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LaunchKC effort moves to cement up-and-coming social ventures in community

As published in KC Inno on November 15th by Thomas Friestad:

"LaunchKC's latest entrepreneur-boosting program is designed to elevate enterprises specifically focused on solutions to social, racial and environmental issues around Kansas City.

Under its inaugural Social Venture Studio, LaunchKC — an initiative of the Downtown Council of Kansas City and the Economic Development Corp. of Kansas City — will provide professional support, grant awards, mentoring and network connections to a cadre of social venture business concepts.

Starting in December, the endeavor will begin accepting applications for a cohort of five to seven companies, to be named in January. Those ventures will begin a six-month studio program in March, culminating with a chance to reveal pitches to prospective financiers and supporters in October.

For its first year, the Social Venture Studio will focus on entrepreneur applicants from the Kansas City region, with future plans to expand to a nationwide search.

"When we as a community look at solving social problems, we often think about starting another nonprofit," Father Justin Mathews, executive director of Reconciliation Services, which runs donate-what-you-can café Thelma's Kitchen, said in a Friday announcement. "The problem there is that it's difficult to fund those nonprofits year after year sustainably. ... (Social Venture Studio is) the bringing together or the harnessing of the best of the entrepreneurial sector with the philanthropic sector to create more social good."

Reconciliation Services will advise Social Venture Studio's chosen cohort as a social venture industry expert, and the Keystone Innovation District will administer programming. Additional backing for the initiative comes from the Sunderland Foundation.

"Entrepreneurs are not small shops with small community impact; they're the economic engines and job creators of tomorrow," Jim Erickson, the EDC's government affairs officer, said in the announcement. "What we hope to accomplish is supporting social entrepreneurs to become sustainable companies in this community. It's not about finding that support year after year; it's about cementing their presence through sustainable business models."

An 11-person steering committee for the first Social Venture Studio includes:

  • Drew Eanes, The Hadley Project, JE Dunn (co-chair)

  • Father Justin Mathews, Reconciliation Services (co-chair)

  • Jim Erickson, EDC, LaunchKC

  • John Tyler, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

  • Rita Cortés, Menorah Heritage Foundation, KCPS School Board

  • Thomas Sunderland, Sunderland Foundation, The Hadley Project

  • Dan Smith, Porter House KC

  • Davin Gordon, Hall Family Foundation

  • Theresa Garza, Spire Inc.

  • Kevin McGinnis, Keystone Community Corp.

  • Anja Winnika, Maroo

LaunchKC was founded in 2014 as a grants competition for tech entrepreneurs but in the fall of 2020 announced its evolution into a tech accelerator platform in partnership with Keystone Labs. Its previous efforts have included the Launch Health Accelerator, powered by Nueterra Capital; and the COVID-19 Response and Cleantech accelerators, both through the Black & Veatch IgniteX program."

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