Editor’s note: 1863 Ventures is an advertiser with Startland News, though this report was produced independently by the nonprofit newsroom.
Tirza Design allows consumers to support cause-based brands and survivors of human trafficking, exploitation, and other forms of abuse, detailed Nikkie Affholter, noting her venture also meets the need of bringing dignified employment to women who’ve escaped such harrowing experiences.
Her pitch — and the social entrepreneurship mission behind it — earned Tirza first place in Wednesday’s HERImpact Pitch Competition.
“We are looking to secure our permanent location,” said Affholter, founder of Tirza Design, explaining plans for the $27,500 award from the Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures, which organized the pitch event.
“Our pop-up shop on the Plaza has been a great start to letting people know that we exist and what we can do,” Affholter continued, noting the business has scaled up to six figures with its online shop and temporary storefront at the Country Club Plaza. “This experience [with HERImpact] has been extremely encouraging. It’s been quite the journey, especially for our survivors, and this is validating our work.”
Click here to learn more about Tirza Design.
Wednesday’s competition, hosted at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Bloch School of Management, saw six women entrepreneurs pitch for a total of $50,000 amid global observances of International Women’s Day.
Judges for the public “Shark Tank”-style event included Yisel Cabrera, Ford Fund’s senior manager of economic mobility, Melissa Bradley, managing partner and founder of 1863 Ventures, and Davin Gordon, program officer at the Hall Family Foundation.
Winners were decided based on five criteria they demonstrated: 1) solve a community problem; 2) have a sustainable business model; 3) feature a product or service differentiated with a clear value proposition; 4) have a capable founding team with experience to lead; 5) evidence market traction.
Kristan Chamberlain, founder of KC Can Compost, won $12,500 for her nonprofit enterprise committed to the transformation of Kansas City’s social and environmental landscapes.
“We’re growing fast,” Chamberlain said, noting KC Can Compost will be the second in the country to deploy a new automated kiosk system for residential composting in Spring. “It’s hard as a business owner to manage growth and do it wisely. This funding helps us make sure we are being very strategic about our next steps.”
Pitching is a way for founders to get back to the root of their passion, Chamberlain said, excited that HERImpact had a focus on empowering female entrepreneurs.
“It’s great to see this region grow and do so with women in leadership positions,” Chamberlain shared. “Doing a pitch like this forces you to think about how you’re communicating your passion for the problem you’re trying to solve. I really enjoyed going back to our message of, ‘We have a world we have to protect; we don’t have a choice.’”
Click here to learn more about how to get involved with KC Can Compost.
Both the third place prize of $5,000 and the audience choice award — another $5,000 — were awarded to Verónica Alvidrez, a co-founder of paraMi — an apparel and home goods brand that focuses on embracing Latina women to channel their voice and help shape the lives they want for themselves.
“We are really redefining how we are seen,” Alvidrez shared. “These Latinas want to be seen. Our customer has an unfulfilled personal need to see herself in the world around her. She also has a need to connect with others, particularly in the Midwest where we are very scattered.”
Editor’s note: Alvidrez is director of youth and community programs for Startland Education, a sister program of Startland News’ independent, nonprofit newsroom.
Building a community is crucial, Alvidrez said, as many members of the paraMi community tuned in virtually Wednesday to watch and support Alvidrez as she pitched.
“Winning the Audience Choice was really reassuring that we have something special with this community,” Alvidrez said. “These women in paraMi really championing us speaks to the culture that the brand is building, and I think that’s the coolest part about this whole thing.”
Alvidrez and her team plan to use the $10,000 to help with establishing legal and insurance documents for the business, as well as allocating some funds for production, she said.
Click here to check our para.Mi.
Between the pitches and the announcement of grant recipients, Maxwell Young, the director of communications for organizer 1863 Ventures, moderated a panel on the future of entrepreneurship in Kansas City with Kira Cheree’, author and founder of Entrepreneur Business Basics (EBB), and Jacqueline Buycks, founder of Transition Zone.
To be a leader in supporting female entrepreneurs, Kansas City needs to provide more fellowships for women and give them the opportunity to lead, Cheree’ said.
“Kansas City can do it because we have such a very rich ecosystem here,” she said. “… I think all of us really respect what the other is doing, and we add to it.”
As a serial entrepreneur, Buycks advised other entrepreneurs to understand that it is necessary to say no from time to time.
“I’ve learned that I can’t be everything to everybody,” Buycks said. “I’ve had to understand my niche and stick with that. It’s also important to understand when to quit and when to pivot and diversify.”
In addition to the prize winners, the other three finalists in the HERImpact Pitch Competition included:
- Taylor Burris, The AI Hub — an art incubator that houses studios & lounge space and provides services and opportunities to artists and entrepreneurs.
- Deb North, Yes! Athletics — a wrestling gear maker that offers shoes traditionally worn by male athletes in styles and colors appealing to female athletes.
- JaMeshia Sykes, Thriving Intent — a holistic psychotherapy and wellness hub for those with anxiety.
Established by Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures, HERImpact is designed to uplift women social entrepreneurs and scale their businesses. Since 2017, Ford Motor Company Fund has invested more than $400,000 in women-led, conscientious enterprises and provided business development resources to more than 500 entrepreneurs in Detroit, Washington, D.C., Miami and Kansas City.
“Companies founded not only by women, but women of color have a fail rate less than the national average, and yet they account for a small fraction of venture capital raises. Programs such as HERImpact signal to the broader investment community that it is imperative to fund women entrepreneurs,” said 1863 Ventures’ Bradley. “Ford Motor Company Fund is vigilant of the capital and resources women-owned enterprises need, and I along with my team at 1863 Ventures are privileged to steward HERImpact. We are proud to extend funding to this year’s pitch competition winners.”
With community members and leaders in attendance of the HERImpact Pitch Competition, Dan Smith, co-founder of The Porter House KC, recognized Buycks as the former owner of Serve & Clean — where he worked when he was 16 years old.
“[Buycks] hired youth from the inner-city to work various catering events for her company,” Smith wrote on Instagram. “To put it simply, by watching and working with her, I learned what entrepreneurship, hustle, grind, dedication and ownership was. She incubated out of the historic Lincoln Building, and it just so happened that our first business also grew from this very building. I couldn’t help but speak up during the end of this panel, and give her the flowers that she deserved for impacting my life (and a ton of other youth around me).”