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AbdulRasak and Alicia Yahaya of Open Minds Child Development Center

How a KC Entrepreneur Couple Scaled Their Child Care Business, Despite Pandemic Hurdles


AbdulRasak and Alicia Yahaya had their hands full raising three children under the age of five (they now have four kids) when they decided to launch Open Minds Child Development Center in 2014. Although Alicia has 20 years of early childhood teaching and administration experience, she was originally concerned about how they would secure funding to start the business. Despite the potential challenges, she was on board to pursue the idea with her husband.

> > > Need capital for your business venture? Check out the KCSourceLink Funding Guide for a deep dive on loans, grants and equity.

“Open Minds is a dream I didn't even know I had,” Alicia says. “This business was something that was inside of me that just continued to grow and blossom over the years, and it’s been like watching a miracle unfold. The name came from conversations I had with my grandmother when I was younger. She would always explain that once you learn something, it’s always there, and your mind can never go back to its original size. That has always stuck with me, so immediately when Abdul asked me about the name, I didn’t miss a beat. I said, ‘Open Minds.’ That’s how we knew this was really the path for us.”

Alicia Yahaya, Open Minds Child Development Center

Getting the funds to start Open Minds was no easy task. The Yahayas applied for Small Business Administration loans for two years at 13 different banks and were denied at all of them. Determined to obtain the capital, Abdul and Alicia held a fundraiser at their church and used retirement savings to put together enough money for a down payment on a lease for a building in Olathe, Kansas.

“It was a two-year journey from 2014 to 2016 before we could start operating,” Abdul says. “Our resilience made the building owner eager to get us in there. He even took out a loan on our behalf in order for us to establish our first center. People took tours with Alicia and they would sign up on the spot because they knew their children were going to be in a place that cared for them.”

Today, the Yahayas have two Open Minds locations in Olathe, Kansas with a third center slated to open in the area in May 2023. However, they recently closed their Kansas City, Kansas, location due to financial strain caused by the pandemic.

“Open Minds grew rapidly,” Abdul says. “The value in the product that we developed is definitely needed in our community and through fine-tuning our entrepreneurship, we’ve been able to learn how to run the business in a very efficient way. One of the hardest decisions is to close a part of your business. It’s also sometimes the best decision that will help your business scale. This definitely is true in our Open Minds entrepreneurship story, with the huge demand for infant care in Olathe we will be expanding. When one door closes, another opens.”

Abdul points to community support, technology and access to local leaders as contributing factors to his success as a founder in Kansas City metro.

“Opportunities for entrepreneurs have grown here in the past 10 years, and I’ve seen an outstanding change in terms of community and empowerment,” Abdul says. “Google Fiber coming to Kansas City was a big deal for entrepreneurship, and it’s helped make public services, technology and resources more seamless. I’ve had sit-downs with our government leaders, and it’s great as a business owner to know that I can call them and get a meeting. Kansas City feels like a family. We suffer together and we celebrate together and that connection is important.”

Launching a business is a major accomplishment, but many entrepreneurs face hurdles when they try to scale their enterprise to create long-term sustainability. Programs like ScaleUP! Kansas City can provide founders with networking, mentoring, coaching and educational opportunities that are key to strengthening and advancing a business.

> > > ScaleUP! KC is currently accepting applications for its 13th cohort. Get the skills, connections and perspective to take your business to the next level. Apply now!

In January 2021, Abdul was one of 20 scaling entrepreneurs invited to join the program’s 11th cohort. The former civil engineer gained valuable insights that helped enhance Open Minds.

“The ScaleUP! KC team helped me put a laser focus on how the business operates,” Abdul says. “As first-time entrepreneurs, we thought growth was the best thing since sliced bread. Over the course of 16 intense, fun and enlightening weeks, ScaleUP! KC taught me how to structure our business to scale efficiently and sustain itself to transition to our children, an acquisition, or to a second level of leadership.”

The knowledge and connections gained from ScaleUP! KC have helped Abdul and Alicia as they navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

“As a small business owner, oftentimes you feel like you’re on an island,” Alicia says. “You may not know a lot of other small business owners who can walk you through the trials or challenges that you may experience. Being part of ScaleUP! KC allows you to create a network and a sense of community that you can lean on. You have someone to give you advice, and you feel like you can go to them and solicit that advice, and ask those questions, and be given honest and helpful answers.”

Ready to scale your business?

Apply to ScaleUP! Kansas City and get the (no-cost) top-tier training, expert coaching and peer mentoring you need to scale your business.

A key takeaway for Abdul was the importance of always being aware of the financial health of the business to ensure you’re making informed decisions and can quickly address challenges as they arise.

“The coaches really worked with us on our books and knowing the numbers in our business,” Abdul says. “I learned you need to be auditing your business consistently and continuously, not just when you want to take your business to the next level, or something is going wrong or a pandemic hits you.”

AbdulRasak Yahaya, ScaleUP! KC Cohort 11

The ScaleUP! KC team was essential in connecting Abdul and Alicia with a human resources firm that helped them refine their hiring process, create a new salary matrix and provide continuing education opportunities for their staff. These initiatives have allowed Open Minds to attract and retain experienced teachers. In addition to competitive compensation, Abdul and Alicia are committed to leading by example and supporting their employees.

“I never ask my staff to do anything that I wouldn’t do,” Alicia says. “If toilets need to be cleaned and carpets need to be vacuumed, I’ll say, ‘Hey, which one do you want to do? I’ll do the other one.’ I also call our employees into my office just to talk. It’s not because they’re in trouble, it’s not something bad. I want them to tell me about what’s happening in their classroom as well as about things that are going on at home. I’m not just here to make sure they do well at work. If I respect and respond to the entire employee, they will understand I care about them holistically and we can build a relationship.”

The Yahayas have also worked with advisers at the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Johnson County Community College. Additionally, Abdul taps into skills he developed during his career as a civil engineer to assist him as a business owner.

“My time at the Missouri Department of Transportation taught me about federal funding and writing grants and requests for proposals,” Abdul says. “When I worked for the City of Gardner, Kansas, I managed the the city’s infrastructure and proposed a $10 million, 10-year paving management program that is still stimulating their economy. Now, I like to say I'm designing the infrastructure of children's minds. My focus is ensuring the children have a welcoming, safe learning environment and the teachers have the tools to facilitate and bring the outside world into the classroom.”

Open Minds partners with the Family Conservancy organization in Kansas City, Kansas to offer Head Start and Early Head Start services to low-income children and families. The couple also started the Lives Changed Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at generating funds for early education beyond Open Minds.

“We have a mission of providing affordable, quality early childhood education in the KC metro area,” Abdul says. “Grants, partnerships and fundraisers help us keep the costs at Open Minds affordable. When we need to replace things that are worn down over time like toys and computers, we have a fundraiser to replenish our resources instead of increasing our tuition drastically.”

Alicia and Abdul say entrepreneurship gives them freedom, influence and the opportunity to build a legacy that can impact their students, family, friends and the overall Kansas City community.

“We’ve noticed that our kids don't think in limits anymore,” Alicia says. “They see all the possibilities of what they can do and what they can create.”

And entrepreneurship hasn’t just affected Abdul and Alicia’s kids.

“Once we opened our business, we somewhat caused a ripple effect within our own family,” Abdul says. “My younger brother started a video game truck that has since been acquired. My sister started a baking business. Now, all our nieces and nephews are talking about starting businesses. Entrepreneurship runs in my family now because seeing us do it created a path forward for everyone else to share and monetize their talents.”

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