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Storylines: Kansas City preps for a national stage, welcomes new players

It’s been six months since Omaha editor Jordan Pascale has been on the job, and he reported on a lot in his first few months. We were taken back by all the movement, which got us to thinking, “What have been the key storylines for each region?” Each has had a unique story, and over the next three days we’ll run through some of those storylines—Nebraska on Wednesday, Iowa on Thursday and Kansas City today. Tweet at us with #NEstorylines, #IAstorylines and #KCstorylines so we can continue and add to the conversation.


As we look at our region as a whole over these last six months, it’s become clear Kansas City is in a much different place than Nebraska or Iowa. Whereas the other two are building infrastructure, pipelines and a foundation for their communities, KC has had much of that built out over the past three years. Not to say there isn’t a lot more to be done in growing a talent pipeline in KC, it’s just there is a good starting point already.

Nebraska saw a rush of new programming for talent and lots of company movement. Iowa saw essential elements fall into place: two accelerators and a startup co-working space fill the pending void.

Kansas City over the last six months, instead, showed glimpses of being a national contender with bigger aspirations. The biggest of these shows through in the Techstars demo day, which was Thursday. If even a few of those companies stay put, it’ll likely elevate everything good already happening here. In addition, the ability of the city to work with Cisco on a project as ambitious as a “smart city” shows it’s ready to welcome experimentation and innovation. Now if only there could be a resolution for disruptive companies like Uber and Lyft coming into town.

MindMixer was welcomed with open arms from Nebraska. And what was an understandable loss for them turned into a huge win for KC. We’ll see if that ends up driving more growth and movement.

It’s hard to remember everything that happened over six months, so let’s recap.

Movement

There wasn’t a lot of it, but what happened made big waves and should continue to. All three did a lot to move KC forward, and we have a feeling a lot more movement is on the cusp. MindMixer brings a steady influx of new talent, Techstars a national spotlight and Think Big, a new landing spots for startups. The FullStack office opening is a big deal, too, as it shows our communities are talking to each other and seeing the value of connecting.

Kansas City goes national

More than any community-specific initiatives, it’s clear companies and leaders in KC are getting noticed outside of the metro or making an impact on a larger scale. Cisco and Google will be two of the bigger players in forming its tech makeup.

Companies 

Events

It’s striking what level of diversity there is for events in KC, and the different ways companies are getting involved or getting their name out. A summit on the collaborative economy and the ability to create projects for gigabit speeds isn’t common to most cities.

  • 1 Week KC brought focused events and more emphasis on community, including an entirely new event created on the Startup Bus down to SXSW in March.
  • The four pilot projects for the Mozilla Gigabit Fund presented their progress.
  • CityCampKC returned for its third year, with a focus on the intersection of startups and the city. The feeling all around was that the dialogue had come a long way from year one.
  • EyeVerify continued its winning ways—winner of Startup of the Year at our awards show last year—with an Angel Capital Association win.
  • We had our first KC meetup of the year at the new Sprint Accelerator space, and we’ll be in KC a lot more this year: SPN Awards in August and Big Kansas City in October.
  • Social Media Club KC’s Ben Smith hosted an event on the collaborative economy, which has seen a ton of attention in the last few months. One of the movement’s leaders, Jeremiah Owyang, shared his thoughts.
  • Pipeline hosted its ever-growing group of alumni and mentors at Innovator of the Year, along with members of the community. It’ll be hard to get everyone into one space in coming years.

Accelerators & Incubators

Sprint made a splash with the kickoff of a Techstars-powered accelerator, and the teams that stay could do a lot to bring talent and resources here. With that program in place, there are now more than a handful of accelerator or incubator options for companies.

  • SparkLabKC announced its second accelerator class
  • KC’s FormZapper grabbed a spot in St. Louis financial services accelerator SixThirty, started by Square co-founder Jim McKelvey.
  • Sprint brought a national brand to the KC accelerator landscape with its Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars. The 10 teams brought a wide range of focuses to the space.
  • BetaBlox opened up to us about their early struggles and the changes they’ve made to bring more value to their program.
  • Neighbor.ly headed west for its second accelerator experience, this time at Tumml in San Francisco.
  • We had some fun with all 10 of the Techstars teams with mini Team Prairie Portraits.

Funding

It was a quiet six months for funding, but it tends to come all at once.

People

The Kauffman Foundation shakeup took a lot of people by surprise after such a short stint by CEO Tom McDonnell. Kauffman has been a major influencer on the KC startup community, so it’s fair to say there will be a lot of interest in who becomes the next CEO.

  • Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation president and CEO Tom McDonnell stepped down and long-time vice president of communications Wendy Guillies was named the Foundation’s interim president. 
  • Sarah Snyder became a partner at Think Big Partners, joining a group with Herb Sih, Tyler Prochnow and Blake Miller.
  • Attorney-turned-entrepreneur Chris Brown is ready to help startups with legal counsel for them, all while doing his own business, helping law firms market themselves.
  • Adam Coomes, long a leader in the KC startup community and a leader at several successful tech companies, was lured over to CouponCloud.
  • We had a chance to hear from Albert Tong, a long-time employee at OneLouder, which was bought by Sprint last year. He’s moved to NYC to be part of a growing startup, but wants to keep his ties with the KC community.
 

Did we miss anything? Let us know: editor (at) siliconprairienews (dot) com.

How would you sum up Kansas City’s last six months? Tweets us your thoughts about what things stand out the most using #KCstorylines and we’ll include them here.

 

Credits: Photo by Zach Werner

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