Encouraging entrepreneurship by racial minorities in Topeka will be the focus of a $360,000 grant that was announced Wednesday.
Kansas City, Mo.’s Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has awarded the grant to Topeka’s Omni Circle Group to help finance the creation and development of a cutting edge, minority-focused business start-up community.
“This is the first time the minority community here has ever had something like this,” The Capital-Journal was told Tuesday by Glenda Washington, the Greater Topeka Partnership’s chief equity and opportunity officer.
Officials from the Kauffman Foundation, Omni Circle Group and the GTP announced the grant during a news conference Wednesday in the 15,000-square-foot building where the co-working space is to be based at 1301 S.W. Topeka Blvd.
The GTP and Omni Circle Group teamed up to write the successful grant application, Washington said.
While the community will focusing on arming racial minorities with the resources, skills and support necessary to succeed, business owners won’t need to be a minority to take advantage of it, she said.
Omni Circle Group plans ‘collaboration hub’
Omni Circle Group, a nonprofit organization founded in 2019, works to bring about personal and professional development to unite and strengthen communities here — particularly minority communities — that have traditionally been overlooked.
The group’s founder and CEO is former Washburn University football and basketball player Michael Odupitan. Its program director is Stephen McIntosh.
McIntosh used the term “collaboration hub” to describe the planned co-working space during an interview Tuesday with The Capital-Journal.
The grant money will be used primarily to create programming that Omni Circle Group will offer, Odupitan said.
The group plans at some point to offer micro-grants and micro-loans to business owners that have completed its programs, he added. Those owners will also receive assistance while they’re building their business.
Omni Circle Group’s CEO sees ‘two sides of the track’ in Topeka
Omni Circle Group announced last February that it planned to open the new headquarters and co-working space where Wednesday’s conference was held.
“The biggest problem that we see in Topeka is that you have two sides of the track,” Odupitan told Startlandnews.com last month. “And you have those who don’t have the services and the opportunities to grow and then the people who are [close to the track], but they don’t have the confidence to cross it.”
Odupitan hopes to help people break generational cycles and create “the type of diversity and inclusion in this city that we don’t typically see on a larger scale,” he told the website.
Omni Circle Group operates as two entities — a nonprofit, community-building organization and a for-profit co-working space — Odupitan told the Capital-Journal last February.
He said he would like to see Omni Circle help put an end to some of the “generational curses of minority communities,” which primarily stem from institutional racism.
“When we talk about why one group of individuals may not be succeeding as much as others,” he said, “we want to figure out what those disparities are and make sure we can be an impact as far as changing some of those statistics.”
One way to do that, Odupitan said, is by creating an inclusive business ecosystem that bolsters mom-and-pop shops, encourages innovation in minority communities and produces homegrown leaders who choose to stay in the Topeka area and give back.
Kauffman Foundation seeks to ‘dream big’
The Kauffman Foundation was founded in 1966 to try to fundamentally change people’s lives by Ewing Marion Kauffman, an entrepreneur and humanitarian who later was the first owner of the Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball team. He died in 1993.
“To create equitable, comprehensive, and sustainable change, we first listen to the communities in which we work, develop shared learning and knowledge, and bring people together,” the foundation said on its website. “Through these collaborations, we champion ideas and support solutions designed to improve education, boost entrepreneurship, and help communities and individuals thrive.”
That site added, “Our team is made up of connectors and doers who dream big, solve problems together with the communities we serve and take calculated risks to drive results.”