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

Meet Kansas City entrepreneur and ecosystem builder Gerald Smith. Gerald and his wife Dianna co-founded Plexpod, a coworking space where they champion entrepreneurs and the power of community to achieve success. Gerald is one of the founding members of our ESHIP Communities Council in Kansas City. The ESHIP Communities program is a community-driven approach for building entrepreneurial ecosystems that foster inclusion, relationships, collaboration, and social capital across networks of entrepreneurs and those who support them.

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

A: Dianna (my wife) and I made a decision five years ago to find our role in supporting those entrepreneurs that are coming behind us. After we had experienced a measure of success from 25 years growing our businesses, we realized we now had a tremendous opportunity and experience(s) that we needed to share with others, and hopefully prevent others from making some of the same mistakes we made along the way. And beyond that, we just wanted to champion those that needed support and encouragement.

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

A: Where I grew up, there was significant tension of race and culture that was sadly deeply ingrained into the community. My closest friend in grade school was a different race than I was and I remember often being criticized for our friendship. Frankly, I didn’t fully comprehend the tragedy of racism until I moved away. I moved to Kansas City to attend college and thankfully found my future here. Even with the challenges and divisions that Kansas City has faced, I find hope here. I firmly believe we can make a positive impact on generations to come. Failure is not an option, and success will be defined by everyone’s success.

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: The choice I made was to never settle for the status quo. We have an opportunity to determine a future that we choose. The past does not have to limit our future.

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

A: I doubt I will live long enough to experience the fullest result of our efforts; however, when I see hope in the eyes of young professionals that choose to believe in a better future, I feel confident in our future and that is incredibly rewarding now.

Q: What about your life or work would you like others to know about you?

A: It’s most important for me that others know that we chose not to sit on the sidelines and just champion others doing the work. We chose to start another business so that we are not only active in today’s economy, but also chose a business that could act as a platform for entrepreneurs. That is why we launched Plexpod.

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

A: Show up! For 25 years I was heads-down, working on our business and ultimately missed two decades of opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs in the community. It was a huge miss on my part. I now regret those missed opportunities where I would have been in a position to support and create opportunity for others.

Q: What is something that’s happening in Kansas City right now that you are excited about? 

A: I’m most excited to see the momentum we have whereby small business founders and leaders are connecting with each other. We have more entrepreneurship resource organizations than ever before, each connecting and networking people. While each of these organizations provide specific needed services to their constituents, I believe their greatest role is connecting people. When people are connected they are much more likely to find success, while feeling supported and encouraged.

Did something in this interview inspire you?

Get in touch with Gerald and Plexpod