Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA Live brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Coming to you today from Kansas City and my guest is Matthew Marcus, Chief Engagement Officer of Kansas City Startup Foundation. Matthew, welcome to the show.
Matthew: Thanks for having me Russ.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about the Kansas City Startup Foundation.
Matthew: Well let’s put it like this, everyone knows about Silicon Valley, the premier startup community. It kind of happened by accident but over the years it’s become upper echelon, the bar to which other communities are measured by. So Kansas City Startup Foundation essentially exists to make Kansas City our own version of a Silicon Valley. There will never be another Silicon Valley, but startup communities and the ideas and the concepts behind them are starting to spread from Silicon Valley across the world and we want to make Kansas City a premier startup community as well and that’s what we do.
Russ: Cool, how old is the Kansas City Startup Foundation?
Matthew: We started in 2014, got our IRS designation as a 501C3 in 2015 and have just been surging forward ever since.
Russ: And you’ve been there since the beginning?
Matthew: Since the beginning, yeah.
Russ: Does that make you a Founder?
Matthew: It does, it does. And actually what’s interesting about the foundation is it emerged from the efforts of the Kansas City Startup Village; I don’t know if you know much about that.
Russ: No, tell us out it.
Matthew: Basically 2010, 2011 Kansas City didn’t have a very prosperous startup community as we know startup communities to be now. There were startups and entrepreneurs, but it was pretty disconnected, not very cohesive and Kansas City is a sprawling city, but then a couple things took place which really kind of sparked and elevated our community and set it in the right direction, one of which was the Big 5 initiative.
The Kansas City Chamber said hey, what is Kansas City going to be in the next 5, 10, 20 years? And they boiled down about 400 ideas to 5 and one of those 5 ideas was let’s make Kansas City America’s most entrepreneurial city. So they kind of put the flag in the ground to say let’s do something with this entrepreneurial action that’s already here. And then of course Google chose Kansas City out of 1600+ cities to bring their fiber service and that was really exciting for Kansa City. And so it was like those two things kind of just ignited a movement to say hey, let’s get creative, let’s get excited about what’s going on in Kansas City, and part of that right when all of that was happening we started the Kansas City Startup Village.
Russ: So the foundation sprung out of that but what does the foundation do? I mean do you join it and become a member?
Matthew: No, so we literally just are community builders. So a lot of people think that we are an entrepreneurial specific support organization or an organization that supports entrepreneurs – which we do – but actually we look at the community more holistically. So we have kind of highlighted 5 or 6 stakeholder groups which as long as you have participants within those stakeholder groups participating in the community you probably are going to have a prosperous community.
So those groups are first and foremost entrepreneurs, because if you don’t have them you don’t have much of an entrepreneurial community, and in no specific order you’ve got corporations, you’ve got investors, you’ve got students and education, you’ve got service groups that service the entrepreneurs and then the curious citizen who maybe isn’t an entrepreneur themselves but they’re just curious about kind of the progressiveness of what’s going on in their city. And so as long as you have participants within each of those stakeholder groups engaged and active and connecting in the startup community you’re on to something and so we cultivate that. We’re literally connectors and culture creators for Kansas City’s startup community.
Russ: So you cultivate it; do you have events and that sort of thing?
Russ: Describe an event that you might have.
Matthew: We don’t even call them events really, they’re experiences. We want people to experience each other and experience the community, so the Startup Crawl. Actually I think this idea came from Austin, which obviously a very prosperous startup community, and the idea is just have the members of the community go see startups who are building awesome, cool things in a kind of pub crawl fashion if you will. It started very off the cuff about 5 years ago and then the next year we got a little bit more active and we got shuttle buses and we literally shuttled people around in a rotating fashion. And I think now because Kansas City, Missouri’s Downtown has become so vibrant looking forward we’re going to just literally have people walking around from spot to spot, maybe rooftop to rooftop, to see these startups. And it just creates that bonding, that excitement, and it cultivates it. So that’s one experience.
We also have programs as well, so education is a big thing for us. We have one called MECA Challenge which is a half day experience for students, and actually now we’re getting corporate leaders who want it as well, but it helps them think outside the box. How do you think innovatively when you’re trying to solve a challenge or a problem? Often in school you go by the book, they’re taught in a very old school way – no pun intended there – but technology has changed things rapidly. So you’ve got to start thinking differently and MECA Challenge does that. And then we have a Startup KC Help Desk. So literally when people – seekers – want to find out what’s going on in Kansas City we usher them in; we are like ambassadors. We make sure that they get connected to the right people and the right resources.
Russ: Okay, so this explains why you were so prolific supplying us with good interview prospects while we we’re here in Kansas City.
Matthew: We want to make sure that anyone who comes to our community has a really good experience and finds people they need to be with.
Russ: Tell us what you like about Kansas City.
Matthew: I say Kansas City has come so far since I called it home. So I was born in Santa Fe but grew up here and I’ve seen Kansas City just continue to climb and become more and more. I love that first of all we have “Kansas City nice.” Literally put it in quotes. People are very humble in the Midwest in general and people are very helpful. And so when you come to Kansas City you’re more than likely going to find someone who says hey, where are you from? What are you doing in Kansas City? And very open-arms and trying to help out. So I love that about it but I also love that Kansas City is being progressive – in our own timeline.
