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SparkLabKC emerges in Kansas City to help early-stage internet startups

With support from nearly a dozen companies and organizations in Kansas City’s startup community, including OneLouder, Polsinelli Shughart and University of Missouri-Kansas City, a group of five serial entrepreneurs and investors today unveiled startup accelerator SparkLabKC.

“We are targeting early-stage startups using a proven business accelerator program adapted to the KC region,” SparkLabKC managing director Kevin Fryer said Monday. He and his co-founders aim to do so with the participation of the community.

As of today, more than 80 mentors – 24 are currently featured on the accelerator’s website – have committed time to SparkLabKC. The accelerator has also raised $400,000 from more than a dozen investors to finance its first class. Each investor, including the five founders, has contributed $25,000.

“The reason for that is we wanted as many angel investors involved and at the table helping these (startups) as possible,” Fryer (right) said, noting they’re still working to raise another $600,000 for future classes.

With mentors committed and investors involved, SparkLabKC hopes to solve two problems it’s identified for Kansas City area startups – the experience gap and the funding gap.

During its 90-day program, SparkLabKC will provide 10 startups $6,000 per founder (up to $18,000 per startup), office space and business advisory services. Mentorship, prototype development and pitch refinement are the focus of the three months, all in preparation of a demo day at the program’s end. To participate, startups give a flat 6 percent equity stake to SparkLabKC.

The accelerator is accepting applications Feb. 1-March 31. Its first class is scheduled to start May 29 and conclude with a demo day Aug. 23. The program is housed in an office building across the street from Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.

“Unique to the Kansas City market”

As to what type of startup the accelerator will accept, Fryer said “it’s really broad,” but his team plans to focus on applications that serve Kansas City area businesses, specifically those in the telecommunications, engineering, health care, agriculture and energy industries.

“We want this program to be unique to the Kansas City market, because that’s what’ll make it work,” Fryer said.

It was a technology announcement in the Kansas City area, after all, that inspired Fryer and his co-founders to pursue SparkLabKC.

“The founders and I a year and a half ago when Google made their announcement, we decided to try to figure out what we could do around (Google Fiber) to enhance entrepreneurialism in the city,” he said.

The five co-founders, whom Fryer said have “extensive experience” in investing and running small businesses (each touting their own exits), kicked around a few ideas before deciding on an accelerator.

“One of our partners is a venture capitalist in San Francisco and knows Paul Graham from Y Combinator and knows (David Cohen from TechStars), so we went down that path,” he said, referring to the involvement of Don Hutchison (right).

To create their own model, Fryer said the co-founders interviewed accelerators around the country, taking their “best pieces” and learning what didn’t work. “We’ve molded those into a business accelerator tailored to the Kansas City community,” he said, noting they’re working with a team from the Univerisity of Missouri-Kansas City to help run its first program this summer.

In the interviews, Fryer said his group also learned about the regional pull of an accelerator. “There’s kind of a radius around the accelerator program and it typically goes no further than a 150 miles,” he said. With that in mind, SparkLabKC doesn’t want to be national – at least in recruiting – but aims to pull in startups from as far away as Columbia, Mo. and Manhattan, Kan., and possibly Des Moines, Iowa.

“Our whole premise around SparkLabKC is it’s got to be a local, community thing,” Fryer said. “The community has to get involved and get behind it, both public and private, or it won’t succeed.”

When asked what that success looks like, Fryer broke down what his group envisions for its first class of 10 startups. “Two of the 10 go on to be hugely successful, three of the 10 to be moderatly successful and the rest of them to create jobs and have a sustainable revenue stream going forward,” Fryer said.

SparkLabKC’s emergence gives startups a third accelerator program in the Kansas City area. The others are Think Big Partners and BetaBlox.


Credits: Kevin Fryer photo courtesy of SparkLabKC.

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