The Main Street Learning Lab at K’é – The Backstory from Pam
“What kind of world do you want to live in, and what are you building to contribute to that world?” -Greg Hartle
When I heard these words from my friend Greg Hartle three years ago, they made my heart skip a beat.
I have been a business coach for over 20 years, and in 2009 helped spearhead the movement of people leaving corporate jobs to start their own enterprise with my book Escape from Cubicle Nation. I have worked with thousands of entrepreneurs, helping to launch and grow many different types of businesses. I love this work more today than when I started.
Yet as I spoke with friends and fellow small business influencers, all of us were getting concerned that business owners were drowning in an ever-growing sea of information, online courses and sales pitches.
Despite more resources than ever, business owners were still stuck with the same problems.
And despite mountains of evidence about the benefits of diversity, and decades of advocacy for inclusive and equitable startup spaces, most incubator programs were dominated by white males.
I became obsessed with answering two questions:
-How do you provide solid, effective business advice in a way that actually solves the problems and builds the leadership capacity of small business owners?
-How do you create programs led by the community, for the community, that are truly inclusive and equitable?
So in the summer of 2016, my husband Darryl and I opened a brick and mortar small business incubator on Main Street of our home town of Mesa, Arizona. We spent a year engaging with the broader community, talking with business owners of all sizes and shapes and working with everyone who supported them from the city to the regional arts center, non-profits and small business consultants. I connected with peers on the ground in Detroit and San Francisco and New York and Austin and Fargo. At the same time, I engaged with my global audience of business owners, and those who support them.
The result of this work is what I believe is a truly innovative and collaborative project which is designed to support both the small business owners who want to succeed, as well as the companies, incubators, organizations and professionals who serve them.
What is K’é?
K’é is a physical space downtown Mesa that hosts the The Main Street Learning Lab, which is a community based leadership development lab that supports and strengthens the work of diverse entrepreneurs – especially entrepreneurs of color and their allies.
Led by author, business coach and small business influencer Pamela Slim, The Main Street Learning Lab does the following activities for the small business market:
- Diagnose core business problems and identify key obstacles that prevent small business progress
- Provide space to experiment with new ideas, events, programs or workshops, with collaboration and mentoring for the program hosts
- Engage a diverse, engaged local and global community of small business owners who conduct a whole series of “experiments” designed to understand and overcome these obstacles and report back to The Lab
- With this insight, create new and innovative tools, frameworks and methods to help small business owners develop skills and leadership behaviors that will move them to the next stage of growth
- Share the insight, directly to business owners and through our sponsor partners, through multiple communication channels to make small business owners better, stronger and more capable
What does K’é Mean?
The name K’é (pronounced “keh”) is a Diné (Navajo) word, meaning “system of kinship.” It was chosen by Pam’s husband Darryl, to reflect the feeling you have when you are deeply connected to others, you feel your kinship, and you treat each other as family.
Pam and Darryl like all members of the community to feel welcome as they walk through the doors of K’é.
The Main Street Learning Lab Timeline
Phase 1: Indiegogo Campaign
June 2016 – July 2016
Once we got the key to the new space, there were a lot of physical renovations to complete. With our Indiegogo campaign, over 230 small business owners and our “Trifeca of Awesome” corporate sponsors Tuft & Needle, GoDaddy and Infusionsoft banded together to raise over $40,000 to make physical improvements including wall and floor demolition and repair, painting, and the acquisition of furniture and equipment.
Phase 2: Listen First
September 2016 – October 2017
We believe that to be an organization that truly reflects the needs and wishes of its community, you have to spend time connecting with and listening to the community, before designing programs.
So in the first year that K’é was opened, we met with many members of the local community including city government, non-profits, small business owners, community activists and fellow small business service providers.
We hosted and participated in over 100 events, for organizations including:
- Arizona to Rally Against Native American Mascots
- Arizona State University Polytechnic
- Creative Catalysts
- Downtown Mesa Association (DMA)
- East Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- Freelancers Union Spark
- Hispanic Leadership Institute
- Mesa Arts Center
- Main Street Prototyping Festival
- Morningstar Leaders
- Phoenix Design Week
- Phoenix Indian Center
- RAIL Mesa (Retail, Arts, Innovation and Livability)
- Southwest Maker Fest
- Startup Life Support
- West Mesa Community Development Corporation
- Wilkes University
- And scores of local small business owners artists, activists and filmmakers.
From these conversations, we envisioned a brand new, innovative model for small business learning and research, called The Main Street Learning Lab. In this lab, we will focus on developing creative solutions to core business problems, by conducting a large number of experiments by small business owners from all communities, economic situations and backgrounds in the small business market.
Phase 3: Gather the Data
November 2017 – June 2018
In order to develop a baseline of research for our programming, we wanted to gather rich, helpful data from small business owners. In partnership with the Cloud Software Association and over 100 influencers and organizations such as Guy Kawasaki, Mari Smith and the National Association of Women Business Owners, in November, 2017, Susan Baier of Audience Audit, Chris Lee of Purple CRM and I produced Crack the Challenge Code, a survey with over 2,000 small business owner respondents from the U.S. and Canada.
From this survey, we analyzed the data for some unique, academically valid research about attitudes small business owners have toward obstacles, their defined problems, what help they are looking for, as well as tens of thousands of points of data about where they are currently looking for information, what products they use to run their business, and who they consider key influencers, events and learning experiences.
This data is the basis for research and program development about ecosystems, community building, and small business solutions .
Phase 4: Incubate Community Learning and Leadership
July 2018 – Present
In under three years, K’é Main street Learning Lab has become a trusted community hub, hosting over 250 events, led by 53 community partners, for over 4,000 community members. Our events, all requested by and for the community, doubled from 2016 to 2017, and tripled from 2017 to 2018. Based on our 2019 statistics to date, we are on track to double the number of events again.
We are building strategic partnerships with organizations that share our mission, as well as writing grants to expand the work we are doing at the lab.
You can also join our Facebook page here, for up to the minute news, events and updates: https://www.facebook.com/KeInMesa/