Long read: Kansas City Women Entrepreneurs Speak Out

What are women entrepreneurs in Kansas City saying to themselves?

“How can I give up when so many people believe in me?” . . . “It’s important that you believe in what you’re doing and state it.” . . . “It’s going to be okay. You’ll be fine.” . . .   

On International Women’s Day, we convened a panel of women business owners in Kansas City to discuss the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur on our Facebook page.

Kansas City women entrepreneurs speak out

#InternationalWomensDay panel featuring Kansas City entrepreneurs: Dominique Davison (DRAW Architecture + Urban Design, LLC & PlanIt Impact), Marisa Wiruhayarn (Tasty Thai & M-Power Enterprises) & Whitney Manney (@Whitney Manney| W/M). Moderated by our very own Jenny Miller.

Posted by KCSourceLink on March 8, 2018.


Meet the panel:

Dominique Davison is the founder and owner of DRAW Architecture + Urban Design, LLC and PlanIt Impact, a smart modeling platform to help building professionals better understand and improve performance.

Marisa Wiruhayarn is the owner of Tasty Thai restaurants, with three locations across the metro. And sells her Tiger Cried Sauce in locations nationwide.

Whitney Manney is a fashion designer. She creates garments and textile designs under her independent label, WHITNEYMANNEY.

Moderated by our very own, Jenny Miller.

Here are highlights from the conversation:

What entrepreneurial support resources have you utilized in Kansas City?

Marisa: I was a member of ScaleUP! Kansas City. During that program, I met with the “Buy MO!” campaign, an initiative of the Lieutenant Governor, and became a member.  A year later, I received a call from a vendor in St. Louis who asked about my hot sauce. I didn’t know who they were, but they heard of me through the membership listing and we were able to do business together.

During ScaleUP!, I also connected with World Trade Center Kansas City, which has opened opportunities to go overseas. I plan to go to the Philippines this August to explore opportunities.   

>>>>>Learn more about exporting to expand sales.

Whitney: Two summers ago I did the FastTrac® NewVenture™ program. It was really good for me coming from a fine arts background. (You don’t get a ton of business education when you go to arts school.)  

>>>>>There are scholarship available now for upcoming FastTrac classes at the UMKC Small Business & Technology Development Center.  

I’ve always had a pretty good balance of creative and analytical. But I wanted to take a chunk of time out to set up my business systems. That way, during rush orders and nights spent sewing until 4 a.m., I’m not worrying about how things are running.

I also took Artist INC. right after I graduated from art school.

And last year during Global Entrepreneurship Week I took home second place in the “AltCap Your Business” grant competition. With that money I have invested in some equipment upgrades that make my life so much easier.

This year, I’m focusing on upping my wholesale game. I have partnered with Kansas City stores in the past. Now, since I’m comfortable with my business, I want to grow and get into some regional stores (and eventually nationwide).

Dominique: I started out in a FastTrac class as well because architecture school doesn’t give you a lot of business know-how. I knew how to design big buildings, but not how to make the finances work.

This gave me the courage to say, “This is what I need to know to run a business.” And even though it’s a really fast class it gives you a great base so you can go from there.   

For PlanIT impact, I had to get support to build the digital product. It is very costly, intensive and I don’t have a computer science background so I couldn’t code it up myself. The folks at KC Digital Drive were really instrumental in connecting me with folks in the Smart City space nationally.    

>>>>>Learn if you have a feasible tech business.

Next I participated in accelerators. Ultimately, we received a Digital Sandbox KC grant. We were lucky enough to have that matched which allowed us to build our the first version of our software.  

Since then, we have received great support from the Enterprise Center in Johnson County (ECJC) and attended many networking events in the entrepreneurial community. Finally, we wrapped up last year by receiving a LaunchKC grant, which allowed us to build out a very important piece of functionality for our software as well.   

Any words of advice for people seeking investors?

Dominique: It’s all about the relationship. And finding someone who is passionate about the same space that you’re in. I think that entrepreneurs spend too much time chasing investors thinking about funding, and not enough thinking about the relationship or where that investor wants to make an impact.  

>>>>>Learn more about the types of funding available to early-stage entrepreneurs.

In your entrepreneurial journey, what has been your big aha moment?

Marisa: My aha moment was presenting at 1 Million Cups at the end of 2016. That was a big moment for me and I’ve never looked back. Even when I have bumps in the road, I think about that moment and say, “How can I give up when so many people believe in me?”

Whitney: Being an artist with a business, if I’m not confident about what I’m developing and creating, no one else is going to care. That sounds horrible, but it’s the truth. I have to be on a Beyoncé level of confidence.

I have to be confident in what I’m doing because that’s when I nail those meetings, get those contracts and keep the business moving forward.  

>>>>>Find resources for microenterprise entrepreneurs.

How do you get the confidence you need, especially as a business owner, to portray yourself as the self-assured woman you are?

Whitney: It’s okay to recognize when you’re having a lower moment. There’s a certain power to recognizing what’s going on and why you feel such a way. Because then you can create a quick action plan, “I need to do this, this and that,” so you can move on.

