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Op-Ed: Creating Cultural Equity Through Non-Traditional Entrepreneurs


Three years ago I moved back to Northern Kentucky and began a self-induced fantastical journey to stay afloat while being unemployed. In the beginning of this ride I made the ultimate decision to be a non-traditional entrepreneur.

It was a surprising time for me. Having spent the last 2 decades, not only disengaged from having to worry about where my next paycheck was going to come from, but also disengaged from Northern Kentucky life. You see, though I grew up in Covington's Westside, since the mid aughts I lived in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, and was knee deep in its redevelopment efforts. And I was “that guy” who had a hard time traversing the Ohio River for most anything but family.

So too, it turned out, I forgot a few things about My Ol’ Kentucky home; where things are a bit slower, and for good reason. We are slower because, I found in my own experience, that equity was more readily judged by time spent rather than dollars dropped.

And this is what sets non-traditional entrepreneurs apart from their traditional counterparts. It's true that non-traditional entrepreneurs can take a project from ideation to  implementation; making it work the way it was designed. What sets non-traditional entrepreneurs apart is that they are not only in it to become rich, but they also want to make sure their ideas facilitates equity of all kinds.  

In addition, supporting these non-traditional entrepreneurs embodies innovative thought. When we experiment, success often doesn’t look exactly like what we anticipated. Yes, the non-traditional entrepreneurs experiment with ideas, but to the non-traditional entrepreneur, experimenting is about exploring and learning what is relevant for people, what makes their lives more meaningful, and what helps to repair their community.

Here in Northern Kentucky, with community as the engine that drives support for new ideas and approaches, we who work with innovators should be turning more often and more directly to those non-traditional entrepreneurs who hustle for a cause. We should listen to how they talk about the gaps, opportunities and possibilities that call for important and promising innovations.

And it's the major reason behind the recently held Non-Conventional Entrepreneur Conference.

Working through a grant from The Center for Great Neighborhoods, the half-day conference provided a space where our community of small business, contractors, and home businesses came together for invaluable education, connection, and inspiration.

Held on Saturday, May 4, the conference contained 5 sessions provided by a roster of speakers and other like-minded entrepreneurs and innovators looking to build relationships, conduct impactful networking, and facilitate partner opportunities to discuss some of the key challenges and opportunities the region presents for non-traditional entrepreneurs.

Jerome Bowles, CEO of Bowles Center for Diversity Inc. and president of the Northern Kentucky branch of the N.A.A.C.P., kicked off the event with his introductory remarks on the importance of diversity in the area's entrepreneurial landscape.

As for the other insights shared at the event, I was fortunate enough to conduct one of the first trainings under the title “So You Want To Create a Business Plan” which revolved around discovering how those with a business idea could re-package their idea to produce equity; both monetary and cultural.

To fill out the rest of the morning, additional sessions were composed of a round table discussion comprised of new small business owners who recently completed the FreshLo Chefs program at The Center for Great Neighborhoods. Over The Center's 4-decade presence in Covington, they have made it a point to do great things for Covington, its residents and its development. And with the FreshLo Chef program, The Center gives “a hand up and a push forward to anyone with a passion to start, or to grow their own food-based business”.

John Wood, who specializes in business and individual tax preparation, as well as audit and accounting services, gave a presentation on small business tax preparation. In addition, Michelle Slaughter, a socially conscious millennial who is enthralled with civic engagement, conveyed the importance of being a conscious entrepreneur.

The conference's dynamic keynote, delivered by WVXU's Cincinnati Edition host and The River City News publisher Michael Monks, invigorated attendees to never give up on a dream deferred.

The conference showed that it's prime time for a stand-alone conference, here in Northern Kentucky, designed specifically for non-traditional entrepreneurs. I longed to see a conference which tapped into their specific gifts and traits; bringing reality to a much larger audience who sometimes are forgotten. And now...we have one.

On this ride that I am finally enjoying, I’ve found what works best is to work within a diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem. To build such an an ecosystem, leaders across sectors must proactively connect business, especially business owners of color, along with experts, networks, and resources in a seamless way.

Written by Kareem Simpson

Photo: Kareem Simpson (provided)

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