Author: Betsy Blodgett

What was the introduction to activism in your own life?

I was introduced to activism while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Several of my professors taught me about intersectionality as a framework for understanding public education. Those professors also taught me what it means to be a teacher committed to social justice. The first time I participated in activism outside the classroom was after the shooting of Tony Robinson, a young black man who was killed by police just a few blocks from my apartment. While I followed the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, this tragedy and the learning opportunities that were taking place on campus and in the community by groups like Young, Gifted, and Black Ferguson to Madison taught me the importance of protest and teaching as an act of political resistance.

Did you have a mentor when you were in school? If yes, how did that impact your career, if not, how do you think it would have changed your path. 

I have had several mentors in my different levels of schooling. Each mentor created a learning environment in which I felt known in their presence. They each helped me create a vision of who I wanted to be, the kind of world I wanted to live in, and taught me how to use different tools like education to bring about that vision. Mentorship meant having someone in my life who believed in me and my vision, and it gave me the confidence to pursue my goals.

Tell me what inspired you to launch American Daughters? 

We were propelled to launch American Daughters after the 2016 presidential election. Sarah, my sister, kept coming back to this idea of American Daughters and what it meant to be an American Daughter. We knew being an American Daughter didn’t mean citizenship; it had to mean something more. We saw a need to reclaim and redefine words like freedom and patriotism that seem to be so easily thrown around and reduced to holidays and slogans on a t-shirt. We also had a vision of more women, in all fields, becoming leaders because our voices and stories were not being heard. Empowering women leaders is still a goal of ours, but our ideas of leadership have changed. People often associate leaders with the people that are seen at the top, like Congresspeople and CEOs. We now understand that leaders are people driven by a mission and who possess the qualities to organize others towards that mission. The goal is not to be at the top, but to create new opportunities and bring about justice for all people.

What was the process like to actually build this organization? 

Finding women to serve on our board of directors was not difficult. At that time (and still today), there are so many women who are educating themselves on intersectional feminist issues and finding ways to learn from the people directly impacted by them. Kansas City is full of women who want to support each other and work collectively to empower all women.

The process of creating a 501c3 non-profit was a long process. I had just finished my dissertation, so I was still in a mindset of…we just have to put in the work even though we don’t always know what we’re doing. We attended a non-profit workshop through UMKC, searched the internet for how to fill out state and federal forms, and continually worked on developing our vision. The process took about 4 months. Kelly Castor, an illustrator at Hallmark, donated her time and skills to creating a logo, and once we had a face for the organization, it felt real.

“We also had a vision of more women, in all fields, becoming leaders because our voices and stories were not being heard.”

You work with high school students. What was the reaction from school administrations to your concept? 

Creating a learning environment for high school-aged women to explore intersectional feminist issues, share their stories – including ones of sexual harassment and assault – and bringing in educators to help them navigate this time in their life can be tricky with administrators, especially in Missouri. At my previous school, I was always thinking, “How do I resist the status quo and not get fired?” 

For example, I invited a gynecologist to speak to our young women about the female body and to answer questions they had asked me, but I could not answer. For instance, a young woman asked me what precautions she should take as a lesbian woman when having sex. I also knew their questions were not being addressed in health class. When I asked my principal for permission to bring this gynecologist in, he said no. He said the school already provided sex ed. I then asked him if I could bring in this same woman, who also had a degree in engineering to talk with the young women about what it’s like to be a woman of color in the STEM fields. He loved that idea. When the guest speaker arrived, she spoke about her experiences as an engineer and doctor and then opened up the discussion with the students and offered to answer their questions. The young women came prepared with all their questions, and by the end of the hour, she had answered a wide range of sexual wellness questions. 

What has been the reaction with the students? Are they embracing the idea that they have a voice in politics? 

