By: Leslie Collins
Generating Income For Tomorrow (G.I.F.T.) has rounded up the local bigwigs for its new business center on Prospect Avenue.
The nonprofit, which provides grants and technical assistance to Black-owned businesses, is making the center available to all entrepreneurs throughout the metro area. It's leasing a 7,500-square-foot space at 5008 Prospect Ave. in Kansas City that will house a variety of resource partners: VMLY&R, OCD Financial, Husch Blackwell LLP, Lead Bank and Bank of Labor. G.I.F.T.'s on-staff business coach also will be on site.
Each partner will provide free one-on-one expertise in their respective fields to entrepreneurs and will host educational business workshops.
After a March 29 grand opening, the business services kick off April 1.
"We want to help as many businesses as we can grow, scale and create jobs," G.I.F.T. CEO Brandon Calloway said. "The city of Kansas City has the goal of being the most entrepreneurial city in the country, and I feel like this will contribute massively to that actually being a reality."
For Husch Blackwell, its involvement with G.I.F.T. aligns with an existing program, Communities for Change, which provides pro bono work to minority entrepreneurs to help their businesses flourish, Pro Bono Counsel Quinncy McNeal said. It's about driving "transformative change" in communities.
"We think the entrepreneur is really the catalyst for business development and for employment," he said. "If we can provide our principal resource, our legal expertise, to assist minority businesses, we will then see them grow and develop and expand — and ultimately engage and employ other minorities."
Through the business center, Husch Blackwell plans to help entrepreneurs with topics such as where to find loans and grants, the importance of having business names and logos be registered trademarks, and getting formative documents in place.
VMLY&R learned about G.I.F.T. through an employee who regularly volunteered her time and expertise to the nonprofit's entrepreneurs. She pitched the global brand and customer experience agency on playing a bigger role.
The business center is an innovative model for supporting local entrepreneurs, said Lauren Ziegler, senior manager for the VMLY&R Foundation.
"The cool part is that it's a meaningful way and intentional way for our employees to use their volunteer time," she said, adding that VMLY&R gives employees 16 hours of paid time annually for volunteering.
For VMLY&R, the business center is an avenue to share the lessons it has learned from clients and offer marketing guidance.
"When you're an entrepreneur, especially in the early stages, you don't have access to huge teams and huge resources," Ziegler said. "Being the size of VMLY&R and having all the resources that we do, even a little goes a long way."
For the business center, G.I.F.T. picked a strategic location. It's near U.S. Highway 71, with a bus stop in front of the entrance. It's more accessible to minority and lower-income entrepreneurs, Calloway said. Plus, the facility gives entrepreneurs access to a remote banking center through Lead Bank and Bank of Labor. Entrepreneurs can open business accounts, assess their loan readiness and receive assistance in becoming loan-ready.
"A lot of banks don't have a presence east of Troost — and definitely not east of Prospect," Calloway said.
Having an existing banking relationship played a key role in securing Paycheck Protection Program funding — an area where Black and brown businesses struggled, he said. The business center brings banking closer to the minority community and can help ease the fear of walking into a traditional bank.
Other business center perks include two conference rooms, coworking space and a monthly popup market featuring about 40 Black-owned businesses. The next popup will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 26.
Calloway said that launching the center wouldn't have been possible without a $150,000 grant from The Sunderland Foundation.
"It felt empowering for them to see and hear the vision and be willing to make it happen alongside us," he said. "They saw the potential benefit to Kansas City-at-large having a business center like this that's a one-stop shop with all of these resources."
McNeal hopes the center becomes a catalyst for spurring other entities to find ways to support entrepreneurs.
"I don't know if I can find the words to express how excited I am. It is a tremendous asset," McNeal said. "This is a real shot in the arm. A crown jewel for Kansas City and for businesses that are oftentimes trying to get basic things. ... (This) could create a ripple effect that will expand wealth and equity."