Celebrating 30 years of dreamers and doers
Kansas City’s world-renowned entrepreneurial community gathered as one Nov. 16 for a gala dinner celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, sponsored annually by one of that community’s pillars: The Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The evening’s theme was “Fearless City: Celebrating Those Who Fearlessly Create.” Business and civic leaders mingled with Bloch School faculty, members of the school’s Entrepreneur Hall of Fameand rising young start-up stars at the gala. Three people were recognized as the evening’s honorees: Jaspreet Singh, Student Entrepreneur of the Year; Danny O’Neill, Bean Baron, The Roasterie, Regional Entrepreneur of the Year; and Gary White, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Water.org, Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
In keeping with the theme of fearlessness, the event speakers talked about how entrepreneurs overcome obstacles and resistance to achieve success.
UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton called the three honorees “living proof that good ideas will rise to the top if you stay strong.” They join a long and proud list of Kansas Citians, Morton added.
“World, if you’re still calling Kansas City ‘fly-over country,’ you’re making a big mistake. Kansas City, with a nod to the contributions of UMKC and the Bloch School of Management, is ‘entrepreneur country.’ And we’ve got the household names to prove it,” Morton said. “There are lots of homegrown entrepreneurs whose businesses date back well into the last century and beyond. When we think of them, and what a leap of faith they took to begin and persevere, we think of AMC Theaters; Hallmark Cards, Russell Stover Candies, H & R Block, United Missouri Bank and Sosland Publishing, to name a few.”
Student entrepreneur Singh is in the process of launching a startup called Flyer Crate, a provider of luxury travel goods delivered monthly to frequent flyers. He said his lifelong interest in aviation not only inspired the idea for the business, but also inspired him to persevere.
“Aviation teaches you that the thing that is pushing against you is the very thing that will eventually lift you and make you soar,” he said.
“Bean Baron” O’Neill credited the entrepreneurial mentors, and other guides and advisers – such as his sports coaches – who taught him perseverance and discipline.
“From my Dad, I learned to always do more than is asked of you, and to never, ever quit,” O’Neill said. Barnett Helzberg, he added, was a constant source of inspiration and guidance, with insights such as “what got you here, isn’t what’s going to get you there.”
But the best business advice he ever received, he said, was from Henry W. Bloch.
“If I hire people better than me and smarter than me, at every position in the company, they just might succeed,” Bloch told him.
The next day, at a coffee reception in Bloch Executive Hall, O’Neill announced the Danny O’Neill Roasterie Endowed Entrepreneurship and Innovation Scholarship. Established with a contribution from the Roasterie and partial match from the Marion and Henry Bloch Foundation, the $30,000 endowed fund will assist one Entrepreneurship/Innovation student in The Bloch School of Management. The scholarship will be awarded this spring for the 2016-2017 school year.
White’s organization, water.org, is committed to finding ways to provide clean water and basic sanitation to the millions around the world who lack it. The need is so overwhelming, he said, that “I realized there would never be enough charity in the world to solve the problem.”
Rather than surrender to the scale, however, he sought insight – and found it: “the poor are not a problem to be solved; they are a solution.”
White said many poor people spend hours every day, and 25 percent or more of their income, obtaining water – often by purchasing it from second- and third-hand dealers who impose huge markups. The solution, he realized, was entrepreneurial – helping those people find their power as customers. The organization empowers the poor by giving them access to capital via micro-loan programs, allowing them to connect directly to water systems and freeing up that large chunk of their income for other purposes once the loans are repaid.
Such insights are the essence of social entrepreneurship, he said.
“Social entrepreneurs are connecting the dots in ways that others never see,” he said.
Recognizing a need to empower people in the developing world to gain access to safe water and sanitation, White established Water.org in 2009. The organization was the result of a merger between WaterPartners International, co-founded by White in 1990, and H2O Africa, co-founded by actor Matt Damon.
White’s entrepreneurial vision has driven innovations in the way water and sanitation projects are delivered and financed. By the end of 2014, Water.org had served more than three million people. White is a founding board member of the Millennium Water Alliance and WASH Advocates and a leading member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Water.
O’Neill’s passion for coffee was inspired by a trip to Costa Rica during his senior year in high school. He founded The Roasterie in 1993 on three basic premises: to find the best coffees in the world; to roast them the best way known to man; and to get them to his customers as fast as humanly possible. He opened the first Roasterie Café in Brookside in 2005. The company has grown to include three cafés and a roasting factory with event space.
O’Neill is well respected in the industry and earned “Super Taster” status on the Specialty Coffee Institute Sensory Aptitude Test in 2001. He serves on a number of advisory boards for Kansas City companies and associations, including the UMKC Board of Trustees.
| John Martellaro, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications