How a Startup-Savvy Duo Elevates Underrepresented Entrepreneurs amid COVID
Serial entrepreneurs and fraternity brothers Daniel Smith and Charon Thompson pledged to do more than just focus on their own success. Even as undergrads at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, before they launched their first startup, Daniel and Charon knew they would pay their success forward.
Flash forward to 2020, with a total of 10 startups on their resumes, they’ve made good on their promise to help other small business hopefuls in their community get off the ground through their organization, The Porter House KC.
“Our goal is always to find a solution to the problem,” Daniel says. “We felt there was a gap. There was a whole population of people being missed. People that come from where we came from weren’t being calculated in Kansas City’s ‘entrepreneurial city.’”
From fraternity to philanthropy
Daniel and Charon have always had a desire to help others. Their community involvement and educational background played a huge role in their philanthropic aspirations.
Born and raised in Kansas City, Daniel was encouraged to give back to his community. As a child, he volunteered and participated in several programs at the Linwood YMCA. Charon comes from a military family and landed in Kansas City at age 7, participated in former Kansas City Chiefs Derrick Thomas’ and Neil Smith’s 3rd and Long Program for several years as a child, attended central city Catholic schools and later graduated from Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.
Both attended college at UMKC and joined Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. They established a close bond, a brotherhood that stands to this day and drives the dedication to their community.
With those deep roots in the Kansas City community, Daniel and Charon launched The Porter House KC in partnership with HUD-certified and financial management organization CHES Inc. The Porter House KC is an inner-city-based co-working community that provides entrepreneurship access and resources to underserved populations in Kansas City, Missouri.
“It helps to level the playing field when you have education,” Daniel says. “We started speaker-series events and brought in professionals to discuss aspects of their businesses.”
The Porter House KC provides aspiring entrepreneurs educational support, mentorship opportunities along with traditional tools and resources.
Recalibrating the odds for minority entrepreneurs
The challenges minority-owned businesses face are real … and are happening right now.
In a 2019 report from LendingTree, Kansas City and St. Louis rank 49th and 50th, respectively, out of 50 major metropolitan areas where minority entrepreneurs are succeeding. In Kansas City, just 3 in 10 minority-owned businesses generate $500,000 or more and just 4 in 10 have been in operation longer than six years, according to the report.
Those local statistics show that we have work to do to improve access to education, capital and resources.
And those numbers don’t factor in the effects of COVID-19 on small businesses.
COVID-19 shutdowns have particularly pounded Black-owned businesses in Kansas City and across the nation. Research at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that COVID-19 shuttered 41% of Black-owned businesses in the United States — that’s some 440,000 enterprises — compared with just 17% of white-owned businesses.
With The Porter House KC and throughout the pandemic, Daniel and Charon have taken those sobering statistics head on.
“Our entrepreneurs are used to working through adversity, and COVID-19 has just poised another hurdle to get over,” Daniel says. “Minority entrepreneurs, in general, have had to consistently deal in adverse conditions and environments. This is just another thing to adjust to and find a way through.”
The Porter House KC started its first cohort in June 2020 with 13 participants. The cohort ran for 13 weeks and followed a curriculum adapted from MORTAR Entrepreneurship Academy, a 15-week program out of Cincinnati that challenges entrepreneurs to think abstractly about their business. Throughout the program, participants experienced different exercises and scenarios that required them to analyze information and data to make decisions about their business, helping them identify weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths in their plan that are vital to the success of their business.
“Our cohort is adjusting well, and we are excited to see their continued growth,” Daniel adds.
Many of The Porter House KC program participants are thriving with successful businesses. Deanna Muñoz is the founder of the Latino Arts Foundation and appeared on the Netflix series “Queer Eye.” Brandon Henderson created an organization to help incarcerated individuals become entrepreneurs. Another participant Sheila Johnson, executive producer and host of “Gangsta Goodies Kitchen Show,” was recently featured by the premium whiskey brand Uncle Nearest (named for Nathan “Nearest” Green, creator of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey).
The Porter House KC worked with these business owners from the inception of their plan, to launch and thereafter. To further engage participants, Daniel and Charon invited industry professionals to present information and answer questions. The pair also incorporated mnemonic practices in their teaching methods by using titles and lyrics from popular hip-hop songs.
“It’s very successful,” Charon says. “Everyone picked up on the lessons really fast and even shared what they learned with their family members and colleagues.”
KC community has their back
In an effort to stay in the forefront of the trends and needs of minority and small business owners, Daniel and Charon added another component to their offerings by producing an online version of their cohort program. In March 2020, the duo started a weekly, online broadcast with Morgan Perry at Square One Small Business Services at Mid-Continent Public Library that features business and nonprofit experts.
“We pivoted our in-person speakers series sessions and created a Facebook live show,” Daniel says.
Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. on Facebook, The Porter House KC broadcasts “What’s Next!!!,” a program that showcases a panel of industry leaders who discuss topics and answer live questions about business, local government, best practices and more. The show has gained so much traction that Daniel, Charon and co-host Morgan receive regular requests from area business owners, nonprofit executives and community members who want to appear on the show.
“We’ve been on for 20 weeks straight,” Daniel says. “It’s been really fun. ... Royals broadcaster Joel Goldberg reached out to us and wanted to know how he can help.”
Their most popular broadcast to date of “What’s Next!!!” with over 2,000 views and counting, focused on the topic of entrepreneurship and education with special attention on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“We ended up talking a lot about the value of HBCUs,” Daniel says. “We had a great panel of experts that provided great feedback.”
Programs from The Porter House KC and the weekly broadcast “What’s Next!!!” are growing in popularity—and in fandom.
“I support the Porterhouse KC because they’re providing the opportunities and knowledge for our under-resourced entrepreneurs,” says Davin Gordon of AltCap. “This year’s inspirational topics, for me, have been eye-opening and motivational. I want to continue supporting PHKC because it creates intentional collisions that’ll create new opportunities for those who have been overlooked.”
What’s next for The Porter House KC?
The organization will be opening a location for its retail program participants.
“We created this idea of a pop-up retail space in the urban core,” Charon says. “The space will provide incubator-style programming with low lease rates and short-term lease periods.”
Titled Generating Legacy through Urban Entrepreneurship (G.L.U.E.), the program gives participants the opportunity to put their lessons to use in a brick-and-mortar “lab” before venturing out independently. As ecommerce continues to revolutionize the retail industry and the spending habits of consumers, Daniel and Charon are taking the time not just to educate entrepreneurs on the traditional aspects of in-person sales, but also to inform participants on the next level of running a retail business online.
“Everything is moving to virtual shopping,” Charon notes. “We want to implement Oculus technology so shoppers can view the store online from our product-based entrepreneurs and for them to test their products onsite.”
The retail space will be located on 31st and Troost Avenue near Kitty’s Cafe.
“The next thing is what we’re doing,” says Daniel and Charon. “We’re doing what the next thing is.”
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