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: There are two glaring facts that were reported this year that only validated my “why” and made it deeper.

1. LendingTree reported Kansas City as number 49 out of 50 major cities for Minority Entrepreneurship.  I am usually the only person in the room that has been on the other side—on top of being the only Black person or Black woman in the room. I’ve observed the extreme disconnect between some of the non-profit resource providers and the actual needs of Black Owned Businesses. I think this should be a wake-up call to all entrepreneurial support providers.  We all play a role in these stats.

2. The 2019 Institute for Policy Study on the national racial wealth gap reported if the trajectory of the past three decades continues, by 2050 the median White family will have $174,000 of wealth, while Latino median wealth will be $8,600 and Black median wealth will be $600. The median Black family is on track to reach zero wealth by 2082. There will need to be resources that work to build wealth through entrepreneurship and closing the racial income gap through job creation. We must move our efforts beyond just teaching wo(man) to fish, we must help them “build ships.” The tide is coming and it’s going to hit sooner than we think.

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

A: Working for my father in our family engineering business has exposed me to a great deal of challenges faced by Minority Owned Businesses. From this challenge I have an opportunity to be an ecosystem builder for inclusive procurement and entrepreneurship. I grew up in a rare household in my community—two parents, master’s degrees, entrepreneurs, living in the inner city. It frustrated me to be the only one most of the time. I no longer want to be alone. I should never have to be alone in my experiences or existence in a room.

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 made the choice to be intentional and unapologetic in order to make sure the right impact is made.

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

A: I am hopeful to see Kansas City be the most entrepreneurial city in America. But it can’t be that without its Minority Owned Businesses. And before I am done, it will be the ‘City of Entrepreneurs’.

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

A:I have had the privilege of serving on several boards and commissions via a governor or mayoral appointment. And I continue to. It was my experiences on each of these boards where I learned a great deal about board governance/Roberts Rules of Order, nonprofit management, disparity studies, Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goals, airports, public art programs and administration, grassroots organizing, business development, procurement, professional development for young professionals, etc. I never took any of those roles lightly, and dedicated myself and was rewarded with a greater knowledge and understanding, even when I felt like my voice was not being heard. I never minded being the most vocal or youngest person at the table. I always look forward to a good fight, as long as I am fighting for something that has an impact.

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

A: Be intentional in who you are trying to serve and build strong relationships upon them.

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

A: I’m just getting started on it.

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

 A: I am excited about the shift in leadership. A new generation is arriving. I am excited to see my peers thriving and taking on new leadership roles. From boards and commissions, policy directors, state representatives, council members, investors, business owners, even our new mayor, we are all taking our place for our city. I’m excited to see how we will work together to move forward on shared plans around entrepreneurship in Kansas City, and even more so when we are not on the same page. Relationships are very key when you are building—this work cannot be done alone. There have been various opportunities that have been laid in my path to support the work I am doing with the city on inclusive procurement for small businesses, civic innovation and enhancing our artists and creative entrepreneurs.

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

A: I am most proud of the work I am doing with the KC BizCare Office, helping to reactivate and market this innovative program. I don’t know of any program in another city that does exactly what we do. I love to watch peoples’ faces or hear their reactions when I explain what we do and how we can help them. In ten years the KC BizCare office has impacted over 17,000 new and existing businesses in Kansas City, and we are preparing to help a lot more by implementing programs for referral matching for back office and technical assistance, a startup in residence program (InnovateKC), system changes for small business procurement, a new marketing campaign for inclusive procurement (City of Entrepreneurs) and an expansion of our office and services.

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

A: For Kansas City to be a ‘City of Entrepreneurs’, a city where everyone thrives.

Did something in this interview inspire you?

Get in touch with Nia and KC BizCare