This interview is part of the “Ecosystem Builders” series. More information about the ESHIP Communities program can be found here.

Q:What is your deeper “why” behind your commitment and work to support inclusive entrepreneurship in Kansas City? 

A: Starting out in both the tech sector and restaurants, we made a lot of costly mistakes that made life very hard. During that time, it didn’t feel like anyone was there to help us avoid those. If we had, I felt like we would have advanced so much faster and created so much wealth and financial stability for so many more families! I don’t want others who are risking everything to build the future to lose it all because of easily avoidable things they didn’t know.

When we opened Wings Cafe, we started in the middle of a recession in an industry where your chances of failure are ridiculously high. We navigated a lot of intense challenges, but now we’re able to provide jobs to 63 people. Along the way we’ve given employees places to stay, employed homeless and returning citizens, and given them a pathway to sustaining families.

Q: What is a challenge you’ve faced in your life that has led you to this work? 

A: Really we faced losing everything several times. In order to achieve great things, you have to take some kind of risk. Some risks are small, but the large risks can really jeopardize your family’s future if they don’t work out. 

The work I do now is driven by wanting others to avoid the downside of taking risks to change their status quo, as well as my experience growing up in drastically different environments and seeing how much the neighborhood you grow up in can impact your ability to achieve success. 

I’ve had absolutely brilliant friends who went to jail because they had to make hard decisions while growing up in the hood. I’ve also had friends who weren’t academically inclined or generally motivated to do anything with their lives, but had great support systems because of where they grew up, and are thriving now.

Q: What is the choice that you’ve made or action that you’ve taken that came out of that challenge related to this work? 

A: I decided to sacrifice my personal financial gain in the short-term, to help others build a better society. Breaking down walls for others and solving hard problems are the things that motivate me.

Q: What is the change you are seeing or hope to see as a result of your choice or action?

A: I hope to create a template for how we alleviate many of the problems we face as a nation. Many of these problems are not universal. They are a result of decisions we have made at local, regional, and national levels. If I can de-risk the solutions and show that these problems can in fact be solved in a way that makes all community stakeholders happy, that would be what success looks like for me.

Q: What about your life or work would you like other’s to know about you? 

A: I want to demonstrate the value of having great ecosystem builders attacking problems that might seem too large for most. There are people out there doing what others can’t every day—there’s no reason why they should have to sacrifice their own financial well-being to carry on the work that serves others. I want to demonstrate that a) one person can create massive change, and b) we as a community, city, and region need to support those people at all costs.

Q: What advice would you give for someone who is wanting to help build greater equity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem/community here in Kansas City?

A: Be prepared to work crazy hours doing things people say can’t be done. Also, build up a great network of supporters that can help refine your ideas, open doors when needed, and show up when necessary.

Q: Can you share an example of how the ecosystem has supported you?

A: I am very thankful to the other ecosystem builders who have always been there when I needed them, and to the Kauffman Foundation for leading the conversation on supporting ecosystem builders. Their prioritization sets the example for what other stakeholders should be thinking about.

Q: What do you consider to be your life’s work?

A: I’ve decided that solving hard problems and helping businesses grow is my life’s work!

Q: What are you most proud of that’s come from the entrepreneurial community work in Kansas City that you’ve been a part of? How has that impacted the community?

A: I think we’ve begun to shift the conversation to one where more people realize that they need to treat entrepreneurship and small business development with the same energy that they do traditional economic development.

In Kansas City,  the small business and local entrepreneurship sectors had been overlooked. At this time last year, a lot of our city leadership still felt corporations were the way they should grow. We had to re-educate them and highlight opportunities for future growth for the city in terms of job creation and tax revenue utilizing the small business/entrepreneur communities. These businesses and startups were, actually, already providing that growth,  but they weren’t being recognized for their contributions. Last year, after these re-education efforts, we were able to secure an additional $350,000 in allocated funds from the city government for entrepreneurial support organizations to assist these small business owners and entrepreneurs! 

This year, we continued to come together as an entrepreneurial community to try to attack the barriers and things that make it hard for folks to start their businesses. We identified solutions to those barriers, created a budget for some of the most viable ones and we are now at a point where we need buy in from the new city council. Hopefully we will have good news to share in a few weeks!

Q: What is your ultimate goal or vision for this work?

A: For there to be no need to do it.

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