To nudge more Kansas Citians off of the sidelines and into its budding entrepreneurial ecosystem, former AOL founder Steve Case spoke Friday to a group of local investors at a luncheon.
KCRise Fund managing director Darcy Howe hosted a fireside chat with Case for a crowd of investors, potential investors and entrepreneurs. Case told the group of more than 100 people at Plexpod Westport Commons that the game of entrepreneurship is changing and if Kansas City founders can follow them, the metro very well may become the next Silicon Valley.
But, it’s up to the community to make that happen, he said.
“If you’re not creating jobs, your community is gonna fall,” Case said. “And if you’re not focusing on the jobs of the future, your community will fall. This is not something that’s out of your control. If you care about education, the arts or whatever you need to make sure that you’re building a rising community that’s attractive to people so they want to stay here, invest here and create companies here.”
Howe said that it was exciting and humbling to interview Case, adding that the event fit nicely with his “Rise of the Rest” initiative, which launched in 2014. The initiative is a nationwide effort to work closely with entrepreneurs in emerging startup ecosystems to cultivate their communities.
“Steve’s mantra is, ‘start up to speed up,’” said Howe, who attended and presented at the national Rise of the Rest Summit in Washington D.C. in April. “Kansas City is going to continue to fall behind if our growth trajectory doesn’t accelerate. Early Stage companies can do that for our economy. … It brought credibility that Steve Case says that what we are doing here in Kansas City is important — in fact, imperative — if we want to move the economic needle and keep up with other regions.”
Case is no stranger to Kansas City. In 2014, he visited the City of Fountains during his nationwide “Rise of the Rest” tour, in which he hosted a $100,000 pitch competition and stopped at the Kansas City Startup Village. He visited Kansas City again in October as a guest speaker at Kauffman Fellows summit.
Now the CEO of Revolution, Case argued that investors, entrepreneurs and policymakers will have to forge better partnerships as well as community relationships or risk losing out on the economic paradigm shift he’s dubbed “the third wave.”
He said that micro-venture capital funds, such as KCRise Fund, will lead communities to rise.
“Generally there is a lot of money in a lot of communities that is sitting on the sidelines partially because they don’t know what’s happening from local startups,” Case said. “Partially because they don’t really believe in disruption and partially because they are afraid of looking stupid. There are a lot of benefits to the KCRise Fund approach. It allows people to invest one thing and have a diversified portfolio. It allows the community to be exposed to more entrepreneurs and more ideas.”
Although Case said that Kansas City seems to be well positioned, he said the “third wave” is anybody’s game. In his book, Case defines the third wave as entrepreneurs’ ability to leverage the Internet to transform the largest sectors of our economy. He said that will not only prompt new technologies to connect with broader industrial systems but also entail more cooperative partnerships among businesses big and small.
The winners of tomorrow will have a higher sense of connectivity and community and nobody should be sitting on the sidelines, he said.
“I think now is the moment, and I encourage Kansas City to see that,” Case said. “My mission is to level the playing field. I want more capital to go to more entrepreneurs in more places. I frankly don’t really know or care which cities will rise. I don’t have that much of a fixation on one city. But if you are here right now and you care, I’m telling you that the game is changing. … If you want to win, you can’t sit back and watch it happen.”
Howe added that before the luncheon, six of the 10 KCRise Fund portfolio companies delivered a 60-second pitch to Case, garnering his feedback.
“Talk about having to be on your game,” Howe said. “The six portfolio companies who pitched made me super proud. Their traction, confidence and knowledge of their competition as well as their ability to be succinct in explaining their pain points in the marketplace. It was an incredible experience for everyone.”
KCRise Fund recently added five companies to its portfolio. To read more about the companies, click here.