.
“2923 Comics LLC is proud to be named one of the first-ever Small Business Superstars by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce,” founder Juaquan Herron told Startland News after learning his young comic company was selected for the group.
“Small Business Superstars have kept Kansas City moving forward through everything we’ve experienced over the past year. We’ve had to make big changes and — in many cases — bigger sacrifices, but we are still showing our customers why we’re a strong small business and why we won’t stop being the best we can be.”
Click here to learn more about Herron and 2923 Comics.
Small Business Superstar criteria
- Be a small business with fewer than 250 employees
- Be a for-profit business
- Not a franchise
- Headquartered in Greater KC
“We’re hoping [the Superstar initiative] really gets the small business community tagging each other and celebrating one another. It’s just a time for us all to celebrate together,” Kulikov said.
Roughly 700 of the Small Business Superstar honorees don’t already belong to the chamber, she added, noting the success of the effort in reaching a new crowd of entrepreneurs — hoping to engage them with chamber resources and in the larger Small Business Celebration.
“One of the more intentional pieces of [Small Business Superstar] was to capture more minority-owned businesses. We know that the chamber can do a much better job — from a membership perspective — at being more inclusive,” she explained.
“Every step is a step in the right direction as it pertains to building relationships. Our hope is that they will feel validated and know that the chamber is here to support them in their work — whether they [choose to become] a member or not.”
A virtual event connecting all Small Business Superstar honorees is planned for April 6 and is expected to feature a panel of Superstars moderated by Joel Goldberg, famed Kansas City Royals broadcaster and host of the Rounding the Bases podcast.
Panelists for the event include Juaquan Herron, 2923 Comics; Wesley Hamilton, Wesley Hamilton LLC; Sam Kulikov, Social Apex; Katie Mabry Van Dieren, The Strawberry Swing; Deanna Munoz, Midwest Chicana Brand; and Godfrey Riddle, Civic Saint.
The event is exclusively for Small Business Superstar honorees.
Recipients who choose to pursue a chamber membership will become eligible to apply for the “Mr. K” Small Business of the Year award — named for Ewing Marion Kauffman and historically presented to a company that’s shown growth and sustainability, while also prioritizing community involvement.
Click here to read about the 2020 Mr. K Award winner, ProAthlete.
New for 2021, the chamber will evaluate finalists’ commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Kulikov said.
“We felt like there needed to be more of an intentional focus on that space, so we’re excited about that change.”
Click here to learn more about membership options with the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Applications for the Mr. K Award are open through April 30. Click here to learn more or here to apply.
Additionally, the chamber plans to overhaul its Diverse Small Business of the Year Award to better recognize companies that have committed to inclusive hiring practices and which champion diversity, equity, and inclusion in the community.
“Our chamber, under the leadership of Joe Reardon, has been very progressive — especially this past year. It’s exciting to see the organization as a whole really trying to move into a direction of really making an impact on the different minority communities and underserved communities,” Kulikov said.
“I think that in itself is a really good first step [in building a more inclusive small business community] and I feel really optimistic.”
Editor’s note: Startland News is a non-financial partner of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and a nonprofit member of the business organization.