Posts filed under ‘Independence Regional Entrepreneurship Center’

Vegan-friendly baker first to open in Ennovation Center – Independence, MO – The Examiner

By Adrianne DeWeese –
Posted Jan 08, 2010 @ 11:36 PM

Jennifer Ward grew up in the kitchen, watching her mother and father bake traditional foods like pancakes. They resided next door to their church, and after service every Sunday morning, they invited everyone over for breakfast.

This, Ward said, is why the pancakes were the first creation in her gluten-free cooking journey that has turned her into an entrepreneur. They were the one item that “just turned out beautiful” when Ward started baking gluten-, nut- and dairy-free, vegan products years later.

Ward, 40, will be the first tenant in the Independence Regional Ennovation Center when it opens this spring. The Ennovation Center is the rehabilitation of the former Independence Regional Medical Center, providing wet-lab, kitchen and business space for entrepreneurs like Ward.

Shortly before Lee’s Summit resident Ward married her husband, Scott, 10 years ago, he experienced severe headaches and intestinal problems. A series of traditional medical examinations revealed nothing, but an alternative medical practitioner diagnosed Scott with celiac disease, a digestive condition that the consumption of protein gluten triggers.

With no cure, the effective method to manage the disease is changing the diet to eliminate wheat and gluten products. First, the family spent a fortune at alternative grocery stores, purchasing cake and pancake mixes, bread and pizza, Ward said.

She decided to make her own recipes instead. Her first batch of cookies included garbanzo bean flour, ultimately resulting in “disgusting cookie soup,” Ward said.

“When I first started playing, oh my goodness, it was a disaster,” she said. “I mean, really, it was funny.”

Without a college degree in food science, Ward extensively researched gluten-free products, still holding on to aspirations of one day attending culinary school courses. She laughed about seeing herself as a scientist whose lab is in the kitchen.

Xanthan gum, Ward said, is a complex ingredient. As a natural carbohydrate, the product is added to bread and other gluten-free baked goods. A tiny bit, one way or the other, “can make or break your recipe,” she said.

“I had pancakes once that were like water – terrible. They didn’t fluff or anything,” Ward said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just put some xanthan gum in,’ and they turned out too high and were terrible. It makes a huge difference.

“I’m amazed, honestly, that I was able to do some of these recipes without any chemistry background.”

With previous career experience in the real estate industry, Ward worked at Whole Foods Market in Overland Park, Kan., a little more than a year ago. She enjoyed her co-workers and grocery store atmosphere, but as the bakery buyer, she purchased the ingredients and products. The not-so-fun part, Ward said, was removing the products from the dock, moving them around in the walk-in freezer and placing them within the store. She often thought to herself, “How am I going to get myself through this moment?”

She wanted to spend more time in the kitchen, but she was consistently busy with her responsibilities. At last, the cooking studio instructor asked Ward to instruct a class on gluten-free baking. Her husband soon encouraged her to start a business, and she did so, launching Be Free Bakers in summer 2009, which now includes more than 50 customers.

“I may not be the next Betty Crocker tomorrow,” said Ward, who has also adopted the gluten-free lifestyle, along with her two children, ages 4 and 6, “but at some point, I’d like to grow this company as something that’s a mainstream American product.”

Her products’ packaging, Ward said, is entirely compostable. Be Free Bakers, which now operates out of a Lee’s Summit church, is all about the green movement, she said. Visit or call 816-966-9895 for more information.

“If I can, if the incubator is something that just catapults me forward,” she said, “absolutely, my site will try to be as green as possible.”

But in a way, her first kitchen that’s truly her own will be green, with the renovation of a decades-old space into a new use.

January 9, 2010 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

Demolition has begun at the old Independence Regional Health Center –

The Kansas City Star

An Independence landmark is coming down.

Demolition has begun at the old Independence Regional Health Center. As part of its conversion into a “business incubator,” developers are modifying the red-brick complex that has stood for decades in northwestern Independence.

Their plans include taking a wrecking ball to the seven-story north tower, perhaps as soon as next week.

“It’s the most economically feasible thing for us to do,” said developer David Edwards.

The demolition has prompted mixed reactions in the city. Several residents have expressed mild regret at the modification of the hospital that for many served as an emotional and economic anchor before it closed in 2007. But many of those same residents concede they are glad to know the dark and empty facility will have a new function.

“There is a surprising emotional attachment to the building,” said Brent Schondelmeyer, an Independence native. “I was born in that hospital and my father died there.

“But life moves on, and one has to cheer this project for breathing life into the building and the neighborhood.”

The incubator, the Independence Regional Ennovation Center, is scheduled to open as soon as April. Edwards described the facility as unique in that it would offer space for kitchen-based and bioscience start-ups, as well as for traditional business entrepreneurs.

In 2009, the Independence City Council allocated $10 million in tax increment financing to the project, and the Independence School District allocated about $5.5 million in TIF proceeds.

“To see the old hospital come down — with all the memories of family members passing away there and others being born — I can understand how it could be traumatic,” said Mayor Don Reimal. “But it’s also gratifying to see a hospital being reused in an original way.”

Several potential incubator tenants have expressed interest. The first, Edwards said, could be the operator of a local gluten-free bakery.

But first, demolition needs to be completed.

The tear-down began Dec. 22, almost exactly 100 years from the day — Dec. 15, 1909 — that founders dedicated the original facility. It then was a three-story nursing home for infirm members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It grew from there. Independence residents of a certain age sometimes identify themselves by referring to the “San,” a reference to the facility’s original name, the Independence Sanitarium.

