Building Bridges to Entrepreneurial Supports amid the Pandemic

April 8, 2021 | By

Nicolas Gunkel

The virtual “CovidGPS: Food Sector” tool matches business owners with a team of coaches, all experts in specific food business domains. Geared towards facilitating comprehensive but quick feedback rounds, coach meetings can be completed in one afternoon. Our Kansas City pilot was capped at twenty entrepreneurs, who overwhelmingly report that their participation in the process helped them steer more successfully through the pandemic while learning about the broader resources available in the ecosystem that they will tap into for economic recovery. The tool was incubated by Forward Cities as part of the KC ESHIP Communities program.

“What really stood out to me was that the coaches made me feel understood as a business owner and a mom during this difficult period of time. Coming out of this I know that I will be serving joy and smiles, our business will be a place where we want to uplift other small businesses and give back to our community through fundraisers and support.”

– Kiffany Bosserman, CovidGPS Small Business Participant

Contrary to common perception, small business entrepreneurship is a predominantly private endeavor. The time spent thinking through ways to retool your business model or expand your customer base are the invisible hours that every business owner puts on the clock. Few first-time entrepreneurs anticipate the extent to which the strain of business decisions and the uncertainty of their work feed self-doubt. The mental toll that rarely gets talked about and acknowledged outside of close circles of trust is a ballast that many entrepreneurs carry silently with them. As allies of small business entrepreneurs, we can lift some of that weight, especially now in a time of deep crisis.

At Forward Cities, we are joining hands with the unsung heroes listening to and supporting entrepreneurs in their communities every day attempting to stem the tide of business closures rolling through neighborhoods and towns. In concert with other mission-aligned organizations, we are trying to plant the seeds of future prosperity, right here amidst the devastation we are currently witnessing. In our eyes, the legacy of disenfranchisement of communities of color, women, and rural America paired with its outcrop, the concentrated pain and anguish they are experiencing now, mandate that we direct all our efforts to create more equitable outcomes. This charge applies particularly to entrepreneurs no matter who they are, what dream they pursue or where they are from. Throughout  2020, the stories we heard from entrepreneurs in communities about not knowing whom to turn to for assistance or advice and becoming deflated by the training they attended but did not get enough out of, were dire warning signs for what was to come.

Sample profile from the program

Accessing capital was a key concern on many people’s minds and received the majority of the media attention. We believed refining a business owner’s know-how to utilize grants, loans, or the increasingly dwindling cash reserves for maximum return needed to be at least as important a priority. We needed to develop a solution that creates a safe, virtual way for entrepreneurs to receive quick and personalized feedback to the business challenges that keep them awake at night - feedback that is free, trusted, and actionable.

Under the ESHIP Communities program we partnered with a St.Louis, MO-based software startup, LegalGPS, to retool their intuitive platform, one they have used successfully with libraries in the past, to now connect entrepreneurs with a team of business coaches online. Born was “CovidGPS: Food Sector,” a user-friendly and multilingual website that focuses in its current iteration on restaurants, cafes, pubs, diners, (home-based) caterers, and food trucks.


“The ability of CovidGPS coaches and facilitators to be out there and provide immediate advice and guidance to entrepreneurs about where to go is a great resource for our community and extremely valuable to us at the SBDC. The challenge for some of the ecosystem organizations is that they are not aware that they are missing folks. Having these bridges out there that are developed to guide our businesses to the resources in the ecosystem is such a great, great contribution of the CovidGPS tool.”

Delia Marin, CovidGPS Coach

Jackie Nguyen, Owner of Cafe Cà Phê, Photo by Gabe Munoz

In our Kansas City pilot run in Nov-Dec 2020, we recruited coaches with deep expertise in specific business domains like marketing, financing, or menu design. These coaches were then assigned to business owners, depending on the immediate needs owners shared as they navigated through the CovidGPS. Rather than setting the lofty goal of finding just the right coach or even a long-term mentor for the entrepreneurs, pragmatic speed mattered most. Through CovidGPS we linked up entrepreneurs quickly, with all coach meetings booked in less than 45mins, and we reliably connected them with the knowledge or ideas that could make a difference for entrepreneurs right now. Business owners got to benefit from the breadth of expertise that their, on average, four coaches brought together, ranging from the staff of local libraries, the SBDC office, a University-affiliated food incubator, a chef and marketing and finance professionals - and all of this in less than an afternoon.

Looking back over the past months, it’s the stories that entrepreneurs tell about how participating in the first CovidGPS cohort in Kansas City that paint a radical alternative to the isolation and disillusionment that so many rightfully feel these days. For instance, more than half of our cohort did not consult any services or resources for business owners like them before joining the cohort. The entire weight of decisions they were confronting fell on them. The program provided some relief: three out of every four coaching meetings exceeded the expectations of entrepreneurs. In many cases, participants were awed by the dedication, care and expertise they received. Check out the video above to hear the stories of three of the entrepreneurs that participated.


of entrepreneur-rated meetings surpassed expectations

Behind the Scenes with Santera Edwards, Photo by Gabe Munoz

It is clear, the Kansas City business coaches stepped to the plate with enormous heart and investment into the entrepreneurs in their community. They set an example for other cities, towns, and regions who want to follow their lead and seed lasting change in how we support entrepreneurs that believe that they are in this all alone.

If you like to learn more about how to bring the CovidGPS tool to your community, please get in touch with me via email and we will work to come up with a solution that fits your ecosystem’s needs. 

For Kansas City entrepreneurs and resource providers interested in participating in a potential follow-on cohort: we are currently in active conversations to launch a successor cohort; in the meantime check out the Toolbox, the small business resource center in Wyandotte County, Kansas and the ForwardKC mentorship program based in KCMO, both of which the KC ESHIP Communities program launched.. It is the go-to resource for everything small business and all of the services are offered at no cost to the business owners. Seek out support with planning, registering, funding, operating and growing your business - all for free - while waiting to hear news about the next cohort. You will hear first about any changes by registering for the e-news here.