WSU LaunchPrep program helps entrepreneur open winery

 
  • Jennifer McDonald, owner of Jenny Dawn Cellars, opened her winery in late 2019. Her space is located in the newly renovated space in Union Station.
  • Her business has a tasting room, event venue and on-site wine production. 
  • LaunchPrep helped provide Jenny with the tools and mentorship needed to get her business off the ground. Previously, Jenny was a at-home winemaker and studied wine production in Napa, California.

While Wichita has plenty of local breweries, one amenity lacking has been a local winery. For Wichitan Jennifer Dawn, her passion for growing grapes and creating wine inspired a new business that customers are now flocking to. And, she says, it’s all thanks to what she learned through LaunchPrep, a partnership between Wichita State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the e2e Accelerator.

Jenny Dawn Cellars opened in late 2019 in the newly renovated space in Union Station, 703 E. Douglas, Ste 180.

The winery is bright, cheerful and inviting, with large windows that flood the space with sunlight and warmth. The shelves are lined with accolades and wines from Jennifer’s collection.

One thing is clear as soon as you walk in: her wines aren’t your average wines. All of them are produced in-house with wines grown in her local vineyard and crushed on the pad outside. You might think, I don't like Kansas wine." This isn't that. Jenny Dawn Cellars has plenty of standard wines to try, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

The space includes a tasting room, event venue and on-site wine production facility.

“For me, wine is a connector,” Jennifer said. “You drink it on the good days to celebrate but also on your bad days.”

Originally a Kansas State University graduate in agriculture business, Jennifer worked in human resources for the government. During this time, she began to develop her expertise in wine, simultaneously learning the facets of running a business. After 12 years of working in her first profession, she realized she hit a glass ceiling.

“I began to feel confined and stuck in a box. There wasn’t anywhere else for me to go,” Jennifer said.

LaunchPrep helped provide Jennifer with the tools and mentorship needed to get her business off the ground. During her time in the program, Jennifer studied in Napa, California and learned how to further develop her craft.

In 2017, Jennifer became a licensed wine brand in California. She sold her wine online and in local liquor stores. This allowed her to raise capital and eventually get bank loans to open the doors to her own building.

“I had an idea to grow grapes in Wichita and an idea to make wine in the city but I didn’t know how to combine the two together,” Jennifer said. “LaunchPrep and my mentors helped get me to where I am today.”

Growing up, Jennifer always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Between lemonade stands and garage sales, she was always trying to sell. Her advice to students who have a goal of running their own business is to develop an expertise in something they’re passionate about.

For her, this looked like making wines from her home, honing in on her marketing and business skills, taking classes online and going through training in chemistry. Without her expertise, the business she created wouldn’t have developed.

“Take every opportunity and leverage it to the best of your ability,” Jennifer said. “You may not start with where you want to be, but take that knowledge and use in in your future endeavors.”  

So far in her business endeavor, the Wichita community has been supportive of Jenny Dawn Cellars. While some didn’t understand the concept of growing and producing locally, once the wine is tasted it just clicks. Her wines offered have a higher price point but, are a premium wine brand with a higher quality of taste. 

“It’s a joy to be open in Wichita and come to work everyday.”