Running a social venture comes with an inherent challenge for founders, shared Jacqueline Erickson Russell, emphasizing they must balance purpose and profit.
Social Venture Studio — powered by LaunchKC — offers support along that journey, added Erickson Russell, the founder and CEO of Social Impact Advising Group and consultant for the Kansas City-based program.
“Complex challenges in our communities require complex solutions,” she explained. “Social ventures use business tactics and models to create social change, so we want to equip them with the best-in-class techniques from both a business and social lens.”
Social Venture Studio — launched in 2022 — just celebrated the conclusion of its second cohort with a demo day, where companies revealed their updated pitches to potential funders and supporters, at Keystone Community Corporation’s event space in the East Crossroads. Keystone and Social Impact Advising Group administer programming for the studio.
Willie Apala Flaherty — co-founder and CTO of AskSAMIE, a curated marketplace making aging in place possible and one of Startland News’ KC Startups to Watch in 2023 — echoed Erickson Russell, adding that it’s difficult to find balance between meaningful, impactful work and making money.
“Social Venture Studio helped illuminate how to build our business with these things in mind while growing my own entrepreneurial skill set,” he continued.
Seven startups — including AskSAMIE, which is led by founder Dr. Brandy Archie — completed the four-month program that is custom-designed for social entrepreneurs to grow their business and increase their community impact, Erickson Russell said. The program offers a variety of benefits and opportunities that are designed to meet entrepreneurs at their unique stage of growth, such as grant funding, business mentoring, cohort peer connections, curriculum focused on social impact, and technical assistance.
“This cohort was incredible,” she noted. “We noticed our applicant pool this year had more social ventures who were at the scaling point, which is what we are prepared to help with. There were six for-profits and one non-profit, but through the program, multiple organizations saw the need to create hybrid models and unique ways to become more financially sustainable and programmatically impactful.”
Christian Hill — the co-founder of Thrive Homes, an Overland Park-based home modification company that provides ADA-related modifications to those in need, such as disabled individuals, and elderly, with funding from Medicaid payers in Kansas and Missouri — said the work that the organizers of the Social Venture Studio are doing is crucial to provide the necessary support for the next generation of social entrepreneurs looking to make a social and economic impact in Kansas City.
The studio played an important role in Hill’s continued leadership development and allowed him to get better at telling the story of Thrive, who it is helping and how it helps them, he noted.
“Our experience with Social Venture Studios was incredible,” he explained. “The connection to mentors, comradery and collaboration with the other cohort members, and insight into ways we can continue to improve our business from industry leaders in Kansas City was invaluable. There were friendships and partnerships made through SVS that have and will continue to outlast the program and I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
“The diversity of thought and perspectives from the speakers and presenters — many of whom are industry leaders in their respective fields — also was invaluable in helping us continue to perfect our processes and ensure our mission is more clearly stated and intertwined into everything that we do,” he added.
Hill and co-founder Logan Forbis will be carrying these lessons and connections with them as they move forward and try to scale quickly, yet methodically, to meet the ever-growing demand for accessible home modifications, he said.
“As the demand continues to increase due to the demographic changes, only 9 percent of homes in the U.S. today are accessible,” Hill noted. “We plan to aggressively continue our growth to meet the need and make as many of the other 91 percent of homes accessible as possible. One of the key factors that we believe will drive our growth is the development of a custom software that allows us to manage the complexities of billing Medicaid and completing construction projects at a national scale.”
Other startups in the 2023 Social Venture Studio cohort include:
- Dreams KC, (Catina Taylor), Kansas City, Missouri — Dreams KC is an educational non-profit social enterprise dedicated to eradicating illiteracy.
- FaceKC, (Khalid Abdulqaadir and Corey McCartney), Kansas City, Missouri — FaceKC uses film and art to address social issues in Kansas City and beyond.
- New Frontier Mobile Diagnostics, (Jeff Blackwood), Kansas City, Missouri — New Frontier Mobile Diagnostics is a company founded to improve access to care and health equity for people in healthcare deserts through diagnostic imaging. New Frontier’s sonographers bring portable imaging equipment to doctor’s offices and clinics, providing patients quality, affordable diagnostic answers for conditions including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and complications during pregnancy. Click here to read more about New Frontiers’ efforts to expand its services to rural and underserved populations.
- Raise Health Innovations, (Craig Mason), Kansas City, Missouri — Raise Health Innovations takes leading technologies and applies them in new proactive models to reimagine pathways to better health outcomes.
- SenseGrass, (Lalit Gautam), Louisville, Kentucky — SenseGrass offers 360 farming solutions based on cutting edge technology like Nano-Satellite Mapping, Rover Bots and AI-based mobile and web application to make farming more efficient.