“The interesting thing is that ‘Sanitarium’ had nothing to do with tuberculosis,” said Bill Russell, a history professor at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. “The hospital was where the church could integrate both spiritual and physical healing.”

The name “Sanitarium” endured until 1986, when trustees decided the term was archaic. After that it was known as the Independence Regional Health Center, a nonprofit enterprise operated by the RLDS Church. That year the facility employed about 1,100 area residents.

In 1994, the church sold the hospital to the for-profit Columbia Healthcare Corp.

“Some people were upset because they felt the church was giving up that ministry,” Russell said.

But the transaction assisted the community in other ways. It placed the hospital on the tax rolls. That generated revenue that helped finance the operating expenses of the Midtown/Truman Road Corridor Redevelopment Corp. The tax abatement program offered property owners in midtown Independence tax relief when they upgraded their homes to city and national standards.

Today, Schondelmeyer said, the incubator could bring a similar economic renewal to the same area. Still, he added, pressing health care needs remain among residents of the area, which is in an older part of Independence.

When HCA Midwest Health System opened the new Centerpoint Medical Center in southeastern Independence in 2007, it closed Independence Regional and the Medical Center of Independence. Residents who lived around Independence Regional at 1509 W. Truman Road lined up to vent to City Council members regarding the impact of the hospital’s closing.

While many requested an urgent care center be established at the old hospital site, that does not seem likely now, Reimal said. He added, however, that HCA has moved a group of physicians to the Commerce Bank building at 300 N. Osage St., near Independence Square. Those same physicians also hope to schedule clinics at the northwestern Independence headquarters of the NorthWest Communities Development Corp., a social services agency.

Meanwhile, residents now must reconcile their emotions regarding the demolition.

Former Mayor Barbara Potts is among them. In the early 1950s, she served as an X-ray technician at the sanitarium. She is dismayed, Potts said, that the hospital’s north tower will come down.

“It’s a landmark, and I was hoping that they could retrofit it intact,” Potts said. “But,” she added, “ … when putting on my former mayor’s hat, I know the business incubator definitely represents an addition.”

January 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm Leave a comment

Entrepreneurship Catching On

It seems like everyone is jumping on the entrepreneurship bandwagon, and for good reason.  Just recently, the Kansas City Area Development Council (which is more noted for the large projects they work with) has expanded their focus to include start up businesses.  Much of this has come about because of the focus on the animal health sector which has a history of spawning new start ups.  What do these new companies need?  The biggest issue is adequate facilties.  Because the gazelles (those which are the fastest growing) of the industry often deal with pharmaceutical products, have adequate dry lab and wet lab space is crucial.  There is a major deficit in the Kansas City metro that actually results in lost opportunities.  The University of Kansas is currently developing new space and the incubator at Independence Regional would also include about 30,000 s.f. of new space for these types of companies.  Read more about this topic in an article published in the Kansas City Business Journal.

March 21, 2009 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

Preliminary Approval Given for Funds to Support Incubator Development

The TIF Advisory Committee voted 6-2-1 on Thursday night to approve the requested amount of $10M to be directed towards the redevelopment of the former Independence Regional Medical Center.  The redevelopment project would include 110,000 s.f. for a mixed use business incubator which would provide space for bio-tech labs, kitchen/culinary facilities, information technology (IT), and general office.  The economic impact study completed by ICED shows the 10 year economic impact of this facility at just over $181M.

A lot of skeptics have said an incubator can’t be successful.  It is true that many incubators struggle with financial viability, especially those which are reliant on a large amount of public funding for ongoing operations.  The business model for the Independence Regional Entrepreneurship Center (IREC) is very different and addresses some of the challenges many incubators face.  First, the facility will be owned by the Independence School District and the only initial obligation that the incubator will have is for leased space will be the staff offices for the incubator.  Many incubators have a noose around their neck from day one as they have the obligation of leasing their space while it takes many months and sometimes years to fully fill the space.  As space is filled within the IREC, the lease amounts start to be collected and then passed through to the school district as owners of the property. We also realize that a facility as diverse as is being proposed, needs partners with expertise in each of the focus areas.  That is why agreements have been developed with the Kansas City Area Life Sciences and their new TekConvergence group who will oversee the bio-tech portion.  The Small Business Development Center at UMKC will lead our general office incubator and First Step Fund will be the coordinating group for the kitchen incubator.  Bringing the expertise for each of these areas is a critical component for the overall success of the project.  We already have two tenants who have made verbal committments to becoming the first occupants of the facility.

Finally, the development of IREC offers great potential for Western Independence and takes what could very quickly become a decaying eyesore and turns it into a economic engine for an area of our community that desperately needs this kind of re-investment and job generator.  The former auditorium will again be open for public use and the opportunities to collaborate with the Independence School District will create an applied learning environment about entrepreneurship for the youth of our community.

Be watching our blog for additional updates and information about the Independence Regional Entrepreneurship Center.

March 13, 2009 at 6:02 am Leave a comment

Economic Downturn Sparks Entrepreneurs

This week, CNBC’s “Street Signs” featured a segment on how the economic downturn can spark innovation that leads to a new generation of entrepreneurial icons and job creators.  Kauffman Foundation CEO Carl Schramm was interviewed for the story.  With the ongoing discussion regarding the creation of a mixed use business incubator at the former Independence Regional Medical Center site, the story highlights that now is the perfect time for a facility of this type in Independence and Eastern Jackson County.

Watch the story on CNBC

March 12, 2009 at 3:06 pm 1 comment

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