If my sewing machines aren’t working (or whatever), I’ll take a walk around the block, think about what else I can possibly do and get it done. I can’t waste the day. It’s just me and nobody wants to hear the excuse, “I’m having a bad day, so your order is going to be late.”

>>>>>Learn how to automate your marketing tasks so you can free up time for other parts of your business.

Dominique: I think about the why behind what I’m doing. There are ups and downs, good and bad days, for sure. So I think, “Why am I doing this? What do I get energy from?”  Occasionally I’ll give myself a pep talk. I’ll look in the mirror and say, “Okay, this is what’s going on today. . . .”

It’s important that you believe in what you’re doing and state it.  

>>>>>Find a business class in Kansas City to hone your entrepreneurial mindset.

Marisa: Sometimes when you’re working at home by yourself and you can’t get anything done or the answers you need . . . I start cleaning my office, the kitchen, organizing the closet . . . that calms me down a lot. Then I can go back and think more clearly: what do I need to do? Who do I need to call? What are my next steps?

When you have stress and things don’t work out, it’s because you don’t have control. You’re depending on other people around you. So by first focusing on what you can control, you regain your confidence and believe that you can do it.   

>>>>>Read more about making a plan to grow your business.    

Any advice for people who want to start a business?

Marisa: Don’t give up. You know it’s going to work. You just have to find a way to get it done. If you cannot find a way to do it yourself, you reach out. A lot of people around you want to see you succeed too. Ask for help. Sometimes you don’t get it right away. Don’t make excuses like, “I don’t have money.” That’s not a reason for you to quit. You may not be an expert in something, but you can find someone who is. It will be hard but you will be happy that you tried.

>>>>>Did you know most businesses start with funding from friends and family?    

Whitney: If you think about that full, final, glossy picture at the end of the road, that can be so overwhelming. Instead, think about those little chunks that you can take care of right now. “This is how I can attack this right now, at the best of my present day capabilities.” I know I’ll get further down the road eventually because my capabilities are going to keep growing.

Dominique: Mentorship is huge, too. Having that person that has been around the block, has done it before, will help you save time and not make the same mistakes. I’ve been grateful to have some great mentors through the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program and the Growth Mentoring Service at the ECJC.

You can’t be afraid to ask for help and you have to know when you need it. It’s incredible how much people are willing to help you.  

People further down the road can help you.

>>>>>Search “mentoring” under “Area of Assistance” in The Resource Navigator® to see all of the programs in Kansas City who can help.

How do you balance your professional and personal lives and find satisfaction in both?

Dominique: I joke that I don’t pay any attention to my hair or my car. Don’t waste time on things that aren’t as important.

I have a very supportive husband who helps a lot in balancing kids, pets and household things. Make sure you have a support network of people around you.

>>>>>Search “Networking organizations” under “Area of Assistance” in The Resource Navigator® to see all of the opportunities in Kansas City.

Whitney: I get up a little earlier, so I have time to just sit and not do anything. Even if it’s just me and a cup of tea staring at a wall, that’s good. That allows me to get my thoughts together before I get to the studio where I have a list of things to get done.  

Marisa: I don’t say much when I’m tired or stressed out, and I don’t complain, because I don’t want to put that stress on my husband or my family. Complaining is not productive at all.

I get up early every day and exercise, that helps a lot. And before you go to bed, make a list of the things you need to get done the next day. Organizing will help you balance a lot. And patience.

Kansas City is often listed as top city for women in tech. What do you think we’re doing right?

Dominique: We’re providing resources. The community is actively going out and looking for people to participate in it. I was recruited to start a tech startup (in a way) through KC Digital Drive. By connecting people to resources nationally we’re also doing very well. The community is very well networked and generous.

There are also some strong women leaders in the community that are helpful to look up to and learn from.

>>>>>Read our recent blog post: 5 Things We Read on the Internet about Entrepreneurs for Women’s History Month.

If you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would you say?

Whitney: It’s going to be okay. You’ll be fine.

Honestly. I think I spent so much time, especially when I first graduated from school, going at this impossible pace. Eventually it would’ve flatlined me. So I would say, “Calm down. It’s going to get done because this is your purpose in life.”

Enjoy getting there. It’s the journey and not the destination.  

Marisa: I would tell myself, “You’re good. Have more confidence.” I grew up with low self-esteem and thought too much about how people think of me. “Believe in yourself. Be stronger. Be patient. Don’t be too shy.” I probably could’ve gone farther if I knew that back then.   

Dominique: “Follow your instincts.” There’s that voice in you that lets you know when something may be wrong with a situation. Everytime I didn’t follow my instincts I went back and said, “Ugh. Bummer.”  

>>>>>Read more about how Kansas City business owners make it all work on our Entrepreneurs in Action page.   

Do you want to start a business in Kansas City?

We can help you start your journey with a Personalized Action Plan. Drop us a line and we will be in touch ASAP with the free or low-cost resources you need.Funding? Mentoring? Classes? the entrepreneurial community has all of that and much more. All you have to do is ask.   

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