Black:30, Douglas County CORE roll out plan for entrepreneurial growth in Lawrence

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Two support organizations, Douglas County CORE and Black:30, on Friday announced their two-year plan to build entrepreneurship in Lawrence and Douglas County.

Kyle Johnson, founder and CEO of CORE, and Taylor Overton, president of Black:30, have collaborated to create a more unified model of entrepreneurial support. In turn, they’re hoping more community members will want to build their futures here.

“This also shows our children and those generations coming after us, those younger entrepreneurs, there’s a really good plan here in Lawrence,” Overton said. “I can build a successful business here in Lawrence; there is infrastructure for me to come back home.”

The two organizations meet regularly to exchange information, concerns and solutions. For example, Black:30 is able to inform CORE of the cultural disconnects that Black, Indigenous and people of color business owners in the community face.

“By having this partnership, we are coming together, and anyone is able to approach either of our ESOs (entrepreneurial support organizations) at any point or at any stage and ask us, ‘Hey, how do I navigate?’ Because we are sharing that information between each other,” Overton said. “And we’re creating a great space for more entrepreneurs to be served. So that is what we are aiming at when we say all types of entrepreneurs — not just in sector, not just by commodity, but by your unique experiences and your lived experiences.”

As part of the two-year plan, entrepreneurs with existing businesses or new business ventures will be encouraged to join the CORE network.

Johnson said he’s hopeful Douglas County can rise to match up with surrounding counties, such as Johnson County.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Kyle Johnson

The “FastTrac” program, which is a 10-week course beginning in February, will pair interested entrepreneurs with coaches who are also entrepreneurs in the community to provide mentorship. It’ll be offered in both English and Spanish. The enrollment fee will cost between $100 and $150, and financial assistance via scholarships will be available.

A few coaches lined up who Overton named include attorney Mack Curry and speech pathologist Karina Saechao. With $15,000 in grant money from the National League of Cities’ City Inclusive Entrepreneurship Network, according to Overton, CORE and Black:30 will be able to pay coaches for their time spent facilitating.

Johnson and Overton laid out their plan to track participants’ progress so that they can measure the program’s success. 

Data documented and analyzed includes the number of entrepreneurs in the network, the diversity within the network, the number of entrepreneurs assisted with their business plans and the number of jobs created from businesses. They’ll also produce case studies that portray participants’ personal journeys.

They can then present data to the city and county commissions, sharing what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in Lawrence and Douglas County.

In addition to the FastTrac program, CORE and Black:30 will promote an annual programming calendar. It highlights small business events — such as Lawrence’s Inclusive Holiday Market, first hosted in December — that’ll represent “beacons” that bring in crowds and identify underserved entrepreneurs, Johnson said. The calendar also aligns with the academic year for high school and college students, who are encouraged to participate in the network.

Pitch competitions will be woven into the calendar as opportunities for entrepreneurs to not only improve their skills but to earn funding for their businesses.

In April, CORE hosted a startup pitch competition, but only 12 businesses signed up — six tech companies and six non-tech companies. Moving forward, Johnson and Overton are hoping their plan will draw more people in to fill those competitions up.

Entrepreneurs can always participate in 1 Million Cups, a weekly networking event for local entrepreneurs. There they can practice their pitches or watch others do theirs.

Promoting more of a focus on blue collar entrepreneurs, such as those in the food, farming and cleaning service industries, is a top priority for Johnson and Overton. They’re also encouraging creatives like artists and musicians to see themselves as entrepreneurs who can also benefit from the network.

“We need to have an all-of-the-above approach,” Johnson said.

To register to join the network, visit CORE’s website, via douglascountycore.com/join-us/. More information about the network and the Fast Pitch program will then be provided. 

Black, Indigenous, people of color and women business owners are encouraged to also contact Black:30, via its website at black30.org, for further support.

Overton said CORE and Black:30 are set to present their plan to Lawrence city commissioners during their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

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Note: A number in this post has been corrected.

Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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