#StartupsEverywhere: Wichita, KS

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Jacob Wayman, Startup Grind, Director

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.

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Shifting Perspectives on Wichita

Wichita is touted as the “Air Capital of the World”, but Jacob Wayman hopes to make the city more than just that. Jacob hopes to build a stronger ecosystem in Wichita to make it an innovation capital of the world. Leaning on peer cities, Jacob and his colleagues recently held the SHIFT ICT conference and hosted leaders from cities like Kansas City and Des Moines. SHIFT’s attendees were empowered to do more, collaborate more and engage more. Starting with local elected officials, Jacob hopes that lawmakers will do more to incentivize entrepreneurship.

Tell me about you.

I am Midwest born and raised to a small business family. I learned quickly I didn’t want to be stuck between four walls. As a result, I launched e2e Accelerator to revitalize the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Wichita. The e2e Accelerator program was designed to bring together the knowledge, resources and mentorship designed to accelerate the business growth of post-revenue companies in Wichita.  

In addition, I partnered with Wichita State University to develop and design LaunchPrep, a program that provides early-stage companies access to a select group of Wichita's most successful entrepreneurs through one-on-one mentorship that enables the entrepreneur to get their venture off the ground.

What’s your personal role in the Wichita’s startup ecosystem?

I am a community builder who gets things started. From One Million Cups Wichita to Startup Grind Wichita, I have started to begin support systems for entrepreneurs. My role is bring people together and bring tools to the table.

How do the programs in Wichita work together?

One Million Cups was first movement of entrepreneurs. I view it as part of an unveiling a startup community. Wichita was home to Fortune 500 companies and many of those companies left, sold, exited, etc. As a result, we lost that entrepreneurial spirit and One Million Cups helped to bring it back. Startup Grind helps to share the story of successful stories of entrepreneurs. We bring folks together to authentically tell the tales of grind and success.  

We created Disrupt ICT, now known as SHIFT ICT. The goal is to pull together people to talk about emerging technologies. We want to challenge people to relook at Wichita. This a result of a study we had done in Wichita. A data scientist was hired to look at Wichita’s economy.  We found that Wichita was stagnant. SHIFT ICT aims to shift the mindset and bring light to what other communities are doing. When you look at our peer cities like Kansas City, Omaha and Des Moines, they outpacing us. In fact, some cities are outpacing us up to 20 percent over the last 10 years.

It reminds us that it’s much bigger than just your own ecosystem; if Omaha does well, we all do well. Rising tide lifts all boats.

Tell me about the SHIFT ICT Conference. How did it go?

Shift ICT was an amazing experience! We had the opportunity to host 12 speakers from 10 Midwest cities all focused on moving the the region forward! When we launched the idea back in June 2018, we had no idea that nearly 230 people would be in attendance. The conference has begun to generate a positive buzz that we haven’t seen in Wichita in recent past. Shift ICT was launched to shift the mindset of the Midwest and it is doing just that.

You spend a lot of time with startups. What do they need? Are there trends?

We need capital in Wichita to get startups off the ground. There is a disconnect between big corporations and startups in our community. In addition, there’s a void of true mentorship here. A lot of startups are doing well without capital. But, our startups are being told to move outside of the Wichita area. We want to figure out how to keep our startups in Wichita.

What’s the most exciting or important development that has happened to the Wichita ecosystem in the last year?

There is not really one big thing; it is small incremental wins. These small wins push to one big development. Our companies are starting to get notoriety outside of our communities, but we need to do a better job. There are too many unspoken success stories.

What makes your ecosystem unique?

Our work ethic is what makes our ecosystem unique.  We do a lot with a little and our people work really, really hard. People have started to expect it. Wichita has a small town feel; everyone knows everyone. This is a good thing — you can get a meeting with anyone.  At the same time, it can be a bad thing — you know everyone.

From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for your startup ecosystem?

Like everyone else, I would love more funding for startup companies and policies to help with that. I would like legislators to create policies around better tax credits, especially for angel investors.

The Kansas Department of Commerce has a program called JumpStart Kansas Entrepreneurs. The goal of JumpStart Kansas Entrepreneur is to incentivize and encourage “new businesses” while developing the entrepreneurial spirit in the state by partnering with our university structure and Network Kansas. JumpStart Kansas Entrepreneur is early-stage capital, given as grants, but it’s not a big number. Other states are giving more grants for startups — we need more of that.

What is your goal for the next year? The next five years?

I want to get more of our corporations involved. We need bigger fish involved at the table. Over the next five years, I want Wichita to be known for something. Wichita used to be Aviation Capital of World. I hope when we are “X” Capital of the World that is within technology. I want people to look at Wichita because there’s so much opportunity

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email jen@engine.is. Give us your feedback here.