Kenton Lee was living a life of service in Nampa, Idaho, as a pastor at his local church. He ran a nonprofit, Because International, on the side.
Fresh from working at an orphanage in Kenya where he saw children wearing shoes they’d outgrown, Lee had an idea: Create a shoe that adjusts in size and can last for years. He started with about 100 pairs in four African schools. By 2014, the company had produced about 3,000 pairs.
Then they went viral.
“Overnight it took off,” Lee said. “We weren’t trying to go viral or to get big. We were trying to be good stewards of this incredible gift. We wanted to maximize the opportunities we’ve been given. Not everyone gets a great opportunity to go viral.”
The company now has 17 employees and has provided more than 250,000 pairs of shoes in 100 countries since 2015. It’s expanded its operations and is producing a portable Bednet Buddy that protects children from mosquitoes. Lee’s latest venture is the Pursuit Incubator, a business accelerator that encourages entrepreneurs to apply with innovative ideas to fight poverty and change the world.
Lee, a 2010 Regis Master of Nonprofit Management (MNM) graduate, sat down with Regis.edu to discuss his nonprofit, his views about change and what comes next.
You started your nonprofit and attended Regis at the same time. How did studying in the MNM program help?
I was new to nonprofit management and leadership. I tried to soak everything up. The program took you from A to Z. It was how to start it, how to work with a board, how to fundraise and how to lead a team. It was just everything. It was fresh and very foundational for me. It set a foundation for what I could expect. I really attached what I was learning in the program to the business.
Your Pursuit Incubator includes entrepreneurs in Kenya and Uganda. How does that work?
What is the heart of innovation? To get the right people to create and innovate, you need people that are experiencing it. It took us six years to make something. It’s a difficult process. It’s tough being an entrepreneur. We don’t want any good ideas to be wasted because someone doesn’t have the right mentorship or training. This incubator really stemmed from our mission. We believe it’s the small innovations that are going to fight poverty. We believe we need people experiencing life in those communities to lead us.
What would you tell the next batch of innovators and entrepreneurs?
If it brings value and you are passionate about it, keep going. Don’t give up. This world needs solutions. This world needs things to improve. It needs business. It needs money to flow so we can do things. If you’ve got something and you believe in it, we need you in this world.