Kansas City entrepreneur Kyle Smith is reporting early success with his effort to help former prisoners build their own businesses.
Smith says he was startled to learn that nearly 43 percent of people on parole in Missouri are unemployed. In February, he launched a business support group called Be the Boss. So far, more than 40 people have attended at least once.
"We have a lot of people who are starting with the skills and the interests and the passions that they have," he says, "so landscaping, cooking, scrapbooking. The sort of stuff that they’re passionate about that they want to help others do as well."
The support group, now part of Smith's non-profit organization called Determination, Incorporated, meets three times a month in Kansas City's urban core, at the Kansas City Public Library's Bluford branch at 3050 Prospect and the UMKC Innovation Center at 4747 Troost.
"I've learned a lot being with this group, just knowing that there are other people that have been incarcerated that can make a future in a business," said Teresa Conard of Independence, Missouri.
Conard, who just started serving three years probation, said her goal is to open a scrapbooking retail store, with a focus on genealogy and history.
Kyle Davis of Kansas City, who served more than 10 years in prison and was released in 2012, said the group helps with networking for "people who want to turn their lives around."
Davis said he planned to get his food truck, Bayou Brothers KC, on the road this spring.
"I've been a cook my whole life," he said, "and I feel that Kansas City needs Cajun food brought to it, so I'm trying to bring the authentic taste of Louisiana up here."
This year, Determination, Incorporated, also initiated workshops at the Regional Correctional Center and the Kansas City Reentry Center in downtown Kansas City.
In 2019, Smith said, he plans to introduce Rise Up, Get Started, a series of entrepreneurial competitions to help former prisoners start their businesses.
Before starting his own business, Smith worked with KCSourceLink, an entrepreneurial hub; he also volunteers as a community organizer with 1 Million Cups Kansas City, a weekly event where entrepreneurs pitch ideas.
"There are a lot more resources out there to help people start and grow a business than I think folks realize," Smith said. "So just awareness, awareness is a big issue."
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.