Meet the Makers! Showcases Four of Kansas City’s Dreamers and Doers

Friday, February 21, 2020
Woman speaking on stage at the Meet the Makers event

Being a “maker” is often understood as making things. But to hear the four guests of Thursday’s Meet the Makers! event tell it, it’s about so much more.

The fourth annual speakers event sponsored the by Rockhurst University Young Alumni Council, Meet the Makers! handed the stage to four individuals from Kansas City’s entrepreneurial and creative ecosystem for an evening of TED Talks-style presentations, afterward hosting a reception featuring even more of Kansas City's leading makers. 

Mary Nguyen, co-owner of Betty Rae’s Ice Cream along with her husband, said in some regards the couple’s success stems from a basic premise.

“This is our marketing strategy — how many of you like ice cream?” she asked, as hands shot up in Arrupe Hall auditorium. “That’s it.”

But Betty Rae’s is about more, according to Nguyen. From its name, its founding principles (employees receive health care benefits and paid time off, rare in the food service industry) to its unique voice on social media, the company and its two locations are imbued with a sense of hometown pride and familial love.

“Family, to us, is whoever we care about,” Nguyen said.

That’s true of another business owner whose company shares a namesake with a family member. Chris Goode, founder of Ruby Jean’s Juicery, said his business was born in tragedy — the sudden death of his grandmother, Ruby Jean, and great-grandmother, which he attributes to a lifetime of unhealthful choices. Ruby Jean’s is centered on honoring his grandmother’s legacy through the promotion healthful living.

“The beauty of all of this is that it comes from my heart,” Goode said.

Projects such as turning the steps in front of Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts into an outdoor fitness park also honor his family members’ spirit by giving back to the place where he grew up.

“If we can’t impact our community, I don’t really want to do this,” he said.

Emily Bordner’s entrepreneurial venture, EB and Co., bears her own name. The 2015 Rockhurst MBA graduate’s company, which sells accessories including handbags and earrings and opened a brick and mortar store last year in Kansas City, was inspired by her own search for the perfect handbag. She said she couldn’t imagine at the time where that quest would take her. But along the way, she said she learned some valuable lessons about how to succeed and found a supportive community ready to help her get there. It’s helped her thrive at something that once seemed impossible — opening her own business.

“That’s the beautiful thing about entrepreneurship — everything is limitless,” she said.

Closing the evening was Dan Meers, someone immediately recognizable to most in Kansas City — at least when he’s wearing his work uniform. For three decades, he’s been KC Wolf, the mascot for the Kansas City Chiefs — part brand-ambassador, part cheerleader. In 2013, Meers said a near-death experience led to him devote each day to living with character, purpose and passion. He’s since authored a book, Wolves Can’t Fly, the proceeds of which benefit orphanages around the world, and speaks across the country on how to influence the world in a positive way. When viewed as a gift, Meers said, every day is an opportunity to make good things happen.

“If you want to be a difference-maker, start living for the things that really matter,” he said.

See more photos from Meet the Makers! here.