LaunchKC welcomes Social Venture Studio cohort + Downtown news beat

Jerren Thornhill, One Pair LLC, (right) joins other members of the first cohort announcement for the new LaunchKC Social Venture Studio; photo by Estuardo Garcia

LaunchKC’s Social Venture Studio introduces first cohort 

The Social Venture Studio, powered by LaunchKC, to support promising social ventures working to solve social, racial, or environmental challenges, selected seven companies last week to participate in its inaugural program.

LaunchKC, an initiative of the Downtown Council (DTC) and Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri (EDCKC) launched the Social Venture Studio at the beginning of 2022. The program – designed to support entrepreneurs who seek to provide both social impact and return on investment – received a wide variety of qualified applications from companies located in Kansas City and beyond.

The Keystone Innovation District will administer programming, with consulting from Jacqueline Erickson Russell, Founder, and CEO of Social Impact Advisory Group. The Social Venture Studio was made possible due to the generosity of The Sunderland Foundation.

On Tuesday, May 3, LaunchKC revealed the first cohort of companies – all located in Kansas City, Missouri – that will participate in a six-month program. The companies will receive professional support; grant awards ranging from $35,000-$50,000; temporary office space at the Keystone CoLAB (800 E. 18th Street, Kansas City, MO 64108); and  mentoring and network connections to strengthen their social venture business concepts. A culmination event in the fall will be a chance for the companies to reveal their pitches to potential funders and supporters.

The Social Venture Studio is a prime example of how the city can tackle many societal issues with creative and sustainable business models that also drive job creation and local investment. The inaugural class of the Social Venture Studio is made up of the following seven companies and their leaders:

Diversity Telehealth, Dr. Shelley Cooper – Dr. Cooper is the founder of Diversity Telehealth and creator of the “Come On Now!” platform that replaces no-show and late cancellation medical appointments with on-demand telehealth visits. In addition to the Come On Now app, Diversity Telehealth offers pediatric telebehavioral health solutions to schools and clinics.

The Prospect KC, Shanita McAfee-Bryant – Located on the east side of Kansas City, Missouri, The Prospect KC is a social enterprise nonprofit that addresses local food insecurity through innovative solutions that provide access to nutritious whole foods, education and skill-building, and wraparound support services. These key services are integrated with a robust workforce development initiative that effectively combines classroom learning with direct hands-on experience, leading to apprenticeship opportunities that culminate in securing employment that pays a living wage.

Healthy Hip Hop, Roy Scott – Scott, Founder & CEO, infuses hip hop culture with innovative technology, education, and positive attributes. The online platform allows educators to livestream content and educational resources to improve focus, engagement and bring culture to the classroom. The Healthy Hip Hop mobile application is a “Spotify meets TikTok” in a curated environment for children and families.

EPEC Inc, Natasha Kirsch & Jarrod Sanderson – Kirsch is the founder and CEO of Empowering the Parent to Empower the Child (EPEC). EPEC’s pilot program is a two-generational approach to breaking the cycle of poverty through the high wage, high demand trade of pet grooming and complete wrap around services. EPEC partners with housing, childcare, mental health, dentists, lawyers, and banks, while teaching emotion regulation, parenting, and budgeting. EPEC’s goal is to move a family off welfare support to self-sustaining in two years. Sanderson, LCSW, social service, and nonprofit subject matter expert, has over 18 years of leadership and direct service experience in health and human services. He’s currently the COO for EPEC, The Grooming Project. His varied expertise includes developing and/or implementing collaborative initiatives, such as the planning and implementation of a community gang prevention symposium, multi-department strategic planning alignment, and cross-department fund development.

Kanbe’s Markets, Maxfield Kaniger – Kanbe’s Markets works to build a more equitable and efficient food system by using the excess food from wholesalers or farmers and redirecting it to the most appropriate end user via a variety of programs. The core program called “Healthy Corner Stores” provides daily deliveries of fresh, healthy, and affordable food to convenience stores in food deserts.

One Pair LLC, Jerren Thornhill – Thornhill is the founder of One Pair, a shoe store designed, owned, and operated by the kids of KC. The company buys, sells, and trades shoes, along with having six different local clothing brands.

KC Can Compost, Kristan Chamberlain – KC Can Compost is committed to improving the environmental and social landscapes of Kansas City through systematic organic waste diversion and green job training for those struggling with barriers to employment.

For more information, visit www.socialventurestudio.com or contact Tommy Wilson at tommy@downtownkc.org.

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