A hefty infusion of funding is expected to help Project United Knowledge offer more tools to black, Latinx and other professionals from underrepresented groups, according to the UMKC Innovation Center. 

Project United Knowledge drives social, environmental and economic change by incubating and accelerating ventures that have the potential to solve our community’s most pressing issues. Although Project United Knowledge serves all entrepreneurs, its focus on women, minorities and those in underserved areas makes it a desired community resource. Project UK’s vision is to build a critical mass of innovators tackling challenges in key areas of agriculture, health care, education and high-growth technology so it can make significant changes within the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The $50,000 investment from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation was awarded to the UMKC Innovation Center, which partners with Project UK to deliver programming, resources and develop curriculum, said Sarah Mote, marketing director for the center.

“Entrepreneurs create jobs and grow local economies,” said Nathan Tesmer, JPMorgan Chase region manager for the commercial banking in Kansas City. “We’re proud to be part of this collaborative effort to empower underserved entrepreneurs and help take them to the next level while driving inclusive economic growth.”

Dozens of entrepreneurs have already benefited from Project UK’s existing program: creating apps, purchasing commercial equipment, navigating tricky business licensing and receiving follow-on funding — key outcomes that wouldn’t be possible without bridging gaps and improving entrepreneurs’ access to business-building resources, according to the UMKC Innovation Center.

“With this generous funding from our partners, we can reach more future entrepreneurs from diverse groups to help them succeed with new opportunities for growth and equip them with highly transferable tech skills and knowledge,” said Quest Moffat, co-founder of Project UK. “These additional funds can help us reach even more doers, dreamers, innovators and makers in Kansas City.”

This initiative is possible because of a rare partnership from players linked to the corporate space (JP Morgan Chase Foundation), nonprofit and advocacy (Project United Knowledge) and higher education (UMKC Innovation Center).

“This unified effort illustrates the power that combined resources and vision bring to closing the gap for would-be entrepreneurs who have the passion, drive and ability but lack the opportunities to move forward,” said Maria Meyers, executive director of the UMKC Innovation Center, of which KCSourceLink also is a program.

In addition to being a leader in continuing education in the metro, the Innovation Center is also a link between the Kansas City community, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, corporate partners and the metro’s vast ecosystem of entrepreneur resources (including Project UK) that helps teach and inspire existing and future business owners and connects them to the assistance they need to start, grow and scale their businesses, according to Mote.

Photo courtesy of Project United Knowledge, UMKC Innovation Center

What’s next for Project United Knowledge?

Throughout 2019 to mid-2020, four Project United Knowledge cohorts will each feature up to 10 aspiring entrepreneurs, showing participants the path to providing real-world solutions.

The progressive, modular program has multiple phases and is offered multiple times a year, allowing participants and alumni to jump in or out at any phase so they can test the lessons they’ve learned during the program in the real-world or continue with more Project UK training to further develop their ideas.

Phase 1 covers business-canvas training to help aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those from disconnected and underestimated communities, vet and test their ideas and build a business case and a business plan. Then, entrepreneurs build directly off that business-canvas training and take their market-tested business concept and learn how to develop it into a product.

In Phase 2, entrepreneurs build out their minimum viable product with startup teams consisting of fellow entrepreneurs, programmers and developers. The goal of this phase is to help entrepreneurs develop a proof-of-concept MVP they can use to build customer traction or use to pitch for potential funding.

This program is open to new and existing business owners in any industry and to those who are exploring a new business idea. Applicants will need a well-articulated description of the product or service they offer (or plan to offer), as well as a description of their target consumer, client or audience.

The first cohort begins Sept. 1, culminating in a Demo Day in November during Global Entrepreneurship Week Kansas City. Cost to participants for the first two phases of the program is $350; scholarships are available. Applications will be accepted at the Project UK website until Aug. 27.

Click here to apply to Project UK’s next cohort.

Later in 2019, Project UK — with funding from the Kapor Center — will offer Phase 3, a separate business-focused companion program. It will help existing coders, developers and engineers develop the soft skills necessary to excel in the business world and match them with Project UK entrepreneurs.

 “We want to make sure all participants have the knowledge, tools and experience they need to get their business off the ground,” says Rebecca Dove, curriculum developer at Project UK. “Sometimes that’s a business plan, sometimes that’s market research, and sometimes that’s an MVP. We just want to make sure they leave the program with something tangible — and that they know where they can get help as they build their business and their skills.”

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