Activation is just the beginning for organizers of a new, high-profile partnership that aims to boost Black business owners — starting in Kansas City — via programming, resources, major events and a soon-to-be announced accelerator.
Entrepreneurs, investors and local politicians gathered Wednesday to celebrate the soft launch of City of Entrepreneurs — a new initiative that unites KCMO and the national-facing non-profit Venture Noire in a mission to improve the quality of life for Black entrepreneurs.
“Beyond what everybody knows about Kansas City — the barbecue, music, baseball, the Chiefs — there is this heart and mindset carried throughout the entire entrepreneurial community,” said Emma Willis, chief operating officer at Venture Noire. “Because of that, I was wanting to dig a little deeper and understand what it was that makes Kansas City entrepreneurs different from other entrepreneurs.”
Click here to read more about Venture Noire, which has until now focused much of its efforts in Arkansas.
City of Entrepreneurs is the brainchild — and under the leadership — of Nia Richardson, who serves as assistant to the director of small business and entrepreneurship at the KC Bizcare office — an agency within KCMO’s city government.
“We want to take this national — and we want Kansas City to be the model,” Richardson said, noting she plans for City of Entrepreneurs-Kansas City to be the hub for other cities to learn about programming and entrepreneurship.
Wednesday’s event — or “activation” as Richardson noted — was intended to be an intimate gathering to excite local entrepreneurs and prominent community members about City of Entrepreneurs. Hosted at Spark Kansas City, it gave Venture Noire an opportunity to highlight its KC-based office, and showcased a handful of local businesses like Cottontale, Fresh Factory KC and The Black Pantry.
Check out a photo gallery from the soft launch below, then keep reading.
City of Entrepreneurs is expected to announce more activations in the coming months, as it works to overcome long-standing data deficiencies related to Black and Brown-owned businesses, Richardson said.
“From a City [of Kansas City] perspective, we will be looking at what policies can we implement? How can we gather more data on our small businesses?” Richardson explained. “Data is very powerful and informs us what’s going on and what we can do about it.”
The potential for City of Entrepreneurs is limitless, she continued, explaining that the initiative is expected to include an annual conference in Kansas City.
“I would love to get it to a level comparable to South by Southwest here in Kansas City,” Richardson shared. “… We have a strong entrepreneurial community here, and it became more visible during the pandemic than I have ever seen before. Small businesses are doing more pop-ups and working together. We need to showcase that.”
Click here to read more about Nia Richardson, who was named one of Startland News’ 2021 Community Builders to Watch.
Addressing the crowd at City of Entrepreneurs’ soft launch, KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas emphasized that local business owners can lean on the support and resources provided by the KC Bizcare, his office and the city government.
“The biggest way we can make a difference for our community, particularly for the Black community, is making sure that we support small businesses — and the ideas from creative people like all of you,” Lucas said. “Know that you have that commitment from City Hall.”
Vendors featured at City of Entrepreneurs’ soft launch event included: Fresh Factory KC, The Black Pantry, Cottontale/Cookies and Creamery, Shots by Miko, Ruby Jeans Juicery, The Prospect Urban Eatery, Bronson’s Milk Punch and Kaycee Mac Wine.
During the event, Willis also teased Venture Noire’s partnership with one of the largest beauty retailers to launch an exclusive accelerator for beauty product startups later this year.
“We will only be taking eight applicants, and the best part is that those eight startups will receive cash for participating,” Willis added.
City of Entrepreneurs set the bar high with Wednesday’s activation event, Richardson and Willis said.
“Being able to set this program up with [Venture Voire’s] resources and know-how, and coupling that with a city who wholeheartedly believes in providing a space for entrepreneurial growth and success — how could you say no to that?” Willis said. “What we see is a beautiful start to what is going to be a very long relationship.”
Click here to learn more about Venture Noire.
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.