Wednesday, June 20, 2012

iKC Answers KC's Question: How Do You Build a Startup in the Midwest?

Kansas City has that "something".  It's hard to put my finger on exactly what that "something" is...but one thing is for sure: it's there.  I was lucky enough to sit in on an iKC panel this morning called How to Build a Start and Stay in the Midwest, where 3 panelists and one moderator talked about what that "something" is and how we can improve upon the entrepreneurial scene, not only in Kansas City, but in the Midwest. 

Tom Boozer (UMKC), moderator of the panel, started the session by asking the following question: What makes us different than Boston's tech hub?

And what about Silicon Valley?

What about Austin?

These three cities have truly utilized their growing tech and entrepreneur scenes and have become brands.  Can Kansas City, the Midwest (or in an entrepreneurial scene, Silicon Prairie) do this as well?  Can our geographical location become a brand as well?

Panelists from some of Kansas City's most well-known startups including LiveOn, Front Flip and Farms Tech, seem to think so.

Some of the key take-aways I left this session with:

  • Why do we go to Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin?  Startups go there for the money, the technology and the talent.  Does Kansas City have these 3 characteristics as well?  
  • Kansas City's best entrepreneurial trait is its support of entrepreneurs in general.  According to Jason Tatge of Farms Tech, "Entrepreneur organizations in Kansas City get you around other people who are extraordinarily successful in this community.  There is not another city that provides advice like Kansas City does.  The people here are generous and willing to give."
  • Kansas City is a great place to start a new business because of its cost of living.  The cost in other places (like Silicon Valley) is high compared to Kansas City.  Tom Boozer was correct when he said, "there are things you can do here that you can't there." 
  • Silicon Valley is known for technology, so that's what you talk about when you're out and about in SF or San Jose.  But in SV, people are more honest about entrepreneurship too.  Here in Kansas City, everyone pretends like everything is perfect.  In the Valley, people talk about the problems that they're having.  Kansas City needs to become more open in saying that we are trying and that we may fail in a few areas.  "There is a beauty in entrepreneurship," said Jonathan Whistman of LiveOn.  "There are companies that are successful and those that fail.  We should be comfortable in telling people that we are struggling.  That happens in Silicon Valley; why can't we do it here and help one another with these problems?"
    • The Front Flip panelist that filled in for Sean Beckner felt the same way: "When I put an investor hat on, I would turn away from someone who says that everything is under control.  You're fooling yourself!"
So what's missing in Kansas City?  According to the panel (and many opinions from the vocal audience):
  • A roadmap for who to seek advice from 
  • The willingness to exchange honest information
  • Unstructured, unplanned conversations that tackle certain entrepreneurial problems
  • Entrepreneur-focused classes (i.e. coding, development, etc.) in schools (from elementary to university) 
Stay tuned for more updates about what's going on at iKC!

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