Think Big is one of many local initiatives drawing national attention and talent to Kansas City’s tech scene
Established in July 2010, Think Big Partners stands apart from other coworking spaces that have sprung up throughout the metro. Designed for the full spectrum needs of entrepreneurs, Think Big combines an early-stage business incubator program with the resources of a startup accelerator, mentorship-based collaborative networking, coworking space and a means to raise capital.
Recently, Think Big Partners has gradually shifted its role and purpose. While still acting as a business incubator and startup accelerator, Think Big Partners has also positioned itself as an idea factory, where it provides essential tools for local and nationwide startups. In addition to its core services and program, Think Big also hosts entrepreneur-focused events, such as Hackovate Health, a healthcare innovation competition, and The Gigabit Challenge.
Think Big’s big-picture vision of serving tech startups and the community at large also further strengthen Kansas City’s local business community and its national and international reputation as a place to do business. However, this position, and the growth of the local tech and startup scene, comes at a critical time.
“I think the next 3-5 years is crucial to Kansas City. For example, we have not taken full advantage of Google Fiber’s potential,” says Herb Sih, managing partner and cofounder of Think Big Partners.
Unlocking technological resources, attracting venture capital and helping entrepreneurs advance to the next stages of development are other challenges to sustaining economic growth. Nascent startups and bright-eyed dreamers alone won’t push the next generation of entrepreneurial growth forward. Vetted ideas put into action as viable businesses is a key aspect of Think Big’s mission to help startups grow and, ideally, make a local economic impact.
“There’s a flurry of entrepreneurial activity now, but the number of entrepreneurs is not increasing in relation to good ideas,” Sih says. “Active entrepreneurs can be force multipliers and have an economic ripple effect.”
Kansas City is competing with Austin; Provo, Utah and other cities for these valued workers. Think Big Partners is only one of many key players in the city’s race to firmly establish itself as a sustainable market for launching the next generation of tech companies. Greater Kanas City’s tech competitiveness and ability to attract companies and skilled workers is also bolstered by three major factors.
- First, collaborative relationships and projects elevate Kansas City’s status as an attractive, exciting place to work. Events like Big Kansas City, a conference focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship conference, demonstrate avid interest in building a community, exchanging ideas and fostering growth. Of course, the presence of Google Fiber raises the city’s national profile.
- Second, the region touts a network of technology resources — KC SourceLink, the Kauffman Foundation, Lawrence Regional Technology Center and Pipeline Innovators, to name a few — that continue to grow.
- Third, civic leadership in the form of KCnext, the technology council of Greater Kansas City, demonstrates commitment to industry growth. The organization’s regional focus is committed to growing the existing base of technology firms, recruiting and attracting technology companies, aggregating and promoting regional IT assets and providing peer interaction and industry news.
Major initiatives, such as Digital Sandbox KC, have given a boost to the city’s startup community as an emerging tech powerhouse. Digital Sandbox KC is an economic kickstarter that provides innovators with resources so they can prove concepts and turn them into commercial ventures. And Kansas City’s Startup Village acts as an entrepreneur-led, grassroots initiative that adds critical mass to the city’s entrepreneur and startup community.
In regard to Think Big Partners’ role as an idea factory, Sih was asked to envision the status of Kansas City’s tech community by the middle of the 21st century. “I hope that Kansas City has established roots in financial technology, IT, bioscience and advanced manufacturing,” he says.
The key to sustained growth is to attract investment capital that will act as a catalyst to support the ecosystem of startups. Sih says, “We also need government to create less friction and to create a gravitational pull so that people and companies cluster here. We need more density and infrastructure in the urban core that can blossom out and revitalize.”