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A Kansas City woman won $100,000 to battle chronic illness with healthy food

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Emily Brown is the CEO and founder of Free From Market.
Courtesy of Emily Brown
Emily Brown is the CEO and founder of Free From Market.

A Kansas City woman turned her own family’s struggle into a way to help her community get better access to healthy food. Her idea just earned her $100,000 from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund.

When Emily Brown’s two daughters were young, they suffered from chronic health conditions. The family was also going through tough economic times. That led her to start her own business to help other people in the same position.

Working with hospitals, doctors and other community organizations, Brown created Free From Market, a website that provides access to healthy food, education and support. Patients who are referred to the site by their health care providers get a monthly stipend for groceries that match their dietary needs.

The service is the only one of its kind in Kansas City.

“We were on WIC and SNAP and couldn't get the foods that we needed to keep them healthy,” Brown said of the struggle to get proper nutrition for her daughters.

Brown’s family was like many others. Six in 10 adults in the United States have a chronic disease, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Initially, Brown started a non-profit called Food Equity Initiative to try increase her community's access to quality food for better health. But she learned there was much greater need — enough to support a for-profit business. That led to the creation of Free From Market.

“We've seen the rise of social determinants of health and the pandemic has really brought light to those environmental and social factors that really have a significant impact on health,” Brown said. “So Free From Market is really a culmination of all of those experiences to bring a solution to scale for individuals.”

A year and a few months into the business, Free From Market became the first Kansas City startup chosen for the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund and granted more than $100,000.

Brown considers this a significant honor, especially with less than 1% of venture capital going to Black founders.

“It's not lost on me just how significant that is for this community,” Brown said. “I hope that just having this conversation today inspires others to pursue their passions and to build solutions that make an impact in their community.”

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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