Unwitting Entrepreneur Leverages Comeback KC Ventures to Help More People with ObesityBecky Brown
It’s possible to be a founder and not even know it. That’s how entrepreneurship sneaked up on Courtney Younglove, M.D. She was on her second business before she realized she was an entrepreneur — and discovered that there are tons of resources in Kansas City to empower founders.
Learn how Courtney launched Health Partners MD with help from UMKC Innovation Center programs like Comeback KC Ventures. Digital Sandbox KC is part of the equation, too. Here’s how it’s all adding up.
Passion + Need = Smart Business Ideas
Courtney worked for 19 years as an obstetrician/gynecologist. Although she loved the field of women’s medicine, when she discovered obesity medicine, she was hooked.
“I started learning everything about this emerging field of medicine that I could,” she says. “A few years in, I got board certified. I tried to integrate my two fields of medicine into my existing practice, but it just wasn’t possible.
“I couldn’t let it go. One way or another, I had to practice obesity medicine. So, over the next few years, I saved money and tried to learn everything I could about starting a medical practice. Eventually, I hung up a shingle. The word ‘entrepreneur’ wasn’t in my vocabulary at the time.”
What started as small clinic with Courtney and a nurse soon exploded. Now, Heartland Weight Loss includes two clinics and a staff of 15. The need for this obesity care is strong.
“It’s growable, but it’s not scalable,” Courtney says. “I don’t want to employ 100 people. But I want to touch a gazillion people, not just 5,000.”
A patient asked her how she could provide her obesity management program to his corporate employer. That really got Courtney’s wheels turning. So in her free time, this single mom of three teenage boys brainstormed on how she could roll out life-changing obesity care on a large scale. Ultimately, she determined that it was possible, but it would need to look much different than the typical clinic. So Courtney put on her research cap and got to work.
“It was mostly talking with people and surveying my patients,” Courtney says. “I ultimately decided I’d use technology.”
Assistance + Flexibility = A New Way Forward
After what she calls “a lot of trying and failing,” Courtney created Health Partners MD. It’s an employee health benefit that pairs an app with training of on-site or near-site clinicians who work with corporations. Together, they guide individuals through expertly designed obesity care. Employees are healthier, companies have a more productive workforce, and everyone wins.
Except an app requires tech and Courtney isn’t a tech person. So she went looking for help.
When she connected with Digital Sandbox KC, Courtney quickly became familiar with the Missouri SBDC at UMKC, Comeback KC Ventures and KC Digital Drive. People recommended programs and services to her, and she gladly accepted.
“The cohort of people I have met is just amazing,” Courtney says. “The networking that has come out of these programs is incredible.”
Health Partners MD has received funding from Digital Sandbox KC and Pure Pitch Rally. Now, the company is knee-deep in development and preparing for its first beta testers. It’s an exciting time, but Courtney is still a little flabbergasted.
“The Kansas City entrepreneurial ecosystem baffles me to some degree,” she says. “When I opened my first business, I learned what I needed to know from books and podcasts. I felt very isolated at the time. A local hockey dad introduced me to Vistage, a CEO group, which helped a lot. One of my Vistage members showed me the way into the local entrepreneurial community. Until then, I had no idea there was an ecosystem of help and support like this. I bet there are people who feel as alone as I did at the beginning of my journey, but they don’t have to.”
Courtney isn’t alone — and she’s part of a movement to support startups that upset the status quo in health care, education and more.
Comeback KC Ventures + Big Ideas = A Healthier Future
Health Partners MD is one of the pioneering startups supported by Comeback KC Ventures. Originally funded through a SPRINT Challenge grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the program was designed to jumpstart KC’s innovation in the wake of COVID-19.
The program focused on promising technologies that addressed problems caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. The UMKC Innovation Center’s Technology Venture Studio and KC Digital Drive lead the project, which aims to support the growth of these technology-based companies. Available resources include monthly advising sessions, showcase opportunities, bootcamps on raising capital or forming a fiduciary board and more.
The ventures supported by Comeback KC Ventures are all disruptors. And like Courtney, these entrepreneurs need mentoring and programs aren’t one size fits all.
“Although I’ve always known I wanted to do something bigger with this field of medicine, the path to creating that vision was initially very hidden,” Courtney said. “But once I got into Comeback KC Ventures, the support started snowballing.”
Courtney’s knowledge and enthusiasm made her a great fit for the program.
“When Courtney came to present to Digital Sandbox KC, it was clear she had an extraordinary background and was addressing an issue affecting the health of our community during the pandemic and would have lasting effects beyond the pandemic,” says Chris Rehkamp, associate director of Technology Ventures Studio at the UMKC Innovation Center. “We were excited to pull her into the Comeback KC Venture Fellows program.”
Courtney made the most of the opportunity.
“She embraced every asset of the program,” Chris says. “She met with our Comeback KC team regularly, utilizing advising sessions, showcase opportunities and more. She took advantage of every possible resource.”
Mentors + Persistence = Empowered Entrepreneurs
One of Courtney’s most helpful connections has been with Mark Calhoun. He’s a technology development consultant with the Missouri SBDC at UMKC who has mentored Courtney. As a founder himself, Mark understands the demands of entrepreneurship. And he helps business owners bust through roadblocks.
“It would have been great for Courtney to do the ELEVATIONLAB Tech Venture class,” Mark says. “But she just didn’t have time. So we did a lot of that content on her time. We covered the materials and worked with her schedule. So much of the progress that we’ve made has been through mentoring and coaching.”
He also applauds Courtney’s drive and passion.
“She has persistence. She has a strong vision of what she’s trying to accomplish,” Mark says. “You need a strong vision, but you also need the ability to execute. Courtney knows from building her medical practice what it takes to build a business, but she doesn’t know tech well, so that’s why she reached out for help.”
But Courtney did more than settle for a brief introduction. She set out to learn and fill the gaps in her own knowledge.
“An undervalued trait is the ability to and the willingness to never stop learning,” Mark says. “Most successful entrepreneurs have that trait. You don’t have to feel like you have all the answers. You just need the ability to go after the ones you don’t have.”
You + Resource Partners = Small Business Success
No matter how your business is currently adding up, there are friendly folks who are happy to help you do the math. Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is teeming with knowledgeable mentors and empowering programs.
You can find all these resources in one place: KCSourceLink! The Resource Navigator lists more than 230 Kansas City-area groups that offer free or low-cost guidance to entrepreneurs. And the KCSourceLink Calendar is the definitive listing of hundreds of classes and networking events for local business owners.
Not sure where to start? No problem! Get a free KCSourceLink Personal Action Plan. This customized checklist will help you do the things and meet the people you need to move your KC business ahead. Just share a little information, and our Network Navigators will curate a plan just for you. It’s free – so it fits in any budget.