Years before Kamerion Wimbley took regular hits as a linebacker and defensive end in the NFL, he was a middle schooler riding his bike down the sidewalks of 21st Street. Once, he slammed into a car turning into a strip center near Grove.
Wimbley flew over his handlebars and hit the side of the vehicle. He says the only thing he hurt was his pride.
Today he owns that center and four businesses in it, along with about 15 other commercial and residential properties and a couple of other businesses in Wichita.
“When I was a kid coming up, I really only thought about football. That was my passion,” Wimbley said. “And then later I developed a passion for owning companies.”
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Now he’s trying to help others start businesses with a new Wichita incubator. Wimbley wants it to be a collaborative effort to help disadvantaged people who might not otherwise get to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas.
“It puts them in touch with different people in the area who are business owners and influencers to get them familiar with just how a business operates,” Wimbley said.
He hopes some of those influencers can be investors in the new businesses, too. He may be one of them.
“Potentially investing in businesses where I’m from is important to me,” Wimbley said.
That’s even though he now lives in Tampa, Fla.
“He definitely cares where he came from, and that’s pretty unique and nice to see,” said Terry Atwater of It Takes A Village Inc., which operates group homes for Wichita children in foster care.
Atwater, who has known Wimbley since Wimbley was a child, met with him again this month when he was in Wichita for a few days to see community and business leaders.
“He’s a thinker,” Atwater said. “He really looks at things and thinks things out.”
New Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson, who represents District 1 where Wimbley’s businesses are, said what Wimbley is doing with the incubator is better than giving people handouts.
“What he’s doing is a great hand up,” Johnson said. “Our community can change, and some people in poverty may come out of poverty to own businesses.”
Also, he said, people could get high-paying jobs from others who are “bold enough to create their American dream.”
“Because of people like Kamerion, we’re starting to see that change.”
During Wimbley’s nine years in the NFL, he returned to Wichita to see family and friends only a couple of times a year.
This year, he said, expect to see him a lot more as he continues to network and become more involved here.
“It’s just really something special for me, and I believe it’s special for the people in the community to see that one of their own has come from here, gone off, played in the NFL, and this is kind of my way of giving back.”
Wimbley said he’s excited about the connections he’s making and that it’s an exciting time for Wichita, too, as the city continues to grow and more is happening downtown and in Delano. He also points to the NCAA men’s basketball regional tournament the city landed and the success of the Wichita State University Shockers in that sport.
“There’s a lot of talent in Wichita, and I think that Wichita’s becoming more known nationally in part because of how WSU is doing,” Wimbley said.
That compares to 2002 when he left to go to college.
“People really didn’t know a lot about Wichita,” Wimbley said. “People are now becoming more aware of Wichita and looking at Wichita as a place where they might want to live or invest.”
Wings, barbershops and things
Around the time he was drafted for the NFL in 2006, Wimbley started his first business based on his love of dogs.
He used Florida-based Big Boss Kennels to breed and show his dogs. He no longer owns that company, but he does have the international Bull Breed Coalition Registry.
“I have attended the Westminster show in New York,” Wimbley said. “I actually just enjoy watching dog shows as much as I enjoy watching football games. I like competition, and I just like sport in general.”
He also owns Premier Pet Relocation, a company that works with pet owners to ship animals.
KW Growth Holdings is the Tampa-based parent company for all of Wimbley’s businesses.
His first business in Wichita was Twice as Nice Barbershop near 21st and Woodlawn.
That “kind of sparked an interest in commercial real estate,” Wimbley said.
It sparked something else, too, which Wimbley is pleased to point out.
“Several of the barbers who were in that shop have gone on to start their own businesses.”
Wimbley moved that shop to East Central just east of Grove and opened a second Twice As Nice at his center on 21st Street. He also has the Salon, which has barbers and hair stylists, near 32nd Street and North Rock Road.
Wimbley also invested in Wings & Things near 21st and Oliver with an aunt while still playing football.
Later, he restarted the business and put one restaurant by his barbershop on Central and one by his barbershop on 21st Street.
He closed a third Wings restaurant on 31st Street.
“The restaurant industry is a tough industry. There’s a lot of variables,” he said.
Though he’s not in Wichita on a regular basis, Wimbley is active in his businesses. For instance, when Uber Eats chose Wings & Things as one of 40 Wichita restaurants for its initial run of food deliveries here, Wimbley grilled the company.
“I was asking them all kinds of questions that they weren’t used to.”
This month, Wimbley opened Stadium Status Fitness in his center on 21st Street. It’s a concept that at least initially will be geared mainly toward women with group fitness activities such as dance, yoga and cheerleading practices. There will be personal training as well. Wimbley said he wants to introduce children to yoga, too, including young football players.
Stadium Status is a concept he said he wants to take to other places nationally. He wants to create an online component as well to help people connect with fitness opportunities nationally.
Also in his 21st Street center, which is called Kay Plaza, Wimbley this month opened the Suites at Kay Plaza. It’s a shared office space concept featuring a conference room and eight suites, one of which is available for rent by the hour. The others are available by the month.
It’s where Wimbley will put the business incubator. He said he is close to hiring someone to run it.
It will be ideally situated since WSU is just down the street, he added.
Mark Torline, the director of the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship and WSU Ventures, is one of the people Wimbley and his COO, Rae Kim, met with last week.
“We had a great conversation,” Torline said. “They’ve demonstrated already they’ve got a great commitment to … the 21st Street neighborhood.”
Torline said the next step is to visit Wimbley’s businesses and see how they might work together.
He said Wimbley was open and “seemed to be genuine in his interests.”
Blueprint for success
Wimbley – 6 foot 3 “and three quarters,” he likes to add – is powerfully built, wears nicely tailored clothes and is at once friendly and reserved.
“He always displayed a sense of humility,” Atwater said of a younger Wimbley. “Almost was bashful.”
Wimbley said he does not miss playing football.
“I definitely felt like I got enough football in my system to last a lifetime,” he said. “I don’t miss practices.”
Wimbley was a standout defensive end at Florida State, then was the 13th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft — and just the third Wichitan ever selected in the first round. He played nine NFL seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans, missing only four of 144 games to injuries.
When he stopped playing in 2015, for a while Wimbley referred to himself as retired.
“Well, at first I used the word. Now I think I’ve found a better word: just more taking it easy … cause I’m still … very passionate about the business endeavors that I’m involved with, but this is a lot different than getting out there with the pads every day and bangin’.”
Wimbley and his wife, Monicha, have three children: Meghan, 9; Maliah, 6 and Mykah, 2.
He said his office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but he usually works later.
“It doesn’t feel like working to me. I get the opportunity to talk to a lot of people and get feedback about the companies and just try to come up with ways to make it better.”
Wimbley also has a nonprofit youth development group called the Kamerion Wimbley Foundation that’s active in Wichita and the markets where he played.
Though he’s focused on Stadium Status for now, Wimbley said he eventually may expand Wings & Things to markets outside of Wichita.
Wimbley also is something of an ambassador for Not Human, a clothing brand he invested in with a couple of partners in Space Station at Towne East Square.
He said he can help plug businesses such as theirs into the NFL network of current and former players.
Three former players – Corey Simon, Peter Boulware and Andre Wadsworth – have had the biggest influence on Wimbley as a businessman.
“They gave me I would probably say the blueprint of how to be successful in the NFL and also how to transition from football to business,” Wimbley said.
Now he wants to be a mentor, particularly in his old neighborhood.
“That’s where I’m from.”
Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers