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WICHITA — Side hustles don’t just have to remain a hustle, said Christina Long, emphasizing the need for entrepreneurs of color to access tools to become a critical part of their community’s economic base — and build a legacy for their own families.
Her Central Kansas-based nonprofit, Create Campaign, helps potential entrepreneurs and small businesses owners to develop a customized blueprint that works for their market, as well as their own lives and dreams, said Long, the founder and CEO of Create Campaign.
“Not every entrepreneur wants to scale and sell, and the entrepreneurs that we work with — more often than not — talk about building a legacy,” added program director Alejo Cabral. “That’s what is really important about this program and the work that we do with the Create Campaign because the entrepreneurs that we work with don’t always fit the mold of what entrepreneurship looks like now.”
The organization provides workshops, training, microlending, networking and coaching through events, sessions and other programming from its Wichita home base. It’s currently plotting Sunflower State expansion into Topeka and beyond.
Click here to explore Create Campaign.
One venture already benefiting from Create Campaign’s guidance: a small business that made a significant, industry-jumping pivot from fashion to food.
Mark Daniels, co-owner of the Wichita Cheesecake Company with his wife, Grace, initially started a T-shirt business before attending a Create Campaign forum and engaging with the nonprofit’s team. But after making cheesecakes for an event — and getting rave reviews — the Daniels met with Long and pivoted to a baking business.
“I would hope that other entrepreneurs would take advantage of the opportunities that (Long is) providing both with Spark and just with Create Campaign itself,” said Daniels, a Spark Community Business Academy graduate through the organization. “I think that it’s a rich environment because there’s so many entrepreneurs that she’s connected to, so you just never know the possibilities.”
Since starting in 2017, their cheesecake business has grown from a commercial kitchen to a kiosk space in the Union Station Terminal to the Grand Hotel in downtown Wichita, where they share space with the Metro Grill. Daniels said they are also planning to open a second location with an event space next year.
“Throughout the entire process, (Long) and Create Campaign have been an integral part of our success,” he added.
The Midwest’s “new majority”-owned businesses deserve access to capital, Long said.
“We want to see more founders of color have greater success in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and also greater success for their businesses and their families,” she said. “Create Campaign works in a way that gives them their space, that provides a sense of comfort, that also provides a sense of community and connection in doing this work.”
When community development and underrepresented communities — or new majority communities — are talked about, Long said, it’s often looked at through the lenses of education, better community policing relationships, and health and wellness.
“But where is that economic conversation?” she continued. “Where is that entrepreneurship conversation? So many of us are taught: go to school, make good grades, and get a good job. We’re not taught that we can be creators. We are full of vibrant communities that economic development has a rightful place inside of our communities.”
Click here to learn more about Create Campaign.
Long — a cultural affairs journalist-turned-public school community network specialist-turned-entrepreneur — was inspired to start Create Campaign in 2015 after her own entrepreneurial journey, she explained. She also opened a T-shirt business in 2013, and through coaching from the Kansas Small Business Development Center, expanded CML Collective to a full-scale graphic design and communications services company, which she still runs today.
“That allowed me to recognize that it just takes a bridge,” she said. “I wasn’t scared to go to KSBDC because I know how to navigate a community, but there are others who may not have that opportunity.”
Create Campaign, she noted, looks to be that bridge from what already exists in the entrepreneurship ecosystem but maybe is not connecting to communities of color — who again don’t even see themselves as being worthy or being able to take advantage of the resources that already exist for everyone else.
More than a passion project
What started as a one-day forum to bring together entrepreneur service organizations and those who didn’t see themselves as entrepreneurs, Long shared, has now turned into a nonprofit that operates multiple programs out of an old bank building — in a primarily Black neighborhood — that was gifted to them.
“It is more than just a passion project,” she explained. “The work that Create Campaign does, it’s necessary. So we appreciate the opportunity to have served so many through the years. And we’re going to continue to fill the gap and also encourage people to use the resources inside of ecosystems and across ecosystems to again raise the profile and the outcomes and opportunities for minority entrepreneurs.”
Create Campaign has been able to double the number of entrepreneurs that it serves, primarily in the Wichita area so far, according to Long. Last year, the minority business development organization had more than 1,500 touchpoints with small business owners.
“When we say touch points, this is from our business consultations of any stage of business,” she added. “Whether you’re prestart, whether you’re a startup, whether you are mature in business, or even whether you’re wanting to exit or find investors, we touch all of those.”
