Lending A Hand

Kansas City's new resource

In July, the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership launched the Kansas City (Mo.) Urban Entrepreneurship Center. The Center, which the Partnership hopes will be the first of five pilot centers, will try to accelerate the growth of minority-owned businesses by pairing up-and-coming minority entrepreneurs with business coaches. The Partnership is a joint project of the National Urban League, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Business Roundtable, and various federal programs. BusinessWeek SmallBiz spoke with Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League and chairman of the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership, about the initiative.

How does this work fit within the mission of the Urban League?

This is really an expansion of what we've been doing for 100 years. The cutting-edge issues for the urban community and the civil rights movement today are economic issues. When you build businesses, you are not only creating jobs but also building wealth and economic self-sufficiency, which can be passed on to the next generation.

What are the main goals of the centers?

The idea is to use a coaching model to develop a tailor-made plan for each business to grow. The plan might involve working on organizational skills, presenting to a financier, or finding potential customers. We also hope that the centers will build relationships with local small business bankers, venture capitalists, and other financing sources.

What types of businesses are good candidates for the centers?

There are businesses out there that are doing $150,000 to $200,000 in sales per year but could be doing $2 million with the right capital and the right connections. Growth is the key word. Because these CEOs have already made a commitment to entrepreneurship, they've weathered some storms, and they're poised for growth. We think an abundance of companies fit this profile.

How will these centers differ from existing minority economic development programs?

The key thing is that we are not a government program. We don't have to throw red tape at people to determine if they are eligible. A lot of entrepreneurs want the helping hand of the government, but they don't want to deal with the bureaucracy.

How large an impact do you think these centers will have on minority entrepreneurs?

We are hesitating to set goals now. I think the important thing is the approach -- learning how to create effective programming and infrastructure to help minority businesses grow. We are starting with five centers because we want to get it right before we expand.

By Michael Patterson

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