If you want to open a business in Kansas City, and you have some idea – to no idea – how to get started, KC BizCare is where you should begin.

Conveniently placed, in a new location on the first floor of KCMO City Hall, BizCare is a one-stop shop for starting a business in the City of Fountains.

While BizCare may not provide everything you need to start a business, they know what you need to start a business, and because of that, they provide a valuable service, especially to small business owners with limited resources. They are there with the information, and their team is willing to help guide you along the way.

KC BizCare is a unique concept since government organizations aren’t typically known for their “we’re here to help” customer service. 

Founded in 2009, the organization’s mission hasn’t changed much, but its visibility has grown considerably since 2018, when the organization’s current director, Nia Richardson, was brought on board and charged with taking the organization to another level.  

Earlier this month, Richardson announced a new “level” for the agency. 

Up until now, the agency has only provided services. However In 2023, the agency has plans to launch a low-interest revolving loan fund for small businesses. Along with the loan fund, Richardson announced a couple of new services the organization will offer.  

With the help of the business community, who showed up in large numbers during the city’s budget hearing, the Kansas City Council allotted $500,000 of Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to KC BizCare to help small businesses and entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) in Kansas City. 

Realizing that $500,000 won’t go very far, Richardson has begun fundraising with hopes of leveraging the money to build a $3 million capital fund and she began developing a plan that would help maximize the benefit to Kansas City’s small business community.  

Last week, the Kansas City Council approved moving the initial $500,000 to the city’s nonprofit Economic Development Corporation, which already has an established lending arm.   

Richardson is  still in the process of fine-tuning the requirements for the loan program, and possibly some grants. Along with the loan program, she is focusing on how she can help prepare small businesses to apply and qualify for these loans. 

Back-Office Support

Richardson knows too many small businesses aren’t prepared to apply for a loan. It’s a fact that became clear during COVID, when small businesses, particularly small Black-owned businesses, didn’t have pre-existing banking relationships and they didn’t have the data that was required to qualify for the loans.   

In 2021, after Black businesses failed in the first two rounds to get a fair share of the PPP money, Richardson launched a PPP Prep Program. She began the program by creating an online portal to help applicants prepare to apply for PPP loans.. Because she knew what businesses needed to qualify, the portal included an online checklist.

Business owners could go online, complete the questionnaire, and at the end, they knew what they did and didn’t have in place to apply and qualify for a loan. 

“So at minimum, you got what you needed to do it on your own, or you could request support,” said Richardson. 

The support is where the PPP Prep program really stood out. With very limited funding, the BizCare team was able to refer small businesses to ESOs that provided accountants who worked with the small businesses one-on-one to help them get their loan paperwork in order.   

In the end, BizCare and the ESOs were able to help a little more than 200 local businesses secure $2.5 million in PPP funding. 

What Richardson said she discovered in the process is that “our businesses aren’t bankable because they don’t have the back-office support: the accounting, the bookkeeping, the legal support, someone to help them with their business plan. That’s what is missing and why our businesses are not successful.”

With the huge success of the PPP effort, BizCare has been able to secure $250,000 in funding from the Kauffman Foundation for a loan prep or “capital access” program.

“This is a major gap that’s missing,” said Richardson. “All of the banks want this stuff and no one is paying anybody to do this.” 

ESO Capacity Building 

BizCare has also secured an additional $300,000 from Kauffman for the development of an ESO accelerator program. As she sees it, the success of the loan prep program depends heavily on the work of the ESOs.

“My ecosystem is only as strong as the people that help the businesses,” Richardson said. 

That is why this funding is to help build the capacity of the ESOs.  

If you’re not clear on who is considered an ESO, think Prospect Business Association or Porter House, but there are many others across the city. 

Examples of how this funding might be used would be to pay for software an ESO might need to help them service small businesses, to expand their staff or to help increase the salaries they offer as a way to attract better quality employees.  

Combined, Richardson says the programs definitely are in high demand: back-office support for the small businesses, capacity building for the ESO to better assist the businesses, and capital – something every business needs.    

Capital Program 

Richardson’s capital program is still a work in process; she’s applied to the state for a grant to match the $500,000 in funding from the City and she has a goal of building the loan fund to $3 million.  

The initial concept creates three pots of money. Larger loans for businesses that are two years and older, mid-sized loans for businesses that are one to two years old and a small grant program for businesses that are less than a year old. 

Want to learn more about her vision for BizCare’s new capital program? Find that story on our website at www.CommunitiyVoiceKS.com.

Part two of this two part story

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...