KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A new approach to entrepreneurship is taking hold in Kansas City’s Keystone Innovation District.
The first year of the Social Venture Studio includes seven businesses in the 2022 Cohort: Diversity Telehealth, The Prospect KC, Healthy Hip Hop, EPEC Inc., Kanbe Markets, One Pair, and KC Can Compost.
They were chosen because they are all trying to run a business while having a positive impact on the community. That mission-based approach is different from the traditional entrepreneurial model.
“We’re always interested in the return-on-investment side of entrepreneurship right,” said Keystone Innovation District CEO Kevin McGinnis. “We always talk about billion-dollar valuations and people making money investing in startups, these are mission-driven entrepreneurs that might not be focused on the profit side of this thing. They’re mission-driven, they’re trying to provide some significant social impact.”
That often means chasing grant funding because these types of businesses often don’t attract large and aggressive investors. But in the Social Venture Studio, the businesses get grant funding, mentorship, and access to important connections that could pay off down the road.
Even though there might be shoes on the wall and clothes on the rack at 55th Street and Troost Avenue, inside One Pair, Jerren Thornhill and the rest of the staff is selling hope.
“It gives the families hope, the families want to start businesses [say], ‘I can do this, my kids are doing this,” Thornhill said.
Out of his storefront he’s teaching a team of 10-12 local kids how to run all different aspects of a business by being a spot where local artists can sell their work and the neighborhood can buy and sell shows and clothes.
“So, the kids learn business skills, life skills, what they learn in school they apply back to the real life,” Thornhill said.
Those skills set them up for a career in another business while also giving them the skills to potentially start their own company.
KC Can Compost
“We’re all trying to prioritize both creating a sustainable venture but prioritizing people at the same time,” said KC Can Compost Executive Director Kristan Chamberlain.
Her company gives job skill training to people overcoming homelessness to teach them how to work in the larger composting business while also giving them the leadership skills to advance their careers while fighting climate change.
At the end of six months, McGinnis hopes all seven businesses leave with the ability to stay in business so they can keep doing good work around Kansas City.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for us to learn from each other as we’re growing our businesses,” said Chamberlain.
The program is slated to run for three years right now but McGinnis hopes there will be enough support to continue it in perpetuity after that. The program is supported by entrepreneurial and business groups like LaunchKC, KC Rising, and other groups working on downtown Kansas City and building the businesses community there.