New Takes On an Enduring Legacy
Kansas City is also the birthplace of some of America’s most iconic brands,
including Hallmark Cards (launched 100 years ago), Russell Stover Candies, and
H&R Block. More recent additions include Cerner Corp and Garmin.
“I truly believe entrepreneurship is in the DNA of Kansas City,” says Wendy
Guillies, president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation, a $2
billion private foundation focused on funding programs to improve education and
entrepreneurship nationally, which is based in Kansas City, MO.
Many modern entrepreneurs draw inspiration from these business cornerstones.
“The mindset here is not to build a company so you can exit in three to fve years;
“We do an awful lot of work here, because he wanted us to give back to the
the ethos is more about building enduring legacy companies,” says Chris Costello,
a Kansas City native who in 2013 co-founded Blooom, a digital advisor for 401(k)
funds, with college friends Kevin Conard and Randy AufDerHeide in Overland Park,
KS. “We are a world-class city with Midwestern values,” says Sly James, mayor of
Kansas City. “It’s the perfect blend for anyone looking to bring their ideas to life
and build a successful company.”
Ewing Kaufman, who founded a thriving pharmaceutical company as well as
the eponymous foundation, is yet one more example of a successful Kansas City
entrepreneur, one who has used his fortune to support the local business community.
community that he got so much from,” says Guillies.
Cofee, Cash, and Community
Kansas City is bustling with community programs dedicated to helping
entrepreneurs get a leg up, many of them launched in the past few years.
Often, it’s a testing ground for ideas the Kaufman Foundation wants to
take national. A recent example is the 1 Million Cups program which invites
entrepreneurs to meet for a cup of cofee, listen to one or two colleagues make
short business presentations, and ofer feedback on what they hear. Kaufman
launched it four years ago in Kansas City; it now happens every Wednesday in
more than 100 communities across the country, Guillies says.
Since 2015, there’s also been a very tangible commitment from local businesses
to help startups thrive. LaunchKC, which receives support from many local
INC. BRANDED CONTENT / KANSAS CITY
businesses and corporations, including
the Missouri Technology Corporation,
the Kemper Foundation, UMB, Husch
Blackwell, and Kansas City Power &
Light, is now entering its third year. It
ofers $500,000 in grants to as many
as 10 startups per cycle. Along with the
grants, winners get a year of free ofce
space and mentoring resources.
Open to companies around the
world, the competition has seen close
to 600 applications per year from 23
states and 8 countries, says KCEDC’s
Solomon, who oversees the program.
“This is one way that Kansas City proves
we’re very serious about supporting
entrepreneurs,” he says.
For maximum efect, about 20
LaunchKC fnalists are invited to pitch
(and learn their fate) at Techweek, a
multi-city technology festival that recently
added Kansas City to its list of stops.
Winning “is a nice proof point that
shows potential investors you have a
business plan that makes sense,” says
Jef Rohr, founder and CEO of 2015
winner SquareOfs, a social opinion
platform. Thanks to networking that
followed the competition, Rohr has
received signifcant interest in the
company’s seed round and future Series
A. In total, Solomon estimates past
grant winners have cumulatively raised
about $7 million in follow-on funding
and created an estimated 40 jobs in the
KCMO area as of the end of 2016.
For earlier growth stages, around 10
incubator and accelerator programs
are on the scene, according to
KCSourceLink, a local agency that
connects entrepreneurs with resources.
• TECHSTARS is launching its frst
proprietary program this year after
running one with Overland Park, KS-based Sprint Corp. for the past three
years. (Sprint will continue to operate
its accelerator with other partners.)
• DIGITAL SANDBOX KC has worked
with more than 350 entrepreneurs
since 2013, helping to create 34
companies which have collectively
garnered $28.3 million in follow-on
funding, according to its website.
• THE KAUFFMAN FOUNDATION’S
KC ACCELERATOR CHALLENGE will
grant up to $1.5 million this year to
bring additional programs to the city.