Pulsing hip-hop and dance music boomed through the speakers. A well-dressed crowd gathered to ogle and applaud. And down the runway strolled not models (though watching, you'd have thought they were pros), but 30 up-and-coming Twin Cities entrepreneurs.
Werk It MSP, hosted by the social enterprise and community center Impact Hub MSP, put a new spin on startup and social impact events by asking small business owners to walk in a fashion show. For some, including many entrepreneurs whose work is in fashion and other creative industries, it came naturally; for others, it was a step outside their comfort zones that came with supportive cheers. And for everybody watching, it was an opportunity to learn about our region's deep, diverse bench of self-starting talent.
CtG's Rachel Kesselem and I had a great time whooping from the Muse Event Center's balcony while watching some of our Impact Hub MSP pals walk the runway — like Tim Roman of Ecotone Analytics, Jasmine Russell of Monicat Data, and Ivy Kaminsky of Find Your Power.
But even more fun was learning about so many local startups and organizations that are still new to us. Like Red Letter, which designs and creates apparel and donates a portion of the proceeds to local nonprofits. Or Neka Creative, a brand development agency with a particular focus on hiring people who may be overlooked because of their race, age, or ability. Or Saint Paul Funeral, which plans culturally appropriate services for Hmong families.
Having worked in industries that struggle to meaningfully include people of color and other disadvantaged populations, I was especially impressed to see all of the creative leaders of color who have launched their own successful firms here in town. To witness such a diverse group of entrepreneurs of all ages in one room made Werk It particularly special.
As another Impact Hub member in the crowd observed, Werk It was a valuable opportunity for these local businesses to be introduced to a wider audience, because the entrepreneurs didn't have to pitch themselves. All they had to do was strike a pose, and leave the descriptions of their work and accomplishments to the emcees — Nausheena Hussain of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE) and John Gebratatose of Blackout Improv.
After such a successful launch, we'd love to see Werk It MSP become an annual event, and an ongoing introduction to the variety of innovative social enterprises here in our community.