In addition to its annual forum, program director Cabral — who previously worked for the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce — noted that the nonprofit provides free 30-minute consultations to entrepreneurs, a four-week Let’s Create workshop series, a 12-week Spark Community Business Academy program, plus coaching and networking opportunities for participants of those programs.
It also hosts BizBrunch, where business owners voice challenges they are facing and are paired with a coach, and the Urban Business Expo, which is a pitch-style event where entrepreneurs work with experts on their pitches, then pitch to the community, and $1,000 is given away.
“These are amazing experiences that focus on educating entrepreneurs, but providing them not just access to knowledge, but access to resources that they need to take their business to the next level,” he said.
Create Campaign also connects founders to funding through its microloan program — the Create Capital Fund — as well as through a partnership with NetWork Kansas and the city of Wichita, Long shared.
“Together we have an asset base of more than $877,000 of approvals and microloans and gap financing to entrepreneurs who could not be served by traditional financing options,” she added.
Blueprint for success
Create Campaign’s newest program is the Spark Community Business Academy, a national curriculum in partnership with Rising Tide Capital, which — according to Cabral — boasts that founders who complete the program are still in business at the five-year mark and double their revenue within two years. The Wichita-based nonprofit is the only organization licensed for the program in the state.
“Our programming is fantastic,” Long noted. “We have strong traction and evidence of growing businesses, but this has become a disruptor in a great way.”
Create Campaign launched its first cohort of the 12-week program in spring 2022; three cohorts have completed it so far with a 90 percent graduation rate, Cabral said. Twenty businesses — in every stage from idea to early startup to growing — are selected for each cohort. A Spanish language cohort is expected to launch in the fall.
The Spark interactive curriculum allows the founders to better understand their financials and learn about marketing, intellectual property, trademarking, and human resources, plus get one-on-one coaching sessions, he explained. Once they graduate, they are connected to mentors in areas they want to focus on.
“It really is an amazing opportunity for entrepreneurs to dive in and develop what we call their blueprint for success,” he continued.
From the three cohorts, Long said, there have been nine LLC structurings, a brand acquisition, and more than $38,000 in capital approvals.
This month — in partnership with Omni Circle Group — Create Campaign launched the Emerge Community Business Academy in Topeka, she shared, and they hope to continue the expansion across the state.
“It’s already taking root and spreading across our state,” she said.
“Communities across the state of Kansas are really looking now at how to create equitable, inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystems and communities,” she continued. “Having the right kind of tools to stack and embed inside of the communities does not always mean creating something brand new. We don’t have to reinvent every single wheel. We can share and collaborate and build up the strength of one another with tools that exist to give us a common language, common resources to, then again, create a common interest in Kansas for inclusion and entrepreneurship.”
Ti’Juana Hardwell — founder and principal consultant for Mamarazzi Communications — attended the first Create Campaign Forum in 2015 and now is one of the instructors for the Spark Community Business Academy.
Participating in that first forum, she said, was a pivotal moment that helped to propel her business forward. In 2011, her business launched as an independent magazine, but in 2020, she shifted to focus more on marketing and strategic communications.
“The forum event by Create Campaign served as a beacon of clarity in my entrepreneurial journey,” she explained. “It provided me with valuable insights on formalizing my business, strategies for expansion, and guidance to improve profitability. The experience was not only enlightening but also incredibly inspirational.”
Being involved with the nonprofit, Hardwell noted, has been a significant catalyst in the evolution and success of her business.
“It has equipped me with crucial knowledge and skills through its programs, workshops, and events, directly fueling my business growth,” she added. “The platform has also opened doors for networking, fostering collaborations and partnerships that have enriched my business.”
Now serving as an instructor and mentor for Create Campaign — which has been a continuous source of inspiration and encouragement — fills her with immense pride, she said.
“It has given me the chance to deliver meaningful entrepreneurship training that can benefit business owners throughout their careers,” she continued. “The personal satisfaction I’ve gained from helping to uplift other entrepreneurs and inspire them to reach their personal and business goals has been truly enriching.”
The minority business development organization is a vital element in the city’s entrepreneurial landscape, Hardwell shared.
“Its commitment to inclusivity and diversity ensures that entrepreneurs from all backgrounds have access to resources and support,” she added. “In essence, the Create Campaign is a cornerstone of innovation, growth, and prosperity within Wichita’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
This story is made possible by Entrepreneurial Growth Ventures.
Entrepreneurial Growth Ventures (EGV) is a business unit of NetWork Kansas supporting innovative, high-growth entrepreneurs in the State of Kansas. NetWork Kansas promotes an entrepreneurial environment by connecting entrepreneurs and small business owners with the expertise, education and economic resources they need to succeed.