The students love the club! My greatest joy is watching them grow into a sisterhood and listening as they share their stories. They speak with more confidence and conviction each week. Last spring they came to me and spoke about a need to protest gun violence. After a few weeks of learning about the issue and creating protest posters, they participated in what the school was calling a “memorial” for the students lost at Stoneman Douglas High School. However, after the student body headed back inside, five young women from the American Daughters Club stood by the flagpole and refused to go back inside. They felt their voices had not been heard. After several hours of protest, even after several warnings from administration, their parents were called, and they were suspended for five days. While we were all shocked by the punishment and the girls’ resistance was almost immediately broadcast across social media. A young social activist shared the girls’ story on Twitter which was retweeted thousands of times; KCUR, a local NPR affiliate, wrote an article that featured many of their voices; a local news station interviewed them; and Mary Beth Tinker, a free speech activist known for her role in the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District Supreme Court case, voiced her support for these young women.

After the students returned from their suspension, I asked them, “How many of you would have done that [protested] by yourself?” All of the young women said they would have never protested alone. We then discussed the importance of sisterhood and the power of solidarity, how we can do things collectively that we could never accomplish on our own. 

Can you tell us about this year’s summer Academy program? 

The summer of 2019 will be the first year for the American Daughters Summer Academy. We just recently selected our participants, who come from different high schools in KCMO and KCK. When each young woman applied, she told us who she is and who she wants to be, including her idea for a summer project based on her interests and future goals.

This four-week summer program will allow participants to explore an area of interest through mentorship; visit Kansas City neighborhoods and landmarks, including institutes of art, food, culture, and education; learn from and with women entrepreneurs and leaders; and work together to explore social and community issues. By introducing participants to a community of supportive women and resources through the Academy, the young women will leave feeling empowered and confident to step outside the familiar, pursue their goals, and claim their futures.

Upon completion of the Academy, participants will share their individual projects at the Academy Party, a gathering of family, friends, community members, and fellow American Daughters. This event will be another opportunity to celebrate each participant’s accomplishments and make connections with people who care about their success and want to help them on their journey. 

A huge thank you to Jen Lacy! Head over to American Daughters to learn more about this amazing organization.

Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial environment?

Yes, I grew up in Peoria, Illinois and spent a lot of time at a community center which was up the street from my house. Growing up, I realized I wanted to create some sort of third place, like a camp or community center, where young people could spend time – somewhere that wasn’t school and wasn’t home. A venue that gave them a productive place to spend their time.

I was really directly first exposed to entrepreneurship in high school. At that time I was living in Iowa and after school I worked at a local ice cream shop and health food store. I worked for one entrepreneur who owned two businesses. What was just a part time job gave me a really good view into the life of an entrepreneur and what it meant to take a business from idea to physical location and onto hiring people and serving the community. That was the first time I had really seen someone do that.

It was during that time I realized that the desire that I had to create that “third place”  was entrepreneurship. During college, I ended up running a startup camp in Illinois, where I worked as a consultant for five years.

Do you think it is important for young people to work in small businesses?

Yes, I think that working in those places did allow me to see that the desire I had could be manifested as entrepreneurship. Now, if I am having a business consulting meeting or a legal meeting, I tell my clients to bring their kids. Young people don’t only have to be exposed by working in a small business, they should also be exposed by watching their parents engage in entrepreneurship. Working with lawyers, talking to their banker – I think the more we can show kids what entrepreneurship is, the better equipped they will be to focus their interest in that direction. Because you do have to see something before you can believe that you can be it.

What was the path that took you from law school to SEED?

Right after law school I had an opportunity to work with a non-profit called Blue Hills Community Services. They had just designed an incubator for construction companies – the nation’s first construction specific incubator. They had built out the space but had no plan and no one to run it. I was able to work with them and that is really where I built my coaching and consulting business. Later, when I passed the bar, I was still running the incubator but I started my law firm at the same time. I was doing a lot of work at night and on the weekends – and a lot of pro bono support work. I was just trying to be as big of a resource as I could while I had a full-time job.

When I decided to join the firm full-time and bring people on, it was because I had let my business grow organically. It was at a point where we were getting more work than I could do at night and on the weekends. I think this is a story that isn’t told in entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur there is risk involved and you can do things to mitigate it, like working full time until you get your business model firm and develop your network. Then you can make the transition.

