In 2021, UMB donated $2 million to organizations uplifting their communities in Kansas City and Denver. The Porter House KC was one of these organizations. We sat down with Daniel Smith and Charon Thompson, co-founders and principals of The Porter House KC, to hear more about their community programs.
How did you two initially connect?
Daniel: Without directly aging myself, Charon and I first met during elementary school. We were both a part of a YMCA summer youth program. Our paths ended up crossing again at University of Missouri-Kansas City, where we later pledged the same fraternity. After that, we started our first business together–a maintenance company at the ages of 20 and 21.
How did the idea of The Porter House KC come about?
Charon: The Porter House KC‡ was initially developed based on the recurring question, “What can we do to help build bridges from the small business resources in the community to current and future entrepreneurs who have been overlooked and underrepresented?”
In response to this question, we created a monthly speaker series event. This event was attended by friends who were professionals in various industries who could teach workshop-style sessions to interested individuals. We hosted these sessions for two years straight, with topics including business law, demystifying financing a business, marketing/branding, mental health and more.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome as you’ve built out the organization?
Daniel: As you might imagine, with big wins also come big challenges. Two of the most overlooked, but most impactful, challenges we have faced have been managing our own fear and uncertainty.
Early on, we doubted ourselves often and sometimes wondered if this was too big of a problem to solve. There are many mental challenges that come with starting an impactful business model, and we certainly felt them.
Today, rather than saying we’ve magically overcome these obstacles (because we’re human, and these mental hurdles do still occur), we have discovered ways to no longer be debilitated by these feelings.
Conversely, what have been some of the biggest wins?
Daniel: As we’ve learned to lean in to the challenges of building an organization, we’ve also been able to celebrate the many wins. A recent milestone was the accomplishment of serving more than 300 current entrepreneurs, 150 of whom graduated from at least one of our programs. Through these connections, we’re able to assist in creating a more diverse, entrepreneurial ecosystem where those we serve can access a larger resource pool.
Additionally, thanks to our partnership with UMB, we recently launched our Alchemy Sandbox program‡, which provides critical financial assistance to small businesses. We plan to award grants to five small businesses each quarter, and are already through our first two rounds of grant awards, with a total of 10 small businesses receiving not just capital, but also professional coaching and guidance as they build their businesses. We hope to eventually expand this program beyond Kansas City.
The Porter House KC may be best known for its Alchemy Sandbox program, but you also operate a business education cohort. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the cohort?
Charon: We always advise entrepreneurs to create a plan and write down their goals. And, more importantly, to not be debilitated by fear—work through it, rather than around it. It’s natural to be afraid of the unknown, but there are beautiful things on the other side.
When you walk into our office, the first thing you see is a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” To us, this quote reinforces the importance of not taking no for a final answer, and the importance of people being hyper focused on creating the change they want to see in their communities.
What is the top take-away you seek graduates of the cohort program to have?
Charon: We want our graduates to feel empowered. To know with hard work, consistency, education, and connectivity, anything is possible.
When members of the program want to leave the cohort before completing it, how do you motivate them to stay engaged?
Charon: This is a tough question, as life events are often the main reason why people feel the need to leave the program. One of the best features of cohorts, though, is that everyone is surrounded by a group that helps provide support and motivation to keep going even when the road gets rough.
What is your ultimate vision for The Porter House KC?
Daniel: Our goal is to “scale deep” to assist in creating and growing sustainable businesses for the urban core. The “scale deep” approach, which we learned about from a Harvard Business Review study‡, is focused on building real economic growth and wealth in urban communities, as opposed to the more traditional “scale up” approach, which can unintentionally create even more financial disparity.
We hope to deepen our relationship with the small business community, assist in growing our ecosystem, and continue to grow as an entrepreneurship education provider. Once our model is proven and we have grown our capacity, we will expand beyond the greater Kansas City metro.
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