Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In Case You Missed It...Kansas City Startup Crawl Recap

The evening of Friday, February 8 was Kansas City’s inaugural Startup Crawl. As the buzz built for weeks, and the RSVPs stacked up, everyone seemed to be wondering exactly how things would shape up. An event of unprecedented scope and partnership, the Startup Crawl, organized by Red Nova Labs (the mastermind behind Venture Fridays), showcased some of Kansas City’s fastest-growing startups.

I was lucky enough to attend Startup Crawl from start to finish (or should I say from Kauffman to Startup Village). Here’s a little recap of exactly what my crawl looked like:

STARTUP CRAWL STOP 1: The Kauffman Foundation

I started at the Kauffman Foundation at 4801 Rockhill Road. The Kauffman Foundation is perhaps the single largest source of support for Kansas City entrepreneurs. Host of the weekly forum 1 Million Cups, a meeting which gives two companies the opportunity to present to a wide range of Kansas City entrepreneurs, mentors, and advisors, the Kauffman Foundation is near the epicenter of the Kansas City startup scene.

The organization’s dedication to exposing local companies to broad audiences showed in their food selection alone. Given prominent placement at the food table were local companies like Milk & Honey, creators of flavorfully innovative, artistic, and original French Macaroons.

Milk & Honey macaroons were full of complex flavor and texture

Other local flavors showcased at Kauffman included Farm to Market bread and fruit tarts from the Berry Nutty Farm (shown below) as well as an assortment of Boulevard beer at the open bar (plus white and red wine).

Locally-made finger foods like these fruit tarts were a real treat at Kauffman

In addition to the gourmet finger foods and beverages (including a soda refrigerator full of Mountain Dew!), Kauffman also had a variety of activities. You could attend Marketing Trivia, with a new game starting every 15 minutes, or you could have your photo taken at the Kauffman Lab photo booth (the pictures will soon be uploaded to their Facebook page). You could even write your Twitter handle on the networking whiteboard, or engage in the main draw of the evening: conversation. Walking through the room, I could hear dozens of people networking – explaining what they did, why it mattered, and how they could potentially connect with the person they were talking with. The room was humming with energy, insight and prospect.

A Kauffman Labs photographer was on hand to take pictures for their Facebook page

STARTUP CRAWL STOP 2: Think Big Partners

After a half hour at Kauffman, the shuttle arrived and we boarded. The shuttle ride was heated, spacious and relaxing. Our next stop was Think Big Partners at 1800 Baltimore. Choosing the stairs over the elevator, it was exciting to hear the conversations grow louder with each step. Upon walking through the glass doors, the first thing to be noticed was the Roasterie coffee bar, Kansas City’s great coffee company being a staple in the Thing Big offices. The next was the panoramic view. The third was the keg of Boulevard Wheat beer, which a group of Kansas City entrepreneurs were heartily enjoying. Tyler Prochnow, senior partner and co-founder of Think Big Partners, was welcoming visitors and readily answering any questions they had.

The Roasterie coffee bar with the Kansas City skyline as a backdrop

But the beer wasn’t the only thing keeping people flowing through the doors at Think Big Partners. The sprawling office space, with its panoramic views of the city and multiple stories of collaborative use, was thoroughly engaging. Revdel, a cloud-based events-scheduling service provider founded by Patrick Stoddart, was being showcased on the fourth floor.

The 6th floor of Think Big Partners houses the stunning bizperc event space

The fourth floor of the building boasts meeting rooms, a productivity center, a resource library, a kitchen, a mailroom, and Roasterie coffee bar. More established startups and entrepreneurs are housed on the fifth floor, including reclaimed material marketplace Planet Reuse, mobile banking platform Dwolla, and community engagement platform Mindmixer, to name a few. CandyCam Multimedia Robotics was even demoing their Skyhook Prototype, an innovative approach to camera technology that will certainly be a game changer (shown below).

The Skyhook Prototype is a fascinating, mathematically brilliant innovation in camera technology

The next stop on the tour was OfficePort, a coworking space at 208 W. 19th Street. Outside the office, the iconic Roasterie Airstream was serving hot coffee. After getting a coffee warm-up, we walked inside and were greeted by friendly staff.

The Roasterie Airstream made an appearance outside OfficePort

The OP staff explained the OfficePort concept: a month-to-month office space rental that can be scaled to meet your size needs at any time. The innovative office space concept felt highly conducive to collaboration and creativity. In addition to boasting a roof-full of solar panels, OfficePort also houses EventPort, a 3,000 square foot event space which is often used for performance events.

