Although the government may be pegged as resistant to change, Kansas City Mayor Sly James wants to flip the script.
“On a city level, we aren’t having much help from the state and federal governments sometimes,” James said at the Innovation Partnership Program demo day on Monday at WeWork Corrigan Station. “But, we still have to deliver our services and work within our budgets, and we have to innovate in order to do that.”
Since 2015, the city of Kansas City, Missouri, has welcomed local startups and entrepreneurs to work with city departments to spur innovation at City Hall. This year, five startups were selected for the 12-week program based on their ability to support economic development and operations strategies.
“We are always willing to work with innovative and smart people,” James said. “It’s something the city should embrace, and does embrace — it makes Kansas City, Kansas City. We can never collaborate too much, and we have become a more entrepreneurial city as a direct result of this.”
Having learned a lot since the launch of the partnership program, Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer at the City of Kansas City, Missouri, said he continues to be impressed by local innovation.
“The last 12 weeks have been amazing — I’ve been completely blown away,” Bennett said. “I have the pleasure to introduce you to literally some of the five most awesome freaking companies in this town — companies that we have had the honor to have the possibility to work with over the past 12 weeks and look forward to continuing a relationship with.”
The five innovation partners pitched their company at the program’s second annual demo day, which was also listed as a Techweek KC event. Below is a photo gallery, as well as more information about the companies.
Company: KC Crew, founder Luke Wade
Partner city department: Parks and Recreation
KC Crew was developed to connect adults through sports and events. Its software tool, League Ally, was designed to automate sports leagues and connect individuals through sports. Since its launch in 2012, KC Crew has seen about 23,000 participants.
“Essentially, we were growing so fast and we were running out of a place to play,” Wade said. “We worked with them (the department of Parks and Recreation) to use some of the fields that have not been used in a long time for a percentage.”
The league will soon expand to Overland Park and Mission, Kansas. Wade said he expects to bring the platform to other cities outside of Missouri and Kansas within the next year.
Company: mySidewalk, CEO Stephen Hardy
Partner city department: Office of Performance Management
mySidewalk is a city intelligence tool that tracks, analyzes and communicates progress on department and city-wide goals.
“Our work with the city was to accomplish three things,” Hardy said. “To streamline the way the city receives its data and to transform and analyze it. Secondly, to allow more analysis. And lastly, connect outcomes and operations.”
The firm is also set to launch a public-facing “Kansas City Insights Platform,” which is a repository for the thousands of data sets that the city needs, Hardy said.
Company: 17°73° Innovation Co, founder Conner Hazelrigg
Partner city department: Office of the City Manager
17°73° Innovation Co developed the Sunshine Box, which is designed specifically to narrow the gap between “mobile-first” technology users and access to reliable electricity. The system allows a user to charge up to 10 devices, is portable and waterproof.
With hundreds of people living everyday without electricity, Hazelrigg worked with Rick Usher, assistant city manager for small business and entrepreneurship, to come up with the idea to deploy Sunshine Boxes in parks around Kansas City.
The first implementation will be in 2018 at Berkley Riverfront park during a sand volleyball tournament, she said.
“People will have the ability to charge their phones all night long while they’re there for sand volleyball,” Hazelrigg said. “This is just the first development in putting these in the parks and finding ways of digital inclusion for everyone around the Kansas City metro area.
Company: MPiR, CEO Scott Smith
Partner city department: Parks and Recreation, City Planning
MPiR is an urban farming business that provides fresh and organic produce to feed communities using repurposed shipping containers equipped with the latest technology.
“We’ll have to produce more food between now and 2050 than we had in the previous 10,000 years combined,” Smith said. “That’s a pretty staggering number.”
During the program, MPiR worked with the city to find technological solutions to decline of the traditional farm model.
Company: Onward Financial, co-founders Ben White and Ronnie Washington
Partner city department: Kansas City Credit Union
Onward Financial is a nonprofit financial wellness platform that helps working people build a financial safety net. As part of the IPP, Onward worked with Kansas City Credit Union to deliver innovative resources to help their members reach financial goals.
The San Francisco-based firm launched its services in Kansas City about six months ago, piloting with a small manufacturing company in Grandview. During the partnership with the Kansas CIty Credit Union, Onward Financial launched a new loan service for its customers.