12 Most Popular Kansas City Entrepreneur Stories That Inspired You in 2020


Kansas City entrepreneurs are superheroes. And you couldn’t stop reading these 12 KC stories of business know-how, entrepreneurial hustle … and 2020 resiliency.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many KC small business owners donned their capes and got to work (and we were lucky enough to share some of their stories with you). They looked adversity in the face and lept over obstacles in a single pivot. They stared down adversity and found opportunity. They used their powers for good and helped those in need.

And you couldn’t get enough of their amazing feats of entrepreneurship. These top 12 entrepreneur stories for 2020 aren’t single accomplishments of doing great things alone; they’re also tales of triumph that carry a similar thread: Resource Partners (which are nonprofit resources that help you start and grow businesses) in Kansas City are ready to assemble and heed the call when entrepreneurs need a hand.

KC organizations are ready to help. You’ll read about Block Knowledge, the Porter House KC, Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, SCORE – Kansas City, Ennovation Center, KC BizCare, ScaleUP! Kansas City, Kansas Small Business Development Center at Johnson County Community College, Digital Sandbox KC, Determination Incorporated, Velocity Lee’s Summit, Opportunity HUB, Square One Small Business Services by Mid-Continent Public Library, local chambers of commerce and many more Resource Partners.

In fact, there are over 240 nonprofit organizations in the metro that help entrepreneurs featured in these 12 most-read stories of the year … and that help is available to aspiring entrepreneurs and seasoned small-business owners like you. If you’re wondering what the next step is for your business or business idea, just give us here at KCSourceLink a call at 816-235-6500 or tell us what you need here. That’s your invitation to join the not-so-secret metro-wide alliance of entrepreneurs and small businesses, where you’ll get your custom set of next steps, opportunities for learning, coaching, networking and more.

But enough talk. Let’s dive into your top 12 entrepreneur stories of 2020.

Celeste Aguirre of Relief Muscle Manipulation

12. Starting a Massage Business as COVID-19 Struck: How This KC Entrepreneur Endured

Celeste Aguirre, Relief Muscle Manipulation 

Celeste Aguirre always dreamed of being a business owner. So when she opened her business in 2020, she surprised her grandpa, who was such a source of inspiration for her growing up; starting a business was her way of giving back to him. He immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico 60 years ago in search of a better life for his family. So when COVID-19 hit and shutterred Celeste’s fledgling business just a few weeks after she opened, she used that same perseverance to pause, plan and move forward.

Discover how Celeste’s resolve helped her push through a major setback to keep her new business going during the early days of the pandemic.

Resources used: Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, KCSourceLink

Hasan Ali of Smart Resume

11. 201 Rejected Resumes Inspire KC Tech Entrepreneur’s Startup to Help Job Seekers

Hasan Ali, Smart Resume

Hasan Ali can take rejection and turn it into a business. (He’s an entrepreneur, after all.) After applying to over 200 jobs after he got his graduate degree, he finally landed a position … but that experience clued him in that something is amiss with his résumé and the way that employers automatically screen applications. That’s when he had an idea that would improve that process for job seekers, so after gearing up his AI-powered startup that optimizes résumés, he quit working for the man to work on his business full-time.

See how Hasan’s idea is helping job seekers everywhere at a time when they need his innovation the most.

Resource used: Digital Sandbox KC, Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, Urban Business Growth Initiative, 1 Million Cups, KC Collective, KCSourceLink

Determination Incorporated cohort of new small business owners

10. Amid COVID-19, Formerly Incarcerated Entrepreneurs Find Success in Their New Startups

Sean Gasaway, Jefe LLC; Samuel Lane, Lane Contracting LLC 

Sometimes it takes an entrepreneur to help entrepreneurs. Enter Determination, Incorporated — an organization that aims to help formerly incarcerated people start their own business to prevent the cycle of recidivism and set them up for success.

Uncover how two alums of the program, Sean and Samuel, are forging a new path through entrepreneurship.

Resources used: Determination, Incorporated; UMKC Innovation Center; KCSourceLink

Dr. Shelley Cooper of SureShow

9. Missed a Doctor’s Visit? KC Entrepreneur’s TeleHealth App Is an Innovative Solution

Shelley Cooper, SureShow

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers — and there are problems everywhere waiting to be solved. Telehealth titan Shelley Cooper saw a way to address a problem doctors and patients frequently face: missed medical appointments, which are a big problem in the medical industry and pose a huge issue for the most vulnerable patients. So how’d she do it?

See how Shelley built an app and cleared some tough hurdles to get her tech to those who need it most.

Resources used: Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, Digital Sandbox KC, Kansas City Kansas Community College Entrepreneurial Innovation Center, Opportunity HUB, Velocity Lee’s Summit

Earstin and Penelope Sanders pose outside Aunt Mildred's Barbecue Mobile Eatery

8. Mom’s Secret Barbecue Sauce Inspires KC Entrepreneur’s Next Business during COVID-19

Earstin Sanders, Aunt Mildred’s Southern Style BBQ 

It’s not often a great business idea is locked away in a safe … but for long-time serial entrepreneur Earstin Sanders, that’s exactly where he’d get the idea for his latest venture, a barbecue sauce and mobile eatery inspired by his mother’s secret recipe. Earstin, who’s no stranger to entrepreneurship, had a killer lawncare and renovations business, but even with that entrepreneurial pedigree, had a lot to learn to get cooking in the kitchen … during a global pandemic, no less!

