Annie Koo, Team Columbia 2
By Week 5, my team had our MBAx routine down. We knew how to deflect inquiries about our car decals (“No, MBA does not stand for Motor Business Association”; “No, we are not driving cross-country to proclaim that we have newly minted business degrees”). We knew how to find Americana gems like that authentic Korean joint in Sheridan, Wyoming, and we could find a washing machine, stat, in any Holiday Inn Express. Most importantly, we had found our stride on projects, trading roles as problem structurer, Excel whiz, and storyteller in order to deliver helpful tools to our entrepreneurs.
Kansas City quickly dismantled that groove. The stakes felt higher at Howard’s Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch, our Missouri-based organic grocery client. As an earlier stage and smaller scale business, Howard’s lacked the same level of staffing and business acumen as our prior entrepreneurs. We were it.
And while all of our MBAx entrepreneurs had let us into the fold—opening their books and lives to let us advise on key strategic decisions—the trust founder Craig Howard placed in us made me feel uniquely responsible for Howard’s success. Not only did he unflinchingly hand over his social media passwords, he also made me feel like a valued business partner. It was empowering and humbling, as well as inspiring.
Over a home-cooked meal at Craig’s Westside apartment, his mother told us that Craig’s passion for food was self-motivated. He had tested and perfected his craft from a young age, pre-dating “localvore” fads and undeterred by the more traditional paths of his brothers in medicine and finance. The fingerprints of Craig’s passion were all over his business. As we modeled out his finances, for instance, Craig told us that he preferred to limit his catering business, though lucrative, because it detracted from his unique vision for Kansas City food. Sharing urban gardening techniques and implementing an honor-based grocery system was as important to Craig as hard-earned revenue.
I found this “doing well by doing good—and what you want” approach across Kansas City. From the Kauffmann Foundation’s 1 Million Cups program to Craig’s girlfriend, Cory, co-founder of a local art gallery, folks were translating passion to entrepreneurship. They had profound urban impact, too. Cory’s Plug Projects, along with a handful of new restaurants along Genessee Street, seem to be the leading edge of urban revitalization in Kansas City’s West Bottoms neighborhood. These success stories inspired me—for the first time—to become an entrepreneur someday.
MBAxAmerica was an eye-opening experience. Whether dining with generations of shrimpers in NOLA or rafting with clients in Montana, it was incredible to be welcomed into the lives of our entrepreneurs. The personal growth and team learning from six weeks on the road are also irreplaceable. Perhaps the most lasting impression of my MBAx time, however, is the a-ha moment that entrepreneurship could one day connect the dots between my own passions, professional skills, and social impact goals. I have Kansas City, Howard’s and, of course, MBAxAmerica, to thank.