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Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas to Take Refugee Entrepreneurs to the Next Level

Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas is a recipient of the prestigious Heartland Challenge Grant awarded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Only 17 organizations from across a four state region were selected to receive the grant, designed to improve business prospects for entrepreneurs with traditionally difficult access to financing gatekeepers.

The Heartland Challenge grantees will work to solve for specific challenges entrepreneurs in the region face. For Catholic Charities, the overall goal for this project is to provide an effective scale-up and mentorship program for refugee and other immigrant business owners with an emphasis on fully preparing them for seeking investment.

“After helping 28 graduates, all refugees, start successful businesses through our New Roots for Refugees urban farm incubator program, we realized that for many of them, significant barriers exist to expanding their businesses,” said Thom Fox, Senior Grants Manager. “This program will help them overcome those barriers, access the necessary gatekeepers and financing to do so, and help more immigrants become successfully involved in entrepreneurship.”

The program relies on the collaboration with partner Equity Squared, a company that is committed to minority and women-owned business and real estate investments in opportunity zones, and Forward Cities ESHIP, which works to create more equitable entrepreneurial environments. With Forward Cities and Equity Squared’s input, Catholic Charities will develop a program for interested businesses focused on the skills and collateral necessary for gaining needed investment or financing. “We’ll create and facilitate a mastermind/networking group for the entrepreneurs and help develop additional relationships with investors and financiers,” Fox added.

Meredith Walrafen, New Roots for Refugees Program Manager, was also selected to be part of the Kauffman Foundation’s Communities of Practices. She has been appointed to a focused task force working on several initiatives to address the systemic challenges entrepreneurs face across the Midwest.

“Entrepreneurship represents an opportunity for this region to reverse a decades-long trend of economic decline,” Melissa Roberts Chapman, Senior Program Officer in Entrepreneurship, said. “Creating more equitable ecosystems, revitalizing rural communities and accelerating IP-driven business creation are three things we can do to ensure that starting a business in the Heartland isn’t harder than it has to be. In fact, the only way we can regain momentum in the cities and rural areas of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, is to work together to meet the challenges ahead of us.”

Catholic Charities is grateful to be collaborating with the Kauffman Foundation. Fox said, “It’s exciting to be a part of the Heartland Challenge and work with others who share a vision of helping entrepreneurs move closer to their business dreams!”


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Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas serves the most vulnerable men, women and children of all faiths across 21 counties. We provide innovative programs and solutions that stabilize and strengthen individuals and families to have hope for the future. Follow us to stay up to date.

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