Find out how Earstin leveraged sauce and serendipity to start his savory venture in 2020.

Resources used: ScaleUP! Kansas City, Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, KCSourceLink

Juaquan Harron (left) and Rodney McDuffie II, founders, The Vendors Assistant

7. Conquering the Pitch: ‘Batman and Robin’ KC Tech Duo Thwart ‘No’ on Funding Journey

Juaquan Herron and Rodney McDuffie II, The Vendors Assistant 

Juaquan loves comic books; in fact, he’s created his own series that features diverse heroes. But he encountered several problems when he attended conferences as a vendor to sell his comics … so he and his partner teamed up to create an app that handles everything for vendors, from finding events to booking travel and tracking expenses. But actually making that app a reality is a journey fraught with “Nos.” More like “no problem” for these two entrepreneurs.

Dive into this page-turner and see how Juaquan and Rodney are penning their success story by mastering the art of the pitch.

Resources used: Digital Sandbox KC, Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC

From Product to Vegan Food Truck to Restaurant in 2 Years: How Mattie’s Foods Did It

6. From Product to Vegan Food Truck to Restaurant in 2 Years: How Mattie’s Foods Did It

India Pernell and Arvelisha Williams, Mattie’s Foods

Sisters India and Arvelisha, seasoned hair stylists, will tell you that they never set out to start a food business … but that’s exactly what they did, first setting up a vegan-focused popup, then selling a food product (that you wouldn’t believe isn’t real cheese), revving up a food truck and finally opening their first brick-and-mortar location in only about two years. How’d they do all that, that fast?

Find out their secret sauce for starting so many food businesses (and how you can, too) on their culinary conquest.

Resources used: Ennovation Center, Urban Business Growth Initiative, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Square One Small Business and Workforce Development Services by Mid-Continent Public Library, Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, KCSourceLink

Chris Goode, owner of Ruby Jean's Juicery

5. Ruby Jean’s Juicery Lifted by Community Support as COVID-19 Pauses 2 Locations

Chris Goode, Ruby Jean’s Juicery

2020 wasn’t so sweet for Chris Goode, but he still made lemonade from lemons … black lemonade to be exact. See, Chris is a community staple and a leader, so when Black Lives Matter movement again swept the nation during the summer, Chris leveraged that opportunity to bring visibility to Black-owned businesses, create a prayer chain on Juneteenth and craft that delicious blackberry lemonade with activated charcoal.

Discover how Chris leveraged an opportunity to elevate entrepreneurs and spotlight those promoting social change.

Resources used: ScaleUP! Kansas City, KCSourceLink

Will Brown of Will Brown Interiors, a small business based in Kansas City

4. ‘Fresh Eyes’ Inspires Will Brown Interior’s Clever COVID Pivot, Focus on Feng Shui

Will Brown, Will Brown Interiors 

Will’s corporate gig at Hallmark had him creating scenes with colorful props and design-forward furniture, so when the company was offering buyouts, he took one … but as that chapter ended, he began another as an interior designer. However, after a year of working for himself, COVID-19 forced him to rethink how his in-person business could interact with clients safely through a new digital platform. That time also brought a fresh vision as he saw other opportunities for his new business.

See how Will weaved in feng shui and pivoted his in-person business to one that thrives off digital design.

Resource used: Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC

Amber Reed of Resolve Counseling

3. ‘What If?’ Inspires KC Business to Reimagine Mental Health Care, Pivot amid COVID-19

Amber Reed, Resolve

When the pandemic first hit, Amber Reed was among the entrepreneurs who knew that her services could help frontline workers. So she offered telehealth therapy and then did one better. (You’ll have to read the story for more on that.) But years ago when she started Resolve, she wasn’t primed to make this sort of pivot. Fast-forward a few years after growing her practice by more than half, she’s used “what if” to fuel her business forward.

Uncover how Amber’s therapeutic services were able to meet patients wherever they were to give them the help they needed during the early weeks of the pandemic.

Resource used: ScaleUP! Kansas City

Carrissa Dowdy, founder of The Cosmetic Launch Pad

2. This KC Chemist-Turned-Entrepreneur Helps Clients Break into $89B Cosmetics Industry

Carissa Dowdy, The Cosmetic Launchpad

Carissa had the knowhow to help others start their own cosmetics line. I mean, she works in a lab; it’s chemistry, my dear Watson. But it’s also part business, and breaking into the enormous cosmetics industry isn’t easy—it’s a move that takes some knowledge, experience and the ability to order 25,000 units at a time. But most folks can’t do that. Exactly! Carissa knew she could help cosmetically minded smaller operations break into an $89 billion industry.

Explore how Carissa shaped her concept around what her clients needed and shifted her mindset to help beautify her business idea.

Resources used: Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, Urban Business Growth Initiative, KC BizCare, KCSourceLink

Lisa Peña, founder of Urban Hikes KC

1. The Path Less Traveled: How Urban Hikes KC Founder Re-imagined Her Business

Lisa Peña, Urban Hikes KC 

Urban Hiking? In Kansas City? You bet. Lisa Peña’s intriguing business gets folks to explore their own backyards and uncover the often-missed sights around their favorite city they thought they knew well. When she had the idea, she realized she didn’t really know how to start a business. So she reached out to a handful of KC Resource Partners, which helped her venture grow legs and get trekking around town.

Explore how Lisa built her business that’s made for walking.

Resources used: Block Knowledge, Square One Small Business and Workforce Development Services by Mid-Continent Public Library, SCORE-Kansas City, KCSourceLink

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