The month-to-month, on-demand sizing concept ensures that startup companies can grow at their own pace

OfficePort was highlighting its collaboration with Kansas City B-Cycle, a membership-based city-wide bicycle rental concept. Right next to the bicycles was an open whiskey bar, an OfficePort Friday tradition. The room was full of Kansas City entrepreneurs networking and having fun. The mood was relaxed and inviting.

Just one of the many whiskey’s available for tasting at OfficePort

Next up on the tour was BetaBlox at 3101 Mercier. BetaBlox, a seed accelerator/startup incubator, is housed in the incredibly unique Downtown Underground. Because of the nature of being housed underground, it doesn’t require heating in the winter or very much cooling in the summer.

The Downtown Underground is an innovative entrepreneurial environment

We weren’t sure what to expect from an underground office, but we were pleasantly surprised. Similar to other stops on the tour, BetaBlox had Boulevard beer on tap. The mood at BetaBlox felt more focused on the networking aspect of the tour, with beer and snacks being all they needed to inspire countless conversations among guests.

The stripped-down feel of BetaBlox radiated focus on the work

The space at BetaBlox was impressive, with the exposed limestone underground drawing a lot of attention from visitors. BetaBlox had the feel of a lean startup environment akin to an early-day Facebook. While the space didn’t have the city views of some of the other spaces, it was nonetheless captivating. The room was alive with energy.

The exposed and painted limestone was of high interest to guests

Our next stop was Red Nova Labs at 4830 Rainbow. Red Nova Labs is a diverse work space, housing web developers, marketing agencies and technology think-tanks in its large space. A keg, self-serve bar and food center (including hot dogs!) and ping pong table set the fun mood.

Red Nova Labs made sure to create a fun, engaging environment

Local startups were being showcased around the room. The CEOs of Ruxter and BuzzMeDo, mobile marketing platforms changing the ways companies communicate with companies, were manning an information booth and networking. The Kansas City Cupcake Co., a company which makes custom cupcakes for businesses, was sampling their different varieties. Stand Up For Good, a community mobilization platform, and KC Roundtable, an entrepreneurial leadership group, both had networking tables as well.

Ruxter and BuzzMeDo were two of many companies networking at Red Nova Labs

Like so many other spaces we had seen over the course of the evening, it was clear that the space at Red Nova Labs was intentionally designed with collaboration in mind. The open floor plan, centrally located kitchen, and multi-level space all encourage startups and entrepreneurs to create together.

The hot dog bar was a big hit with guests

STARTUP CRAWL STOP 6 (LAST STOP!): Kansas City Startup Village
Our final stop of the Startup Crawl was Kansas City Startup Village at 4454 State Line Road, a grassroots entrepreneurial initiative. We were surprised when the shuttle pulled up to a house! Upon entering, however, it was clear this was no ordinary space. Innovative startups lived inside – from the mobile search app Leap2, to the mobile authentication app EyeVerify, to the social voting platform SquareOffs, to multiple others, the house was packed to the brim with startups.

The Weston Brewing Company showcased their entire selection

The house was packed with guests who were enjoying regional brewery Weston Brewing Company’s entire selection. A live band filled the air with music, and a fire pit kept the outside guests warm. The offices inside were spacious. One can only imagine how much collaboration a typical day brings.

What on the outside looks like a regular house turns out to be an innovation nexus on the inside

Since this was our last stop, we stuck around for a little while and enjoyed the music and conversation. It felt like the perfect end to an unprecedented evening.

A bluegrass band completed a fun-filled evening

Carrie Royce, co-founder/CMO/CSO of Red Nova Labs and organizer of the Venture Fridays Startup Crawl, did an amazing job organizing this event. Unprecedented in scope, the Startup Crawl shined a bright spotlight on the Kansas City startup scene. If it wasn’t before, it is clear now that Kansas City is full of entrepreneurs who are bringing innovative, game-changing products and services to the world. The sheer proximity to so much creativity was stunning. Whether you were an industry veteran or a first-timer looking to learn more about the Kansas City startup scene, this event had something for everyone.

It was clear throughout the evening that every participant in the Startup Crawl had invested time, money and thought in how best to facilitate networking in their respective spaces. These initial investments are investments in the future. Throughout the evening I kept thinking about how much money was being generated through the crawl, in terms of future collaborations, inventions and companies that will be created from networking. It might not be immediate, but eventually the fruits of the startup crawl networking will show, and if the countless conversations throughout the night are an indicator, they will occur in abundance. So while this startup experience was fun and informative, it was also a boon to the local economy. Here’s to the future we’re creating together, and to more events like this one that help make such a future possible.

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