Dan Smith and Charon Thompson teaching the small business development cohort at their 18th and Vine location.

Growing up in Kansas City’s urban core, longtime friends and fraternity brothers Dan Smith and Charon Thompson would often hear that Kansas City is one of America’s most entrepreneurial cities. But they never heard the small businesses in their neighborhoods included in those conversations.

After starting a few small businesses together, they realized just how difficult it is to find resources for minority business owners in Kansas City.

“Down the line, we wanted to help others find resources that we couldn’t during that time,” Thompson said. “So, we started Porter House KC.”

“Porter House KC is the vision of getting someone from where they are, to where they want to be,” Smith said. “So traditionally a porter was a person that carries your bags and helps you get to where you want to go and “house” signifies family.”

In 2017, Smith and Thompson began hosting speaker sessions and invited business professionals to conduct workshops for local entrepreneurs who wouldn’t typically have access to their industry-level professional advice. 

As those sessions gained popularity and helped local entrepreneurs grow their businesses, the Porter House gained sponsorships and partnerships, which allowed the nonprofit to begin a small business development program.

The fifteen-week small business development course has served more than 90 underserved entrepreneurs in Kansas City, providing them entrepreneurial and marketing skills and the tools to learn from failures and challenges in the business world.

“We have to bring folks to a space where they feel comfortable and feel valued, because it’s not just about teaching entrepreneurship and it’s not just about creating access,” Smith said. “You have to believe in what you’re doing and have other people believe in what you’re doing.”

Entrepreneurs can apply for the course online and each course has a $200 fee, which includes a resource book. The Porter House KC limits each of their small business development classes to 12 students.

“You’re not just a number and you’re just not a checkbox,” Smith said. “We want to make sure that we’re providing a value to the folks that basically invested in us. We feel like we really have to make sure that they get a return on that investment times ten.”

Alesha Bowman, owner of plus-size resale store unLESHed+ joined the Porter House small business development class to gain more exposure for her business, but she said she graduated with so many more skills, including a business family and a network of people to lean on when she needed.

“Being part of the cohort showed me to be more open and vulnerable when talking publicly about my business,” Bowman said. “Honestly, if I hadn’t been part of the program, I don’t believe I would have been ready when I got the call to be on The Ellen Show. The confidence in knowing who exactly unLESHed+ is and who we serve came from being in the program and allowed me to easily speak about the impact that we are making in Kansas City.”

When the pandemic hit, it really solidified the importance and true impact of their work, said Smith and Thompson. The Porter House did not shut down. In fact, the duo continued their classes virtually.  In addition, they showcased entrepreneurs every week on Facebook Live, who talked about how they were handling their business during the shutdown and gave advice to others.

“A lot of entrepreneurs said they were given great advice from watching the show,” Thompson said. 

The weekly entrepreneurship show covered topics like PPP loans, business versus personal bank accounts and unemployment resources. Smith and Charon said they’re hoping to bring the series back soon.

“A lot of businesses here in Kansas City, closed their doors after having 20 or 30-plus years in business. It was really sad to see,” Thompson said.

“That’s part of the reason we started the online format,” Smith said. “The resources that we used to tap into before the pandemic became less visible. We felt like we had to double down and lean into these conversations with entrepreneurs who are really great at what they do and really inspirational.”

Porter House KC also helps local entrepreneurs through their free mentorship program started earlier this year. 

Since June, the nonprofit has been located in the Jazz District at 1518 E 18th St.  They host their small business development cohorts from this location and also provide coworking space for their alumni. 

While Porter House KC is happy to be in the Jazz District where they are close to communities they serve, Smith and Thompson are hoping to open their permanent location at 31st and Troost in the next 10 months.

The group has had the space for the last three years, but it needs lots of renovations. The goal is to make the building a space for their students to gain real world experience in a safe space. There will be 10 different storefronts managed by students where the public can come in to shop. The building will also have coworking and classroom space.

To stay updated with Porter House KC, follow their Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/ThePorterHouseKC and website:https://www.theporterhousekc.com/.

“It’s a fun experience for us to serve entrepreneurs here in Kansas City and bring something to our community that is meaningful,” Thompson said. 

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