12 Kansas City Entrepreneurs Reveal How They Started a Business from Scratch
The most difficult part of any journey is the first step — and starting a business is no different. KCSourceLink works with people at every stage of the entrepreneurial journey. And we’ve heard a wide variety of reasons why and how these business owners got started. While each journey is different, we’ve noticed some common threads.
Hear from several of the entrepreneurs we’ve worked with about the reasons they started a business and how they did it. Learn from their experiences and find out what resources helped them get where they wanted to go. (There are over 230 nonprofits in the KC metro that help aspiring entrepreneurs and seasoned business owners. Explore the Resource Navigator here.)
Entrepreneurs who saw a need
Dion Dodson — Deluxe Transportation Group
After selling his commercial and residential lawn-care business, serial entrepreneur Dion bought himself a Cadillac Escalade. He started driving for Uber’s premium service to fill his time and enjoy his new ride. But soon, many clients wanted to request him specifically.
“My company came about as a gap in the market,” Dion says. “When Uber ended its luxury rideshare services in the KC metro, there was an unmet demand for clients who wanted a more prestigious and upscale transportation option.”
Now, Deluxe Transportation Group benefits Dion’s clients, employees and family.
“My why for being an entrepreneur is undoubtedly to provide a better life for my family and my awesome Deluxe Transportation Group team as well as plant seeds for the young entrepreneurs that are coming behind me,” he says.
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: ELEVATIONLAB New Venture; Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce; Missouri SBDC at UMKC
Carissa Dowdy — The Cosmetic Launchpad
As a longtime cosmetics chemical engineer, Carissa knew that starting a makeup line wasn’t easy. Most manufacturers require a minimum order of at least 25,000 units. This seemingly impossible number was verified by 15 manufacturers when Carissa explored starting her own lipstick line. She knew this volume was a barrier to many prospective entrepreneurs.
So, Carissa found a way to work around these numbers and empower entrepreneurs who want to enter the $89 billion beauty industry. The Cosmetic Launchpad makes smaller, customized production runs for small business owners. Carissa helps these entrepreneurs from inception to product development to market.
“Everybody doesn’t necessarily want to sell 25,000 units,” she says. “That might not be where people are in their business, and so [I’m] trying to meet cosmetic businesses where they actually are to help them get to the next level.”
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: Entrepreneurial Mindset Training through ELEVATIONLAB; KC BizCare; Missouri SBDC at UMKC
Lauren Lawrence — Stenovate
After being a court reporter for seven years, Lauren was more in love with the profession than ever. But she was frustrated with the lack of business tools for freelancers in the industry. So she created the Stenovate platform, which connects reporters, scopists and proofreaders and allows them to easily share documentation, manage payments and more.
“I honestly didn’t know what I was getting into,” Lauren says. “I just thought it was going to take a couple thousand dollars. I’d find a developer friend I can pay a little money to, and we can quickly and easily solve these problems.”
Instead, Lauren discovered the wild world of startups. Thanks to guidance from local organizations, successful pitches and strategic partnerships, Stenovate is becoming a reality. And it’s benefiting other entrepreneurs.
“The big thing for me is helping all of these small, primarily women-owned businesses,” Lauren says. “They’re all working hard, and I love that I can simplify their work lives through this platform.”
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: Digital Sandbox KC; Fountain Innovation Fund out of the Enterprise Center in Johnson County; Full Scale; Missouri SBDC at UMKC; Pure Pitch Rally
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Patricia McCreary — Margaret’s Place
When Patricia looked for senior care for her grandmother Margaret, she couldn’t find a center that was the right fit. Patricia also learned that there is a great need for places seniors can go that are clean, safe and full of life. As someone who has been an entrepreneur since age 19, she knew she could start a business to fill this need. And so Margaret’s Place was born.
It hasn’t been without its bumps. But Patricia is dedicated to changing how senior care is approached. She wants to make places where older adults can have fun.
“I did some soul searching to recall why I opened Margaret’s Place in the first place,” Patricia says. “I opened it for seniors and the disabled in the urban core to get back to living life.”
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: ScaleUP! Kansas City
Entrepreneurs who followed a passion
Alisha Graham — Cupcake Joy
Alisha enjoyed working in finance. But she loved baking. That interest first took her to classes at arts and crafts stores, then at her local community college.
“I intended to take a couple of classes to get my feet wet and figure this thing out,” Alisha says. “I enjoyed going and enjoyed the seminars and instruction, so I ended up finishing the program. From there, I thought, ‘OK, I understand how to bake. Now the next step is what do I do with it?’”
Baking for family and friends was a gratifying side hustle for more than 18 years. But when Alisha and her family moved to KC for her husband’s job, she knew it was the time to open Cupcake Joy. Now, she creates sweet treats for events and food trucks. Guidance from mentors has helped her with legal issues, pricing and more.
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: Better Business Bureau of Greater Kansas City
Alesha Bowman — UnLESHed+
Alesha never saw herself as an entrepreneur. But she’s always had a passion for fashion. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising and then a master’s degree in higher education. But after six years of what she thought was her dream career in higher ed, she was still unhappy.
“I realized that fashion has always been my polestar – going to thrift shops, shopping for parties, shopping for school,” she says. “So that’s where it started.”
She began styling fellow plus-sized women as a fun side hustle. Then, research and passion turned the hustle into a full-time gig with a brick-and-mortar shop.
“I know plus-sized bodies,” Alesha says. “The plus-sized industry is a $21 billion industry. Not a lot of people tap into it and provide good, affordable clothing for us.”
