As part of our “Meet Startup Communities” series, we talk with Matthew W. Marcus, co-leader & committee member at kcsv.org about the startup community in Kansas City.
The Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV) is an entrepreneur-led community helping to grow and support Kansas City entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem. Their mission is to foster the education of entrepreneurs and increase the number opportunities for startups to succeed through programming, recruitment and knowledge sharing.
“Kansas City has always had some semblance of a startup community,” Matthew W. Marcus explains. “Companies like Sprint, Hallmark, DST and Garmin were born here, and entrepreneurs like Ewing Kauffman and Joyce Hall called KC home for many, many years. However, the past 3-4 years has seen the Kansas City startup & entrepreneur ecosystem rocket skyward with growth and prosperity. All of the pieces (government, non-profits, corporations, education, investors, service providers and, of course, entrepreneurs) are coming together to create one of America’s premier startup cities.”
Four years ago, he says you’d be lucky if you could find a single startup or entrepreneur focused event.
“Things are very different now,” he said. “Programs like the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups have helped bring together the entire community together on a regular basis. And thanks to organizations like ThinkBig, the Kansas City Startup Village, SparkLab KC and the Sprint Accelerator, entrepreneurs are realizing collisions, collaboration and connectedness on a daily basis.”
When asked what makes the startup community in Kansas City unique, Matthew W. Marcus points to a quote from Brad Feld in his book, “Startup Communities”.
“The most critical principle of a startup community is that the entrepreneurs must lead it.”
“This is very much the case in Kansas City,” Matthew W. Marcus said. “Although there are a lot of individuals and organizations involved in the community, none of them have tried to bulldog the show and attempted to take over. It’s a very supportive community across the board, with our happy, friendly, midwestern attitude serving as the trump card. We all realize what’s at stake, and that the only way Kansas City will continue to be a premier startup city is if we all work together.”
He says in the ecosystem right now, there are two great startups that quickly jump out in his mind.
“EyeVerify and Leap.it (both members of the Kansas City Startup Village). EyeVerify, makers of specialized biometric security technology, has been on a sharp, upward trend especially after winning the international “Get in the Ring” competition. Meanwhile, Leap.it has realized much success as they reinvent search, making it a more social and contextual experieince,” he said.
A challenge facing the Kansas City startup community is rapid growth.
“Things are moving fast, and there are many ingredients in the mix,” Matthew W. Marcus said. “If the project as a whole becomes unbalanced or one or more players are not pulling their weight, the whole thing can grind to a halt. Another challenge we’re facing is access to risk averse capital. There is a lot of money in KC and in the entire Silicon Prairie, but those who hold it are primarily accustomed to more traditional investment strategies. Kansas City could use a dose of the investor’s mindset out in the Valley. There is definitely startup gold in these hills … err … prairies.”
When looking ahead in the coming years, he says Kansas City’s startup and entrepreneur ecosystem shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he said sometimes it feels like the community just getting started.
“New programs and events, like LiveKC’s recent Fiery Stick Open and 1 Week KC, are continually created to support and bring together the community,” he said. “With all of our resources (including Google Fiber), central US location and low-cost, high-standard of living, Kansas City offers startups, entrepreneurs and the entire community room to grow. Over the next 5, 10 and 20 years, the world will see Kansas City as a key player in America’s burgeoning startup movement.”
For those visiting Kansas City to check out the startup scene, Matthew W. Marcus recommends taking a look at The Hitchhikers Guide to the Kansas City Startup Community.
“It outlines almost all of the great components of our thriving startup ecosystem,” he said. “Some highlights include 1 Million Cups, ThinkBig Coworking, Office Port KC, Sprint Accelerator, Snow & Co, the Kauffman Foundation, Startup Grind KC, Venture Lounge, Twenty30CEO, and the Athena League.”
Some annual events include Silicon Prairie’s Big Kansas City, iKC The Unconference, CityCamp KC, Compute Midwest, and TEDxKC.
“KCSOURCELINK is another source to check out,” adds Christine Murray, Director of the KC Chamber. “It connects a network of 200+ nonprofit resource organizations that provide business-building services for small businesses. Facilitate the linking of these resource organizations to one another and to established, emerging and start-up small businesses throughout the region.”
How can the #VegasTech community get involved in what’s happening in Kansas City to support their growing startup community?
“Offering to tell our story is extremely helpful, and we really appreciate it,” he said. “Many entities on the coasts view Kansas City as a “sleepy, cowtown” and the Silicon Prairie as “fly-over country.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Tony Hsieh is a big believer in the Three Cs: collisions, co-learning and connectedness. Hopefully, Las Vegas and Kansas City can increase the likelihood of the Cs between our two communities.”
Learn more about other startup communities! Follow our “Meet Startup Communities” series here.