To those who aspire to start their own business, one of the Baltimore area’s most successful homegrown entrepreneurs has a message he believes will help.
“Keep going because there’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur of color, especially for women,” said Kyle O’Connor, one of the entrepreneurs behind The Startup Nest, which in 2016 opened an incubator in historic Pigtown in South Baltimore.
Co-founded by Deonn Henderson and Marcus Howard, The Startup Nest provides an ecosystem that fosters helpful economic development and promotes diverse and inclusive innovation through its extensive domestic and global professional networks and services.
O’Connor says women of color are the highest indexing demographic as it relates to the creation of new businesses in the country.
He says he encourages all to continue “#ShiftingtheCulture,” a social media hashtag created to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly those of color, that’s gone viral. O’Connor said it’s also important to do homework and not just wing it.
“Validate your idea. Put together the most basic version of your product or service and get it into the hands of your customers as fast as possible” he said. “If you do that, one of two things will happen, you will see traction and be able to add new features to your product or service or you will fail fast, which is not [necessarily] a bad thing.”
By failing fast, individuals can learn what works and doesn’t which will save money, time and heartache while also making for a stronger entrepreneur, O’Connor said.
He also suggests finding a mentor, someone to draw inspiration from.
“I am constantly inspired by many different people. I’m inspired by other young entrepreneurs of color that are doing their thing in a wide range of industries,” O’Connor said. “I’m inspired by the companies we work with. I’m inspired by the fact that even through all the social challenges we face, we are still living in a country full of opportunity and that encourages me to get up every day and just go after the things I feel most passionate about.” he said.
Recently, O’Connor attended the Baltimore Times’ Access to Capital 2.0 event, a free financial education workshop, which included bankers, credit specialists, alternative financing lenders and small business nonprofit resources.
“One of the most powerful things one of my mentors shared with me is that the key to success, in business and in life, is not money, fame or luck, but access to information,” O’Connor said. “The Access to Capital event was important to attend because in many ways it was packed with extremely valuable information coming from the regions strongest leaders and advocates for entrepreneurs of color.”
O’Connor refers to himself as “still a student of the game,” and as such, the Access to Capital event also allowed him to learn more about the various philosophies and methodologies from a finance panel. It also provided a chance to meet some “really brilliant and innovative entrepreneurs thirsting for knowledge to build their brands,” he said.
At the Startup Nest, O’Connor, who is originally from Columbia, Maryland, says the focus is to provide a platform that would allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to build and scale their ideas.
“We don’t shy away from the fact that we strive to be the most inclusive ecosystem that welcomes entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, demographics, and industries,” he said.
Like other businesses, O’Connor says he has faced his share of challenges.
“I’ve had the opportunity to experience a wide range of challenges. If I had to pick one, I would say that realizing that not every investor is the right investor for your company. In one of my previous startups, we experienced various challenges by simply choosing the wrong investor,” he said. “I would say that many times entrepreneurs are so hungry for capital that they struggle [to see] the trees through the forest and don’t spend the necessary time vetting those who want to provide capital toward their business venture.”
Still, it remains an opportune time for today’s go-getters. “It is the right time,” he said.