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: Kansas City Public Library H&R Block Business & Career Center; The Porter House KC
Erik and Paley Carmona — Carmona’s Chamoy
Paley loves finding new recipes and making them her own, and chamoy was no different. Sometimes called Mexico’s favorite condiment, chamoy is a combination of fruit, spices and lemon juice. The sweet and sour paste can be used as a dip or in candy. Paley and Erik’s family and friends were huge fans.
“We figured we might as well make it a business,” Paley says.
Both Paley and Erik were experienced entrepreneurs, so developing new products like hibiscus candies and aqua frescas — refreshing drinks with chamoy rims — came easily. But the nuts and bolts weren’t so clear.
“We knew we needed to do X, Y and Z,” Paley says. “But we didn’t know we needed the whole alphabet!”
Fortunately, the couple found the guidance they needed with classes and mentorship from the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation and Latino Arts Foundation.
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: Hispanic Economic Development Corporation; Latino Arts Foundation
Will Brown — Will Brown Interiors
Decades in the corporate world made Will realize that he loves creating warm, inviting spaces. As a former art director of the Hallmark photo studio, he built sets and decorated rooms – and found he enjoyed creating new worlds. Soon, he was helping friends redo their spaces. Picking out paint colors turned into redesigning the room and then another. His next chapter was clear.
With a round of layoffs coming up, Will took a voluntary severance package. “I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to transition from employee to entrepreneur,” he says.
COVID made things interesting for the fledgling business. But Will soon realized that finding comfort at home was more important for his clients than ever. And he pivoted his offerings to include an array of virtual services. A mentor at the Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC helped Will find his footing.
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: ELEVATIONLAB; Missouri SBDC at UMKC;
Jonaie Johnson — Interplay
In elementary school, Jonaie made bracelets for family and friends. In middle school, she realized that tweens are often hungry – so she started a lucrative fruit snack business. And in high school, Jonaie noticed that her aunt often had to leave family gatherings early to go tend to her dog.
“I thought, ‘What if she could do that with her phone?’” Jonaie says.
She set out to figure out how to make it happen. While at UMKC, Jonaie participated in entrepreneurship programs and developed the business plan for Interplay, her pet-care startup. The product is in development, even though people are often surprised to hear that Jonaie didn’t grow up with a dog.
“It started as me solving a problem. That’s what entrepreneurs do in my eyes,” she says. “We see problems and set out to fix them.”
KCSourceLink Resource Partners and other organizations that helped along the way: Black Excellence KC (BXKC); Center for Black Innovation; Digital Sandbox KC; InnovateHER KC; Opportunity Hub (OHUB); Pipeline Pathfinder; Regnier Venture Creation Challenge; UMKC E-Scholars
Rickey and Lenora Leathers — Savvy Salon
Rickey and Lenora have such a passion for entrepreneurship that they each started their own business. He owned an insurance agency, and she owned a salon.
Entrepreneurship had long been in Rickey’s blood. He had his own lawn-care business as a teenager. And at State Farm, he took advantage of all the professional development opportunities he could. But the couple saw unmet need and opportunity with the salon.
“Styling African-American hair is not taught at many cosmetology schools,” Rickey says. “If a Black person walks into a salon chain, that location will have a hard time serving her if they don’t have stylist who is Black.”
In 2019, Rickey closed his agency to focus on Savvy Salon. What started as one location with Lenora as the only stylist has grown to two locations with a team of stylists on staff. Now, their goal is a chain of salons dedicated to African-American hair.
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: GROWTH360
Entrepreneurs who turned social change into good business
Godfrey Riddle – Civic Saint
A string of life-altering events spurred Godfrey’s entrepreneurial journey. A cancer diagnosis, losing both of his parents and then the murder of George Floyd made Godfrey decide that he wasn’t leaving his future to chance.
“I’ve always wanted to start a business that would add value to the world and show that positive impact and profitability are complementary,” he says.
Godfrey started Civic Saint, which offers activist-minded clothing and accessories. A portion of the company’s proceeds go to organizations that fight for racial and social equality. Godfrey is also using his platform to create change on a personal level.
“As a gay, Black man, I didn’t see entrepreneurs who looked like me growing up,” he says. “You can’t become it if you don’t see it or experience it, so right now I’m trying to play an active role in mentoring.”
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: ELEVATIONLAB; Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce; Missouri SBDC at UMKC; Square One Small Business Services by Mid-Continent Public Library
Christina Williams and Dr. Tamela Ross — The Blakk Co.
Long-time friends Christina and Tamela were discussing the lack of a safe environment for men of color to have an open forum. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the community was reeling. A place for men of color to gather and be empowered was needed more than ever. Christina and Tamela figured, “Why not?”
They created The Blakk Co. to fill this need. It’s a social enterprise and gentleman’s club that’s part coworking space, part clubhouse, part educational community. And its founders aren’t strangers to entrepreneurship. Tamela has a behavioral counseling practice and Christina owns Posh Restoration Facilities.
“Tamela has worked in the medical field for 20 years, and her core is helping others heal through whatever they need to heal through,” Christina says. “At my core, I love to empower others to be their best. The Blakk Co. was a natural way to fulfill our passions.”
KCSourceLink Resource Partners that helped along the way: The Black Mastermind Group; ScaleUP! Kansas City
Resources for your entrepreneurial journey
Whether you’re ready to take the first step or need help figuring out where to go next, KCSourceLink is here with guidance and support for all KC entrepreneurs.
The KCSourceLink Resource Navigator™ lists more than 230 organizations that can help you reach your goals. And the KCSourceLink Calendar is the metro’s most comprehensive collection of upcoming classes and programs that can help you make it happen.
Don’t even know where to start or what questions to ask? No problem! Our Network Navigators can create a free Personal Action Plan that’s tailored to your unique needs and dreams. Provide a little info, and you’ll receive an individualized list of exactly which experts can help you move your business forward.
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