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The revitalization of downtown Topeka has brought pride back to Shawnee County, said Stephen McIntosh, noting much of the resurgence is rooted in excitement around entrepreneurism.
“It’s a huge factor in how we are perceived — and how we perceive our community,” said McIntosh, board member and program director of coworking and professional initiatives at Omni Circle Group — a budding entrepreneur support organization, set to open a 15,000-square-foot coworking facility next year at 1301 S.W. Topeka Boulevard.
“People are excited about change,” he continued, highlighting an era in the region that has seen significant investment in Topeka’s downtown and surrounding areas, including the North Topeka Arts District (NOTO) and the recent passage of a new master plan that’s expected to result in a more walkable and active community over the next decade.
“They’re also tired of the perception that you have to leave Topeka,” McIntosh added, noting entrepreneurs often fall victim to such a line of thinking.
Efforts like the forthcoming ASTRA Innovation Center and District and the addition of the Plug and Play Animal Health Accelerator have helped change minds, he acknowledged, noting Omni Circle Group — formally launched in 2019 — hopes to do the same, while giving the Topeka startup community a place to work, play and gather.
“It’s a one-stop shop when it comes to community and really building, supporting and strengthening the community and aspects of personal and professional development,” McIntosh explained.
Click here to explore the Topeka Startup Communities group curated by Omni Circle Group.
Click here to connect with McIntosh on LinkedIn.
The nonprofit organization has already played host to dozens of community and networking events in its two-year run. It also has offered professional development programming for founders — a component that’s expected to expand as Omni Circle Group settles into its new space.
Leading the charge is Michael Odupitan, founder and CEO.
“Omni Circle itself really started with me about eight years ago,” Odupitan, a graduate of Washburn University, recalled, noting he initially launched the effort in Olathe before relocating to Tulsa — and primarily Black Wall Street — as a change of pace (and in desires) after his mother died.
“I wanted to be around history. I was looking at how they build community around Black Wall Street for the minority community and wanted to do something different. … I really wanted to be in a space where we took responsibility for our communities — instead of waiting for the government to do it.”
Odupitan returned to Topeka with such a focus in mind, now leading the organization and its growing team with a single guide post: meeting the basic needs of the people who call Topeka home.
“We literally say that we try to help people go from survival to creation. And in that phase, what we do most is connect,” Odupitan said. “Our three pillars are connect, collaborate and create.”
“There is an old African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Here at Omni Circle, we’re a like-minded community seeking to create long-lasting change by developing a collaborative approach to enhancing our communities together.”
“We are working to achieve this by understanding that there is strength in numbers, and our name speaks for itself. All of us working together to achieve our common goals, which is to improve our communities.”
“We accept all who have an interest in creating a multi-cultural, multi-generational community with a focus on enhancing the way of life for minorities in the city of Topeka, Kansas.”
Currently operating as two entities — a nonprofit, community building organization and a for-profit coworking space — embedding Omni Circle Group in Topeka’s startup community is expected to enhance the organization’s commitment to all three pillars, he added.
Click here to learn more about Omni Circle Group or to get involved.
Click here to connect with Odupitan on LinkedIn.
“It’s where helping people [embrace] the idea of being able to create for themselves — whether that be as a small business or in their careers. Building connections and offering resources to individuals who are in a space where they want to build something and contribute to the community [could] make a better society here in Topeka.”
Bringing Omni Circle Group into the startup community also signals the completion of its own startup phase, both Odupitan and McIntosh told Startland News, teasing a 2022 that could grow the organization exponentially.
“The biggest problem that we see in Topeka is that you have two sides of the track,” Odupitan said. “And you have those who don’t have the services and the opportunities to grow and then the people who are [close to the track], but they don’t have the confidence to cross it.”
Omni Circle Group hopes to arm them with the skills necessary to succeed and then some, he said.
“We want to help people break generational cycles and be a part of the whole of Topeka,” Odupitan said. “We can create the type of diversity and inclusion in this city that we don’t typically see on a larger scale. We have the opportunity to do it.”
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.