We haven’t been progressive like some other larger communities or larger cities, but we’re getting there. But we have the bar set high; we have our vision set high and we just passed to build a $1 billion airport over the next few years. We’ve got a streetcar now. And these are little things that other people would say you have a streetcar, whatever, but for us it’s pretty cool. We’re thinking about smart city stuff, we have amazing smart city initiatives. The entrepreneurship activity and entrepreneurship community of course, near and dear to my heart, has really made a lot of headway.
It’s a great time to be in Kansas City; I think every city has its moment and I feel like Kansas City is reaching some sort of tipping point. I don’t know what that is but people are coming in and saying wow, I had no idea. They think Kansas City is this fly-over cow-town Podunk city and they get here and they say wow, you guys have something going on here. And I mean literally. I’ve had interviews with people that have flown over from the UK to come and film shows and when they’re on their way to the airport, like packing their bags up, they say I have to tell you something, I don’t know what’s going on here but there’s a buzz; there’s an energy in Kansas City that I’ve been to a lot of other cities and I haven’t felt it. So it’s being a part of that, it’s really cool.
Russ: I find your introduction about Palo Alto being so prolific in itself and the capital, but Kansas City has a very rich history in entrepreneurship through the Kauffman Foundation and I assume you guys are connected with them to a degree also.
Matthew: We’re super lucky to have Kauffman Foundation literally in our backyard, love what they’re doing. And Kauffman has gone through the ups and downs, lefts and rights as any startup in a way does to kind of figure what they want to focus on at any given time. And what’s cool about the Kauffman Foundation is obviously they have an international vision and focus, national as well, but over the last let’s say 3 or 4 years, kind of since our startup community started to take off, they’ve put more emphasis and focus on what’s happening in their backyard – in Kansas City.
So when you talk to let’s say Victor Hwang who’s kind of helping to lead their entrepreneurial endeavors he’ll say first and foremost Kauffman Foundation can’t do it all. They’d love to be able to do it all but they just simply can’t, so what they would rather do is empower the community builders in each of these communities around the country or world to do the work that needs to get done. So in a way they’re a support of ours, we’ve gotten some grant money from them so we’re very honored to have that, and it’s really neat to see them on this journey with us of trying to figure out what does it mean to be a professional ecosystem builder. Because for a long time, myself included, it was a volunteer gig; it was something you did purely out of passion, right?
Matthew: Because you’re excited about the city, you’re excited about the startups and what’s happening and your friends who are entrepreneurs, but unfortunately volunteer-ship doesn’t pay the bills.
Russ: That’s right.
Matthew: So now together we’re figuring out what does it mean to professionally build startup communities.
Russ: Well we’ve always been fans of the Kauffman Foundation, I actually even did an interview with Judith Cone over there probably 7 or 8 years ago, very impressive. But before I let you go I know also that you’ve been an entrepreneur and you’re an entrepreneur now too, you have a thing on the side that all of us do; tell us about that.
Matthew: Yeah, I can’t let go of starting my side projects. So I’ll say about 5 or 6 years ago I was in a local election booth voting for a local election and I looked down at the names on the ballot and I literally didn’t know who these people were. I had no idea because I hadn’t done any research. Time is short; I’ve got a bunch of things, we all have a bunch of things to do and I just didn’t have any time, but I know it’s a duty to vote. So I started making decisions randomly or by a name I liked over another or gender or whatever it was; it was almost worse than not voting.
But I felt compelled to do it so I literally walked out and I said I wish there was a button I could push next to each name and watch a quick 30 or 60 second video of them saying hey, thanks for coming in to vote, here’s who I am, here’s where I stand and make a decision. It would take a little longer but it would be a more informed decision. So like I do with anything I write down my ideas in my notebook and then I went to a startup weekend in 2015 and I brought this idea and we eventually formed a team around it and we won. So the idea really is to just say listen, there are 86,400 seconds in a day, most of those are spent on doing things we need to do – work, sleep, eat, family time.
And then there’s this small sliver of pie that’s left that everyone is trying to fight to get a piece of, whether it’s watching Netflix or going to the gym or political candidates saying learn about me, read my mailers, take my phone call, listen to my knocks on the door – it’s like there’s just not enough time for that. So how can we just give them a small slice of pie so that everybody can win and that’s what 1 Minute Candidate is all about.
Russ: 1 Minute Candidate? And is it in business today?
Matthew: It is. It’s a solo operation by me right now, I just haven’t had the time because of the Kansas City Startup Foundation to build a team around it, but we’ve served 6 different elections now and happy to say that a lot of the candidates who opt to become 1 Minute Candidates where their opponent doesn’t, they end up winning.
Matthew: It’s pretty incredible so I think there’s something to be said about the proliferation of video as a medium – especially short videos – to draw attention and not lose this 8 seconds of attention span they say – less than a goldfish – we’ve got to give it to them quick and so that’s the idea behind it.
Russ: Well good luck with that and Matthew thank you for sharing the story here.
Matthew: Absolutely, thanks for having me Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Matthew Marcus, Chief Engagement Officer with Kansas City Startup Foundation and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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