Since the day two Wichita Eagle reporters visited Christina Long’s middle school class, she knew what she envisioned for her own future. For the Wichita, Kansas, native, an invitation to tour the newspaper’s bustling newsroom only cemented it. “Seeing all the activity between reporters, listening to the police scanner, all of the busyness — I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” said Christina, now president and CEO of Create Campaign, an organization that brings guidance, support and resources to entrepreneurs in Wichita’s underserved minority communities.
That formative experience set in motion not just a love for journalism but a passion for serving the community. Since then, community has remained at the heart of all her endeavors: her college studies, her reporting beat at the Eagle and her continuing journey into social entrepreneurship and inclusivity. Christina started Create Campaign with the mission of helping urban and minority entrepreneurs launch, innovate and grow their businesses.
On the news desk at the Eagle, she wanted to understand and report on the issues that mattered to her city’s minority communities. “One of the first things I did as a beat reporter was to connect with various communities of color,” she said. “I invited them to the newsroom to sit with editors and reporters to talk about what they wanted to see in our coverage. Those honest dialogues created a trust, and those trusting relationships helped create a network of amazing people that enabled me to cover some really life-changing stories.”
The experience taught her how diversity and inclusion can help build a city’s richness, while illuminating opportunity gaps for diverse, young talent and a lack of supplier diversity. Those lessons stuck with her when the 2008 economic downturn led her to reevaluate her own career path.
Though journalism had been Christina’s first love, it wasn’t her only passion. For as far back as she can remember, Christina also knew she wanted to go into business for herself. She and her mom spent countless Sunday afternoons at the dining room table, brainstorming business ideas, poring over census reports and conducting their own market research.
Christina found professional success starting a T-shirt company and a marketing and design firm. But she found true personal fulfillment in 2015 when she led a half-day workshop at Wichita State University for local entrepreneurs featuring keynote speakers, panels, breakout sessions and an information resource area. “We thought we would get 35 Black entrepreneurs to the event that day,” she recalled. “We ended up getting 77 from the Wichita area, and we knew we were on to something. Create Campaign was born that day.”
Create Campaign has furthered its mission by expanding beyond its early workshop format to a multifunctional, brick-and-mortar solution hub, providing small-business resources that might otherwise be out of reach. Within this space, budding entrepreneurs in search of assistance can find help for building business plans, securing commercial financing, connecting with legal professionals and developing marketing and communications. Sponsorship and support from partner businesses, including Koch Industries, have also helped bring the organization’s mission to life. The organization is already expanding, with a second office in Kansas City, Kansas, and an invitation to launch in Omaha, Nebraska.
“My ultimate goal, my motivation with Create Campaign, is not only to build a stronger minority business class here in Wichita and the region, but I also want to see generational wealth built up, particularly among Black households,” Christina said. “I call it ‘legacy work’ when we’re talking about inclusive entrepreneurship, particularly in a demographic where it’s not always talked about or celebrated."
Create Campaign focuses on accessibility in every aspect of its work, including the language and visual arts used in the organization’s multilingual communications. And the group works to identify and remove other unintended barriers to entrepreneurs’ success. For example, it operates and offers programming outside a standard business-day schedule to reach more people working full-time jobs and counsels partners not to require credit scores — a common hurdle for entrepreneurs’ access to capital — from individuals seeking free consulting services.
Though Create Campaign is built to support entrepreneurs of color, Christina points out that it’s a nurturing place where all entrepreneurial minds are welcome. “Create Campaign does have a focus around minority business enterprises and minority entrepreneurs. However, we serve everyone who wants to come and be around an inclusive environment for entrepreneurship,” Christina said.
“Christina clearly has a passion for this,” said Terry Reed, vice president of human resources with Koch Engineered Solutions and a volunteer mentor with Create Campaign’s Multicultural Business Mentoring Network. “She is on her own journey of self-actualization — she’s doing something she enjoys, and she’s good at it.”
When asked about the businesses that have grown from Create Campaign, Christina beams with pride and rattles off a long list of success stories. There’s a family-owned bakery that serves up 35 varieties of cheesecake. There’s a moving company that got rolling with the help of Create Campaign’s programs and mentor network.
And then there’s Jennifer McDonald. The owner and operator of Jenny Dawn Cellars, a downtown Wichita winery, Jennifer is the first African American commercial winemaker in the state of Kansas. When her passion for wine led Jennifer to experiment with making her own, her friends and family encouraged her to pursue winemaking as a business. But despite having a strong business idea, she wasn’t sure where to begin.
“I first attended Create Campaign in the summer of 2016,” Jennifer said. “At that time, I did not have my business incorporated. I did not have a relationship with an attorney or a bank — I wasn’t even really aware of the SBA [Small Business Administration] and all the great services they provide. So when I walked into the Create Campaign, I was exposed to so many different resources and people.”
Jennifer said it was the initial push she needed to get her business up and running. Through Create Campaign, she met her attorney, who helped her incorporate Jenny Dawn Cellars. Her attorney recommended an accounting group, and Jennifer connected with a number of organizations that helped her develop her business plan.
Jennifer has nothing but gratitude for Christina, who has been very hands-on and committed to helping Jennifer’s business succeed. Christina designed Jenny Dawn Cellars’ first website and set up its Twitter and Instagram accounts, providing coaching and guidance to help establish the company’s social presence. It was the marketing and branding support Jennifer needed when she was just starting out.
“Mentorship has been extremely critical to my success,” said Jennifer. “Christina is just a hub of information, but then she gives you that inspiration [and] uplifting support that I think sometimes is missing from traditional mentors. Sometimes you just need that encouragement and belief that you can do this.”