Founders’ Grove has nearly completed its transformation into an entrepreneurship hub at the corner of 21st Street and Grove, with just a bit more work to do ahead of its grand opening ceremony at 10 a.m. Wed., Nov. 13.
It’s been a year since Commerce Bank announced it would close its longtime northeast Wichita branch and turn over the 2,300-square-foot building to several non-profit community groups: Create Campaign Inc., which boosts urban entrepreneurs; the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce; and Camp Destination Innovation Inc., a career-development program for teens (Marquetta Atkins, founder). Those groups have been joined by the mentorship program Real Men Real Heroes (Kyle Ellison, executive director).
Just as important, Founders Grove will offer affordable work and meeting space to local entrepreneurs with slim budgets.
“We want this to be a place where people find answers,” said Christina Long, president of Create Campaign. “Our goal is to bring economic empowerment to an underserved community.”
The groups in Founders’ Grove also hope to create a pipeline to expose minority youth to entrepreneurship and prepare them to be successful, business savvy adults, Long said.
Founders’ Grove won’t be a community center; it’s more of a business headquarters.
For instance, Camp Destination Innovation and Real Men Real Heroes have their offices at Founders’ Grove, but they will still hold some of their outreach events at Wichita State University and Chester Lewis Academy, respectively. In fact, all of the organizations will continue their outreach into the community, for networking, services, collaborations and other creative ways they can have a positive impact.
Independent entrepreneurs will be able to buy memberships that offer various benefits, like a four-hour time block at a desk or a dedicated workspace where you can store things, plus have access to the center’s two conference rooms and the lobby.
Founders Grove will also offer some “virtual office” service, providing a street address to entrepreneurs who may not want or be able to use their home address to register their businesses.
Memberships should be available starting in early 2020, Long said.
Founders’ Grove members and program attendees will also be able to build on connections with non-profit and corporate partners. “We want to be a strong referral base,” Long said. “If you’re part of our community, we want you to have access to our partners.”
Those partnerships will make available small business and economic workshops and support services, as a way to strengthen community businesses and individuals economically.
“It’s one thing to talk about how great diversity in Wichita is, it’s another thing to actually have companies involved and interested in making it happen,” she said.
Long, working with Wichita contractor Dale Diggs, tastefully transformed the bank into a first-class office space. The bank tellers’ counter is gone, replaced with a glass wall separating the lobby from a newly outfitted conference room. The high-ceilinged lobby offers several leather chairs for a quick professional visit. Several closed-in offices line the area. The old bank vault will house the virtual office mailboxes.
Commerce Bank donated the furniture that was in the building, and more was donated by others.
When Commerce Bank decided to close the branch, they didn’t want to leave an abandoned building so they collaborated with Wichita City Councilman Brandon Johnson on the vision for the building.
The non-profit groups share expenses for the building. Create Campaign is responsible for building ownership. Soon they’ll be sending out Request for Proposals for building services, and they hope to be able to contract with minority businesses.
The groups initiated a capital campaign to fund the building renovation and Long is proud they were able to almost exclusively use African-American contractors and trades professionals. A future goal is enclosing the former bank building’s drive-thru area to create additional work and meeting space.
Each of the groups in Founders’ Grove has already been responsible for impacting thousands of lives. Working in close quarters and building synergy with each other will impact even more, Long said.
“This corner is going to be alive with activity,” she said, “and that is exciting.”