On February 27, IJ Clinic clients, students and alumni gathered in an elegant room with views of Lake Michigan and Chicago’s famous skyscrapers. It was freezing outside, but inside could not have been warmer. We gathered to celebrate the ‘graduation’ of Ken Coats, founder of IJ Clinic client Kentech Consulting, and to celebrate the perseverance of all of our clients who look to Kentech as a model of success.
IJ Clinic Assistant Director Erika Harford told the audience about Ken’s journey. Ken came to the Clinic in 2007 when he was building a business to solve a problem in his community: People, especially young adults, struggled to find employment because of misleading and unnecessary information in their records. Ken created a low-cost, web-based record-expungement service that allowed customers to correct information on their records at a lower cost than hiring an attorney. But the Illinois Attorney General accused him of practicing law without a license and shut the service down.
“That could have been the end of Ken’s story,” Erika said. “But it wasn’t. Ken re-invented Kentech as a background-screening business to provide customers with accurate information in easy-to-read, paperless reports. Kentech serves customers better and is more affordable than the rest. Kentech was named the fourth-fastest-growing security company in the country by Inc. Magazine.” Ken grew his business from the living room to a booming business with 80 employees.
With Ken’s family looking on proudly, Erika presented Ken with the IJ Clinic’s first Power of One Award to recognize the impact Ken has on his customers, employees and the entrepreneurs he inspires.
Ken, who usually has a broad smile and a joke ready, was choked up as he received his award. He told us how special it is to stop and reflect on the journey: “Without the support of the IJ Clinic, I would not be standing here today.” The Clinic did not give up on Ken when burdensome laws blocked his path but worked with him to clear the way as he blazed a new trail. Kentech’s story motivates other Clinic clients with equally big dreams. One of the Clinic’s newest clients, William Tanksley of Elite Carpentry Work, was in awe of Kentech’s success and full of gratitude for the IJ Clinic. Tank said Kentech’s graduation made him realize the IJ Clinic is providing more than legal advice. “I realized tonight that the IJ Clinic will fight to help me reach my dream. To me, that’s about my civil rights.”
Entrepreneurs come to the IJ Clinic with big dreams: to chart their own courses, build up their neighborhoods and create jobs. These entrepreneurs may not use the term “economic liberty,” but that is exactly what they seek. The IJ Clinic’s mission is to provide legal support to Chicago’s inner-city entrepreneurs so that red tape, legal complexities and arbitrary regulations don’t stop them in their tracks. Ken Coats demonstrates the potential power of one entrepreneur. The IJ Clinic and its clients together demonstrate the power of many individuals who fight for the freedom to succeed.
Beth Kregor is director of the IJ Clinic.