The Mentor Network Founder Feature – NEIGHBOR Handcrafted Goods

Welcome back to the Founder Feature Series, where we chat with the founders of the 6th Cohort of The Mentor Network to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys.  They have great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community and could likely use your help as well!

Today, we have some time to spend with Joy Ellsworth, Co-Founder of NEIGHBOR Handcrafted Goods!  NEIGHBOR Handcrafted Goods reclaims Kansas City wood to make home interior goods and furniture with a natural flair.  All proceeds support community development on the east side of Kansas City.  Clement Waters is the community development organization benefitted by NEIGHBOR Handcrafted Goods.

Besides being accepted into Cohort 6 of The Mentor Network, Joy was recently a member of the 2017 cohort of Project United Knowledge!  Additionally, Joy was a finalist in the 2013 Aaron L. Levitt Social Entrepreneurship Challenge at the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership.  Keep that momentum going, Joy!

Joy Ellsworth

What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?

Executive Director at 37th Judicial Court Appointed Special Advocates in south-central Missouri.

Why this startup?  A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?

Working a desk job almost killed my husband, but working with his hands to make things in the great outdoors brought back his health. I defend his right and everyone’s right to pursue work that fit their personality, that lead to dignified work, and that pay a living wage. We hope this venture will connect more people that have a passion for skilled crafts to retail opportunities so they can pursue their passion.


What was your first milestone/win that let you know you were on the right track to building this business?

When we realized that accessing no-cost and low-cost reclaimed timber supply would actually benefit the people supplying our materials.  That eureka moment convinced us that this business model was extra special and worth pursuing.

Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?

It’s nice that instead of having to reinvent the wheel on every aspect of our business model, we get to learn from other founders who have experienced the startup phase before (lots of times.) Also, I love The Mentor Network‘s focus on creating links among not just founders, but the business partners who dedicate their careers to making startup founders more successful with every startup attempt. Feedback from all those connections makes me more confident in our own startup efforts.

What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?

My mentor Carmen has been insightful about where I need to change our business model—in ways that I never would have thought about. I came into the cohort really needing perspective on the layout of financial projections. She was able to quickly pinpoint items of concern, which made it super easy to adjust and move on to the next area of improvement!

How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?

It’s all about self-care!  Granted, I mostly work all day, every day, but I listen to my body and my mind on a daily basis via meditation.  It really helps to keep things in perspective so that if I need to take a pause for myself or for my family, I can make it a top priority.  I gotta say… meandering on a forest trail is the best way I’ve found to recenter.  I always come out on the other end with better focus.

KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs.  What are we still missing?  What gaps do you think we need to fill?

Coming from an impact business perspective, I crave an even richer mix of backgrounds to pre-test assumptions before I hit the streets to canvas consumer opinions for my business idea.  If we were learning alongside more startup founders who grew up in undervalued areas within low-income households, we’d all be able to more quickly center our messaging to connect with the full spectrum of the market, not just the narrow segment we went to college with.  This is especially important to startup founders whose ideas are likely to appeal to the base of the earnings pyramid (which is by far the largest consumer base out there.)

Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?

I think the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Square One service is the best-kept secret of the KC startup ecosystem.  Their consultants help connect you with data that informs your assumptions.  It certainly broke some of my incorrect assumptions, which I suspect will save me a lot of heartaches.

If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

Don’t rush growth. Give yourself permission to spread out your planned time for essentials.  When you feel yourself getting impatient or fearful about a missed opportunity, remember your supporters who are in it for the long term.  Lean on the comfort of that support and do what you need to do, in the order it needs to happen, for as long as it takes to secure a successful outcome.


Clement Waters Retreat is the community development organization benefitted by NEIGHBOR Handcrafted Goods and you can connect with them via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Also published on Medium.

About the author: Ari DeGrote