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Potion Yarns: How to Weave Your Way to a New Business in Kansas City

By Kyle Smith | Apr 03, 2018
How to Weave Your Way to a New Business in Kansas City

We Create KC, our annual report on the state of Kansas City entrepreneurship, will hit the shelves and URLs this Friday, April 6. This is our fifth report, and this year we are focusing on the six imperatives the community laid out to reach Kansas City's goal of becoming America's most entrepreneurial city:

  • maximizing entrepreneurial support resources
  • telling the story of KC entrepreneurship
  • creating a strong entrepreneurial pipeline
  • building talent
  • engaging the corporate community
  • increasing available startup and growth capital.

In KC's state of entrepreneurship report, we also celebrate the people who are helping to make Kansas City a great place to play, work and live, from our 240+ Resource Partners to civic leaders, from ecosystem builders to entrepreneurs, like Johanna Miller. Here is Johanna's entrepreneurial journey and how she turned an idea into a growing business.

Have you ever knitted a sock? It looks simple enough. Needles and yarn, under and over until... you have a sock. If you have knitted a sock, you know it’s much harder than that, but very satisfying for the hands, mind and heart. And nothing feels better than pulling on a sock that you made yourself.

When Johanna Miller started the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, she knew how to knit a sock and wanted to open her own yarn store, but didn’t have the business savvy to pull all the threads together. “I never thought of myself as a business person. I didn’t think I could learn the things needed to run my own business. And I was very scared.”

What it takes to own a business

She may have been scared, but she did have business experience. She worked for over a decade as a hairstylist with a specialty in extreme(ly cool) dye jobs (think fantastic, colorful dos from comic con).

When she mentioned to her neighbor in the historic Northeast neighborhood of Kansas City that she wanted to open a yarn store, they told her she should check out the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, an eight-week business feasibility program offered by UMKC SBTDC.

“When they told me I was eligible for a huge scholarship via the Urban Business Growth Initiative because I lived in Kansas City, Missouri, I was sold.”

Ice House Entrepreneurship participants learn what skills they already bring to the table and how to develop others, test the market to learn who may pay for their services and products, learn from an experienced, knowledgeable instructor and build a community amongst themselves.

Johanna’s Ice House peers were a diverse bunch in terms of age, industry and experience. But they all had a common goal—to start their own business. And a common obstacle. “We all had expectations that to start your own business you had to have all this schooling and all this money.”

The Ice House Entrepreneurship tore down this prevalent myth. “It was really cool to learn that to start your own business you don’t have to have all of these things—there are ways around it, there are ways to think creatively and there are ways to empower yourself to go and get it.”   

Help starting a business

This mindset shift allowed Johanna to take huge leaps forward and make the most of the program, as did her UMKC SBTDC coach. “I felt like she genuinely cared about everybody there. She was awesome at balancing enthusiasm and support for you and your idea, with a practical knowledge of business. She wouldn’t tell you your idea was a good idea if you were going to lose money. She would tell you straight up—this is not a good risk for you.”

Which is exactly what Johanna learned during Ice House. Opening a brick and mortar yarn store wasn’t going to be feasible based on her finances or level of commitment. So she scrapped the idea, like a knitted sock that didn’t turn out just right. “Doing all that research, even though it was discouraging to give up on my idea, was a great way to know confidently that I was making the right decision and that I wasn’t going to waste my time or money.”

Turning a hobby into a business

Over the following year, Johanna used the principles she learned during Ice House to improve upon her hair stylist gig. And that’s when it came to her—just because she didn’t want to open a storefront didn’t mean she couldn’t sell yarn. “Hand dyeing yarn has been a hobby of mine for some time. After thorough research and planning, skills I learned during Ice House, it became clear to me that I could sell my yarns online.”

So Johanna started her current business, Potion Yarns. She hand dyes yarn and sells them online to artists and crafters. Because this business has so many fewer costs than a brick and mortar store, in just seven months, she has grow it into a profitable business.

Johanna started the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program too scared to start her own business. Today, she’s turning a profit on her business and putting all of that money back into growth. “I never thought I could start a company from the ground up, and I have. Knowing that I can accomplish anything if I set my mind to it, and I really want to do it, has been super empowering for me.”

Now Johanna even inspires other yarn dyers and aspiring entrepreneurs through her YouTube channel Potions Yarns Color Cauldron which she updates regularly with helpful tutorials and cool tricks of the trade. 

Weaving a bigger and better business 

And this is just the start for Johanna and Potions Yarns. Her next step is to get the dyeing process out of her kitchen and into a dedicated space in her house. And eventually she would like to do it full time and support her husband as he pursues his own entrepreneurial ideas.

Maybe he will take Ice House, too. Johanna encourages anyone interested in starting a business to take the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program. “By taking the class you’re not committing to starting a business. You’re just committing to learning and growing your experience to see if you want to start a business. It’s the best first step to get you on the road.”

If you want to knit a sock, you need to pick up needle and yarn. (Looking for fun colors? I know a business you should check out). And if you want to start your own business, you need the right tools to bring it all together. Ice House Entrepreneurship Program could be your first step   

How to Weave Your Way to a New Business in Kansas City

Johanna Miller started the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program at the UMKC Small Business & Technology Development Center scared, and finished with a new mindset and loose yarn to start a new business. Apply for Ice House before class starts on 8/30: http://www.kcsourcelink.com/entrepreneurs-in-action/entrepreneurs-in-action/2017/08/22/how-to-weave-your-way-to-a-new-business-in-kansas-city

Posted by KCSourceLink on Tuesday, August 22, 2017

This is close to what I need, but not quite. What else do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

Glad you asked. As the go-to for KC entrepreneurship, we can plug you into the right course, mentor, organization or group for your small business, startup, side hustle or idea in the making.

Just give us a call at 816-235-6500 or fill out your request over here at www.kcsourcelink.com/myplan. We’ll develop a personalized action plan to help connect with resources and opportunities, so you can hit that next milestone.



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