As president of Kauffman FastTrac®, a nonprofit training entrepreneurs to start and grow new businesses, Alana Muller, ’98, believes in the ripple effect.
Inspired by the entrepreneurial chutzpah of guest speakers at a Booth reunion event in 2007, the Kansas City resident decided to make a change. “I left the event feeling energized,” said Muller. “I knew it was time to go after my own entrepreneurial dreams.”
Muller left her job at Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint Corp., where she had been for 10 years, and started her own consulting firm. But as she pondered her next move, she realized that she had few business connections outside of Sprint.
Muller spent the next nine months networking and made 200 new connections. Her networking technique, which she calls “coffee, lunch, coffee,” led to a popular blog, a book, and a TEDx talk.
Her new network soon brought her to Kauffman FastTrac. The Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship and education, was interested in spinning off its successful program for budding entrepreneurs. Muller helped the foundation through the process and never left.
FastTrac classes are offered by more than 100 affiliate organizations around the world, including small business development centers, local chambers of commerce, universities, government entities, business incubators and accelerators, nonprofit organizations, and consulting firms. The FastTrac model, which turns 20 this year, has assisted more than 350,000 entrepreneurs through the start-up process and on to later-stage issues.
At Kansas City–affiliate Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), juniors and seniors from area high schools participate in FastTrac classes, learning the basics of starting a business, applying for patents, and seeking venture funding.
FastTrac graduate, Gaby Lobo applied her FastTrac training to develop Pest Deflector, a dryer sheet infused with natural insect repellent and insecticide derived from chrysanthemum flowers. Pest Deflector now has a patent pending.
To Muller, who sits on the CAPS advisory board, the success of the FastTrac model at the high school level is proof that entrepreneurs can come from anywhere. “With the right education and preparation, we can all add value to our community,” she said.
Now, Muller encourages would-be business owners to think big when envisioning their dream businesses. Said Muller in a September Kansas City Star article, “If you create jobs for other people, you are helping to expand the economy. It’s a higher order of impact you can have economically and socially.”—Ally Batty