#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Matthew Marcus, Executive Director of Kansas City Startup Foundation, Kansas City, KS.
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
What’s your role in your ecosystem?
I am the Executive Director for the Kansas City Startup Foundation (KCSF). My role is to lead and build the foundation so that we can continue to grow and advance Kansas City's startup ecosystem.
Can you tell us a little about the Kansas City Startup Foundation?
KCSF’s mission is to unify and champion Kansas City's startup ecosystem. The organization was born from the efforts of the Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV) back in 2014 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit to support the village and the broader KC startup ecosystem. For those unfamiliar with the KCSV, it’s an entrepreneurial micro-community that was founded in 2012 after a string of serendipitous events brought together a number of entrepreneurs in the (at that time, nascent) KC startup and hacker community centered around the first neighborhood in the world to get Google Fiber.
Today, KCSF does a variety of things for the community, such as provide continual support and connectivity to participants within the ecosystem who fall within these core stakeholder groups: entrepreneurs, schools, governments, corporations, investors, and startup related nonprofits. Additionally, we welcome visitors who wish to engage with the ecosystem and direct them to the appropriate resources. Furthermore, we create programs and host events which continually activate the entrepreneurial stack and foster collisions, co-learning, and community.
What’s the most exciting thing that has happened in Kansas City in the past year?
It's difficult to pick just one, but I would say EyeVerify's acquisition by Ant Financial (a subsidiary of Alibaba) was quite exciting. EyeVerify was once a small KCSV-based startup. I remember when they were just a team of five and one of the first startups in the village. Toby Rush and his team advanced the technology and grew the company to the point where it became Alibaba's first U.S. acquisition (and one with a nine figure sales price).
What is the biggest challenge you face in Kansas City?
As ecosystem builders, I think the biggest challenge we face is education. By that, I mean educating absent stakeholders about the importance of Kansas City's startup ecosystem and how they have an crucial role to play. For example, some local corporations think of the startup community as being a zero-sum game. That they must lose in order for the startups and entrepreneurs to win. But that’s just not the case. It's our job to help them realize we can all win. That a rising tide lifts all boats, and if we all participate and work together we'll get closer to a Kansas City that is "America's most entrepreneurial city."
Who are some of the major players that have helped your ecosystem grow?
The growth and success of Kansas City's startup ecosystem is the result of collective efforts among many stakeholders. For example, Maria Meyers and her team at KCSourceLink, a local entrepreneurial resource center, have made great strides to better KC's investment landscape. Think Big Partners and Kansas City, Missouri's government have led efforts to make KC a leader in the smart city industry by creating the Kansas City Living Lab. Aaron Deacon and KC Digital Drive continue to showcase Kansas City in a variety of ways as being a leader in the gigabit revolution. Adam Arredondo and his team at Center of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development (CEED) has helped grow the ecosystem in many ways through their coworking, education, and informational efforts (which includes Startland News). These are just some examples of organizations doing amazing things for Kansas City and beyond.
We talk a lot about the importance of connectivity for startup growth. Kansas City was one of the first Google Fiber cities. How has that impacted the KC startup community?
Without a doubt Google Fiber has played an important role in the growth and prosperity of KC’s startup ecosystem. Their selection of Kansas City to be the first city in the world to receive their gigabit ISP service couldn’t have come at a better time for the city. The then nascent startup community was beginning to find its legs, and Google Fiber provided the perfect boost to accelerate and intensify the startup energy. Of course, having access to 1Gbps Internet connectivity has been fantastic in many ways for residents and startups alike. Google Fiber continues to give local innovators, idealists, and entrepreneurs the opportunity to dream, invent and create next generation applications and services.
What are the most unique features of your startup community?
Collaboration trumps competition in Kansas City. Not to say that healthy competition doesn't exist here, but organizations and individuals tend to work together for the greater good rather than stifle one another for individual gains. Also, the cost of living and access to resources are both benefits of living and working in KC.
Are there specific public policies that have enabled innovation or startup growth in Kansas City (or Kansas, more broadly)?
There have been a few. One government provision by the state of Kansas which has seen tremendous success is the $6 million Kansas Angel Tax Credits program. It's been a big draw for startups to base themselves on the Kansas side of Kansas City. Participating in this program provides angel investors with a 50 percent income tax credit when they invest up to $50,000 in KS-based startups. Since its inception, the program has helped 343 companies to raise $369.7 million in capital and create 1,427 jobs.
Have you had interactions with local or national policymakers?
To a small degree. Thankfully, there are other startup ecosystem builders in Kansas City who continuously have their finger on the policy pulse and engage with lawmakers. People like Melissa Roberts with ECJC, Ryan Weber with KC Tech Council, Adam Arredondo of CEED, Maria Meyers of KCSourceLink, and Sherry Turner of OneKC for Women are consistently engaging with policymakers.
What is your goal for the next year? The next 5 years?
Over five years ago, the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce created the Big 5 Initiatives, one of which was to make Kansas City "America's most entrepreneurial city." It is certainly a lofty goal, but over time the goal has morphed into a kind of North Star for Kansas City's startup ecosystem. What can and should we be doing to ensure Kansas City remains one of America's premier startup cities? Our mission this year and in the years to come is to keep learning, keep experimenting, and keep delivering value to ecosystem participants, especially the entrepreneurs so they continue to build successful ventures.
What are some of the startups to watch coming out of Kansas City?
Definitely keep your eye on these startups in 2017 and beyond: EyeVerify, C2FO, Blooom, ShotTracker, Athlete Network, SpiderOak, DivvyHQ, IdleSmart. Also, a few newbies and hidden gems include Bungii, CaddyX, MyCroft, SquareOffs, and Stackify.