Aside from SEED law and business consulting, you also founded the Construction Business Institute and hold leadership positions or are heavily involved with many other organizations. With so many responsibilities how do you manage your days to give each organization the engaged and focused, time it deserves?

I have a great team. The consultancy will be five years old this year and the law firm three, so at this point we are really clear about what we can do and the sort of people we need around us. I think what also helps me is that I have a really focused life mission, which is to aid in the creation of sustainable business and transferrable wealth for those in our community that need it the most. That really helps me to balance my obligations and priorities. But I don’t do it on my own. You learn really quickly that it’s really important to engage the right partners.

I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t a lot of late nights and early mornings. I heard a quote a long time ago that the dream is free but the hustle is sold separately. And what I tell clients is that the hustle is also expensive and you have to figure out what you are willing to spend. But I am consistently encouraged and validated when I see my clients growing their businesses, contributing to their communities, hiring people, and elevating their own personal wealth. So, I get a lot of gratification though it’s been a long journey.

What do you think a strong local business culture brings to a community?

This question caused me to start searching for a quote by John Hancock that says, “The more people who own little businesses of their own, the safer our country will be, and the better off it’s cities and towns; for the people who have a stake in their country and their community are its best citizens.”

I think  a strong local business culture brings out people who are really invested and have the desire and aspiration to really make an impact. You care more about your community when you are trying to grow a seed there. But I also think that entrepreneurship allows for the pursuit of a human right, the right of self-determination. To be able to create your own path. And entrepreneurship is a beautiful way to take whatever your passion is and use it to grow not only your own wealth but to make your community better.

Through your involvement with the MultiCultural Business Association how have you seen diversity in the start-up community develop in the area? 

What I’ve seen in terms of the progression of our entrepreneurial ecosystem is that the walls between the silos of our communities beginning to come down. I haven’t necessarily seen diversity increase, but I have seen more people are who in the same room together, which I think is a measure of community. When those that are all doing the same thing but are separated become connected, that equals the strength and growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

That is also why I started the Multi-Cultural Business Association, because the first year that I participated in Global Entrepreneurship Week I noticed that it was a very limited group of entrepreneurs represented in our community. The second year I attended I had a personal challenge to take twenty five diverse businesses with me, and then the following year I reached out to other diverse organizations and said that this is our opportunity to celebrate and participate. So that is how the coalition began, seventeen organizations came together and hosted a party. The party started at 4:00 and by 3:45 there was a long (long) line and we realized that the community that we all knew separately wanted to be together.

Why is it important for business owners to get out of their bubble and meet others at networking events?

I think it’s important for business owners because entrepreneurship is lonely. It is important to feel like you aren’t by yourself in this journey. I’m surrounded by a lot of entrepreneurs and we get together for work parties. We are all working on our own business but in the same room together. If we are going to be working anyway, we might as well have that sense of togetherness.

I think getting out and engaging in events like 1 Million Cups or even just co-working in a space where you aren’t the only person helps you keep your head above the fray. Because to create and produce a business is really hard work. And also, it gives you a chance to figure out how to give back to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In your experience, what do you see the biggest mistakes that budding entrepreneurs are making as they begin their journey as business owners?

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If entrepreneurship is just the romanticization of an idea for you, it probably won’t last long, because it is hard. And you need to have your why in place as you jump into the life of a project. Because there will be some dark days.

What would be your number one piece of advice for an entrepreneur in a creative industry?

Build your team to account for any business blind spots. I don’t think creatives should have to try to be their own lawyer and accountant or even their own operations manager. What is important, so creatives can continue to create, is that they put that team of people around them that allow them to do that, do it well and sustainably.

Do you still secretly wish you had opened a camp?

It’s not even a secret! I own property in the Ozarks and now the camp idea has evolved. I would love to create some retreat facilities where entrepreneurs can go, unplug and learn from one another. I still have that heart desire to create a third place, so yes, one day maybe there will be a SEED camp somewhere.

A huge thank you to Adrienne Haynes! Head over to to learn more about her law practice SEED Law, consulting business SEED Collective, and the other organizations she is involved with.

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