Craig Moore’s new role at Venture for America gives him even greater opportunities to boost representation for entrepreneurs and workers of color, the Black Excellence KC co-founder said. And VFA already has been doing the work, he added.
“This is probably the most culturally aware group I have ever been a part of,” said Moore, who took on the role of Kansas City director for VFA in December. “I started my own organization because my culture was not getting the opportunities they needed. Being able to help all cultures grow is really great for me.”
VFA — which cultivates startup talent from a pool of recent college graduates — is aligned with Moore’s existing vision of diversifying what startup communities across the nation look like, he said. The organization recruits from a mix of Ivy League institutions, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and those who have been in their careers for two to three years, Moore said.
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“We place these graduates throughout the nation in startup businesses for them to scale and grow, but also for them to be able to get experience they need to be a startup leader or build their own startup themselves,” he explained, noting that although his own lack of a college degree didn’t exclude him from the inclusive environment VFA is creating.
“I applied, and it seemed like a really great fit,” Moore continued. “I love developing, and I love Kansas City. I am super excited to be in this position.”
Though the VFA program has been in Kansas City since 2017, the city has never had its own standalone director. Kate Loar previously shared the responsibility of both Kansas City and St. Louis.
“That makes the position even more exciting to me,” Moore said.
Some of his responsibilities include recruiting and connecting talent while engaging with startups to help bring Kansas City to a national level.
“It’s my personal goal to make sure [the fellows] get the true Kansas City experience,” Moore said. “The fellowship is only for two years. Our hope is that they fall into the VFA alumni or possibly become VFA founders.”
VFA is currently working on the application process for the 2022 class with a goal of recruiting 175 fellows.
“The representation is there for someone like myself,” Moore said. “Someone who looks like me is doing something really cool, and it is bringing an impact to their community.”
Moore developed his readiness for a role like VFA director through years of “trial by fire” experience, he said.
A Wyandotte County native, Moore left the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff — where he had a full-ride band scholarship, he said — without graduating to take care of his family.
Black Excellence KC is a tool used by Black professionals to develop industry-specific skills to better their career trajectory.
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“When I came back to Kansas City, my whole idea was to educate myself and beat what people say the norms are for my career,” Moore said, noting his parents set an example for him as hard workers, but weren’t able to make the leap to entrepreneurism themselves.
“My father always wanted to start his own business, but he never had the resources or opportunity to,” Moore continued. “He was a real 9-5 guy. He worked for his union as the president for years.
“My mom has always worked for small, Black owned businesses. She has always been in the place of service.”
Moore started a consulting company called Usance in 2017, helping small businesses and attended the Kauffman Fast Track program. He also worked for a nonprofit called Made Men.
Moore wanted to be a leader, he said, but Kansas City lacked representation — showing Moore people like him working in the fields he aspired to join.
“I went for jobs just for education purposes,” he said. “I was at Sam’s Club because I wanted to learn how to manage people better. I developed myself so I could be who I am today. It wasn’t the normal path they lay out for you in high school.”
In 2019, he became a co-founder of Black Excellence KC, and took over the organization in 2020.
“We focus on the connection of Black professionals in KC,” Moore explained of the group, which he still leads. “We provide development through resource partners like the Heartland Black Chamber and the Urban League.”
“I don’t regret any move I made,” he added. “If I changed it, then I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Partners in the unknown
Moore proudly sees some of himself in VFA’s current class of fellows, who he’s excited to work with as the year rolls out, he said.
“All of [the fellows’] passion for community is uplifting for me,” Craig Moore said. “All of them want to find a way to give back. That is the biggest investment you can give when coming to a new city.”
“They are super community-driven, and they are passionate about their identities,” Moore said. “No matter where I was, I didn’t want to conform. They are very vocal, and they are not afraid to speak their mind. That was me all day, no matter what setting I was in.”
One of Moore’s goals for 2022: to be looked at as a talent leader in Kansas City.
He specifically hopes to keep connecting with the companies in the area to boost the Black Excellence and VFA experiences.
“Everybody is working on the unknown,” Moore said. “It’s your job to prove that the unknown is something people need. Not all of the startups I was a part of weren’t successful, and they drove me back to 9-5 jobs sometimes. There is some risk in it, but you just have to make that jump.”
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.