Missouri Small Business Development Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Case Study

Prompting a Powerful Shift in Mindset to Spark Small Business Startups

Missouri Small Business Development Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City logo

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Number of new businesses in 2021: 57 

Amount of increased sales in 2021: $28.5 million 

Number of participants in most recent Entrepreneurial Mindset Training: 18 

 

OVERVIEW:

People reach out for a wide range of services from the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Some have an idea for a startup but aren’t sure about the next steps. Others already have a business but need assistance with a specific aspect that poses a challenge. Many want to attend training or work one on one with a coach. And some are looking for financing options, planning for growth, or developing a new innovation.

Technology is a strong focus at the Missouri SBDC at UMKC, but it works with startups and established companies across all industries, from knitting to coffee to architecture, engineering, and construction. Its ELEVATIONLAB offers classes and workshops for every business stage to companies in the metro Kansas City area, with a population of 2.2 million people across 14 counties in Missouri and Kansas. 

THE CHALLENGE:

The ELEVATIONLAB courses at Missouri SBDC at UMKC are divided according to business stages:
1. Spark classes for startups
2. Scale classes for growth
3. Surge classes for technology and innovation

When would-be entrepreneurs engage with the Missouri SBDC at UMKC, their level of preparedness to embark on a new venture runs the gamut. Even within the Spark stage, they may not be ready to write a business plan or delve into financial statements. 

THE SOLUTION:

Business and Program Development Consultant Rebecca Gubbels brought the Ice House model to the Missouri SBDC at UMKC to help aspiring entrepreneurs who have a business idea but aren’t sure where to start. Gubbels designed the nine-week Entrepreneurial Mindset Training to help people without prior business experience take their ideas from conceptualization to the early stages of implementation. However, more importantly, it helps them home in on the problem they’re trying to solve for their future customers and why they are uniquely suited to address it. 

“The Entrepreneurial Mindset Training is aptly named because it really did challenge how I think about everything,” said Business Development Consultant Joel Barrett. A small business owner himself, Barrett has been facilitating the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training for four years, and he still uses the lessons from his initial Ice House training with the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative. “It has changed my approach to problem-solving instead of solution building, which is so contrary to how most entrepreneurship is taught.” 

Barrett hears the same thing from participants. “People say, ‘Wow, this class has changed the way I think about everything’”. For some, this sense of disorientation can be so intense that they drop out partway through. So, Barrett prepares them the same way an airline pilot prepares passengers for a bumpy flight. “I warn them on the first day that this is going to cause turbulence in your mind. It’s going to challenge your thinking,” he said. “I tell them to hang in there. Know you’re going to feel that way, but it will smooth out, and you’re going to have a better understanding.”

The Missouri SBDC at UMKC supplements the Ice House curriculum with material from the book “The All-In Startup: Launching a New Idea When Everything Is on the Line” as a strategy for counteracting the intensity of the mental shift. Barrett finds that the practical information from “The All-In Startup” fits well with the heartfelt Ice House content. 

During the pandemic, the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training shifted to an online format. But, Barrett couldn’t wait to get back in person. “During the pandemic, clients were much more serious about starting a business. They were not tire-kickers,” he said. “We had some really strong entrepreneurs come out of the crisis.” Still, he felt the loss of person-to-person connections. “I find some of the most valuable things that happen are the interactions between individuals,” he said. 

THE RESULTS:

The Missouri SBDC at UMKC offers Entrepreneurial Mindset Training once per year at around $650. Participants can partially or entirely offset with scholarships. Barrett explained that there are three equally successful outcomes from the training:
1. Participants feel equipped to get their business going.
2. Participants realize they need to tweak their idea or go in another direction.
3. Participants decide to get a full-time job because the entrepreneurial path isn’t for them. 

Even when the outcome is #1 or #2, “people often need additional help, so they take other classes too,” Barrett said. “Once they become a client, we’re there for them for life.”

For example, within the Spark courses from ELEVATIONLAB, the five-session New Venture Nuggets class goes more into the nuts and bolts of starting a business. There are many single-session classes, too, on topics like writing a business plan, understanding financial statements, and using social media to build relationships. And the Scale and Surge courses offer even more specific opportunities for support to existing businesses.

Barrett said it’s not uncommon for business owners to repeat the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training if they have an idea for a new venture. 

“Even in my own life, I tend to think things through with an entrepreneurial mindset now,” Barrett said. “I am a creative person, and in the past, I would have been like, ‘Here’s what we should do’—but without any proof that it was actually solving the problem. The Ice House model really opened my eyes, and I feel the same thing happens with my students.”