Established in late 2012, the Kansas City Startup Village merges Silicon Valley’s tech vision with a Midwestern collaborative approach.
The rapid growth of the Kansas City Startup Village begs the question: Is KC the next great tech city?
Story by Lindsey Kennedy |
The Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV) is a settlement of entrepreneurs that began when three unrelated startups moved into Google’s first ever “Fiberhood.” Though its center point is considered to be in Hanover Heights near 45th Street and State Line Road, even co-founder Matthew Marcus calls this estimate “rough.” Rather than being a specific place, KCSV is more of an open, energized and collaborative network of entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on everything Kansas City has to offer.
The entrepreneurial buzz term “serendipitous collisions” describes unplanned collaborative connections that bring about innovation. The concept parallels the tech trend of “startup communities,” where entrepreneurs work in close physical proximity in order to combine resources and expertise.
According to Marcus, the concentration of entrepreneurs combined with a uniquely collaborative atmosphere saves startups one of their most precious resources: time. “The village itself is kind of a living incubator,” says Marcus. “What you might not know, the entrepreneur across the street does know … you can pop over and ask that question rather than … trying to figure it out yourself, and for startups, time is one of the most critical pieces between success and failure.”
KCSV credits its model to entrepreneurs like Brad Feld, whose book “Startup Communities: Building and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City” provided inspiration and guidance. Feld encourages this “entrepreneurial density,” which he says, “will generate lots of positive unintended consequences.”
Feld, a Boulder-based investor, author, co-founder of TechStars and all-around startup guru was no stranger to Kansas City before the announcement of Google Fiber. That said, the ultra-fast fiber optic cable network’s installation inspired him to purchase a home in KCSV. “I decided to actively participate in the experimental rollout and experience it firsthand,” Feld says.
Google Fiber may have brought a national spotlight and renewed enthusiasm for KC’s entrepreneurial climate, but it is just one of many reasons businesses are choosing Kansas City. Boasting an extremely competitive cost of living and a burgeoning arts and culture community, KC has the raw materials to be the next great tech city. In nurturing this potential startup paradise, KCSV has a lot going for it.
Friends in Politics
The general sentiment on the role of government in startup success seems to be “get out of the way,” but Kansas City civic leadership has made a point to proactively support innovators and entrepreneurs.
According to Marcus, encouragement comes to KCSV from both sides of the state line, giving Kansas City a real chance to participate in what he calls a “race for startup supremacy.” Marcus says, “We’re seeing more and more startup cities pop up across the world. Like startups, some succeed and some fail.”
Success as an entrepreneurial hub has been on our civic leadership’s agenda at least since the unveiling of the Big 5 initiative in 2011, when the KC Chamber announced its intent to make KC “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City.” In late 2013, a $25 million dollar investment fund was announced as part of the entrepreneurial encouragement initiative.
On the other side of the state line, Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland declared Oct. 5 “Kansas City Startup Village Day,” commemorating KCSV’s first anniversary last year, and Kansans were offered a 2013 tax credit when they donated to Network Kansas programs, including KCSV.
Mayor Sly James, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback have all toured KCSV, a symbolic gesture of local and regional enthusiasm for nurturing startups.
Support from the Big Guys
Kansas City is famously home to powerhouse companies like Cerner, Sprint, Hallmark, DST, and Garmin, but the presence of so many large and established corporations is not necessarily a threat to startup culture. Several of KC’s biggest companies are working to make sure the entrepreneurial climate in Kansas City continues to flourish.
“They are largely our cheerleaders and occasional event sponsors,” Marcus says. “We’d love to get them more involved and are hoping, over time, they’ll see the value of the village as it pertains to their companies’ goals and initiatives.”
Sprint and TechStars recently unveiled the “Sprint Accelerator,” a communal working space that will house a three-month program for 10 selected startups. Aiming to strengthen KC’s presence in the mobile health market, the Accelerator supplies budding companies with seed funding, mentorship and, most importantly, access to the kind of resources only a company the size of Sprint can provide.
Collaborative strategies like the Sprint Accelerator are exactly the kind of big-business involvement that can help foster an even more productive startup/corporate relationship.
The Kauffman Foundation’s One Million Cups events are an example of the “serendipitous collisions” concept at work. Each week, over coffee, two startups give presentations on their businesses. In the audience are community leaders, entrepreneurs and members of the KC business community, and the goal is precisely the symbiotic collaboration encouraged by startup communities.
To Marcus and KCSV, the Kauffman Foundation is an immeasurably valuable resource. “To have them in our neighborhood is a huge benefit for a startup community,” Marcus says. KCSV regularly hosts influential visitors, including businesses looking to relocate or start up in KC, and attending One Million Cups is usually on the agenda for guests. “That’s really the cornerstone event for our community,” he adds.
Though KCSV began accidentally, its growth and success to date has been entirely deliberate. Now the home of 25 startups that employ more than 60 people and represent talent recruited from 12 states, KCSV is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
The message received by well-established KC businesses, nonprofits and civic government is that KCSV’s hopes for success include the broader goal of making Kansas City a place where businesses and ideas of any size will have access to all of KC’s collective resources.
“The possibilities are endless,” Marcus says. “Overall, it’s important to understand that a win for the KCSV is a win for KC is a win for KC companies big and small. This isn’t a zero-sum game.”