10 Incredible Kansas City Entrepreneur Stories You Couldn't Stop Reading in 2018
There’s nothing quite like a great success story of entrepreneurship … especially when that success happens in your own backyard. For over 15 years, we here at KCSourceLink have been helping and connecting entrepreneurs across the metro with the help they need to start or grow their businesses. And when you’ve been hanging out in KC’s big backyard that long, you’re bound to know a few people and hear a few good stories.
And, wow, were there some great ones in 2018.
These 10 most-read stories of 2018 explore the ups, downs, ins and outs of what it takes to own and run a business and what business owners in KC are doing to take their ventures to new heights—sometimes literally—despite the twists and turns. Entrepreneurs told us everything: how one is building one of the country’s best craft fairs, how another learned when to say “no” to boost his bottom line, how one started her own biz to help others after a personal loss, how a family built their empire from scratch in KC and how one entrepreneur is crafting his latest app to help communities across the country.
From construction, tech, food, an indie craft nonprofit, swim products on “Shark Tank,” maker communities, health and wellness and more, there’s something to learn (and to get inspired by) with these 10 stories about the people in KC who are following their passions in the City of Fountains.
Don’t think your after-work hobby could be your full-time passion? These five makers reveal how they created, shaped and grew their ideas into full-fledged businesses. (And learn how you can, too.)
A personal struggle can sometimes be the genesis of an entrepreneurial idea. That was the case for Sylvia Hall, who, after suffering from postpartum depression, created her own wellness line of products to help others. And developing any product line comes with a lot of real-world learning and some huge lessons.
“Don’t get bogged down by competition,” Sylvia says. “Instead, focus on how you are different and play to your strengths. Focus on who you can serve. Then go and serve them.”
See how this entrepreneur built her latest venture.
A KC program primed Betsy Johnson of SwimZip (based in Prairie Village, Kansas) to pitch to a group of the world’s most famous investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
“It was so nice to have the support of Youth Entrepreneurs when I moved back to Kansas," Betsy says. "They provided me with a strong network of people to chat with and have the support with and also connected me to many successful entrepreneurs who I would have only dreamed about meeting.”
See how her experience in KC prepped her for pitching on “Shark Tank.”
An idea alone does not make a successful business—that’s something business coach Jill Hathaway preaches to her clients—and there are plenty more pro tips where that came from. But before she was giving expert advice, she was walking in her client’s shoes, running her own footwear and foot care business, which moved from a few locations in Kansas City, Missouri, and later across the state line.
“Back then, I had no idea there were resources in the Kansas City market that would help me with any aspect of my business, much less offer free resources,” Jill says. “As an entrepreneur, like many of my clients are when they start, juggling all the balls and wearing all the hats—it’s difficult to give up control and to delegate. That’s why I relate to my clients now: I was in their shoes.”
See how she navigated starting a business with her husband in the heart of KC, through the missteps, pivots and successes and how she’s passing on that real-world experience today.
When businesses leave a community, it’s not pretty. Donald Hawkins saw that firsthand in his hometown in Georgia. So his newest app, CitySmart, aims to level the playing field for small businesses across the country (and here in the KC metro).
“I remember as a kid thinking, ‘Man, businesses have a huge impact on communities,’” Donald says. “... So even as a kid, I was thinking what I could develop to really help push businesses and help them keep a community propped up.”
See how entrepreneurship and tech inspired Donald to push the envelope with apps, including his latest one that’s catching steam and creating a buzz.
Any entrepreneur will tell you they’ve dealt with their fair share of setbacks—and 2008 had plenty of those. But when Dave Dalton lost his job as a mechatronics technician during the recession, that turned out to be the perfect opportunity to pursue his passions and create something big for Kansas City’s makers, creators, inventors, crafters and artisans.
“That was the second time in my career that I was left with a lot of skills and none of the tools to apply them,” Dave says.
See how when things got tough, Dave rolled up his sleeves and created, as he puts it, a “gym for creative people,” now based on the east side of Kansas City, Missouri.
Changing an industry isn’t easy. But one KC entrepreneur is trying to do just that in Kansas City and help others like her grandmother, who couldn’t find a suitable adult daycare in the heart of town.
“The direction I was headed from my childhood, I was never going to be anything,” says Patricia McCreary, owner of Margaret’s Place Adult Recreation and Wellness Center, “so being an entrepreneur has given me confidence. It’s given me purpose because other people look to me for needs they have when they want to start a business.”
See how Patricia started a business from scratch on Troost Avenue and is working to expand her operation across the metro, the country and even the world.
Katie Mabry van Dieren’s friend handed her the keys to a modest KC indie craft fair in 2014. Fast-forward to 2019, and it’s grown into a juggernaut of a movement with hundreds of makers. Not only that, but she started a nonprofit to feed this momentum into the communities along Troost Avenue, carving out a space for makers to learn, grow and sell.
“That’s one of the best parts of what I do: helping people earn that money locally and helping them realize they can do this in Kansas City,” says Katie Mabry van Dieren of the Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Fair and the Troost Market Collective.
Discover how she created opportunities for creatives to pump real dollars and cents into the KC economy.
You finally landed that big contract. But it’s so big, it might kill your business. That’s where knowing when to say “no” comes in.
“I was scared,” says Larry Carr of Bradford Interior Group. “I had some sleepless nights. But I decided we couldn’t do it, not at that moment. It just wasn’t right for us. I walked away—and I felt great.”
Learn how turning down the wrong opportunities boosted Larry’s Raytown, Missouri, business.
They moved their entire family to Kansas City to escape the escalating costs in Chicago because they thought their business concept would thrive in this untapped market. The start was a tad rough—and that’s an understatement.
“In the beginning it’s hard because no one believes in you but you,” says Jose Luis Valdez of Paleterias Tropicana, a frozen-pop shop and eatery that started about 15 years ago.
See how a family expanded what’s now a Kansas City ice pop staple from a small shop on Southwest Boulevard to multiple locations throughout the metro … and beyond.
When will your entrepreneur story take off?
We can help you on your journey. Get your (free) step-by-step guide of the people and organizations in KC that can help you start or grow your biz.