Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
Nearly every day I open my email to see a report telling me that Kansas City is on its way to reaching its goal of becoming the most entrepreneurial city in America.
The “City of Royals” has been crowned everything from a top city for innovation to the best city in which to live. Why am I hearing more about Kansas City’s burgeoning tech and entrepreneurial community? Is it showing signs of Silicon Valley’s initial growth? Is that even possible? The short answer is “yes.” But as for why, here’s my best answer:
Silicon Valley and Kansas City have similar roots.
Santa Clara Valley was Silicon Valley’s “real” name before venture capitalists and tech companies cultivated their mythos. Before donning the Silicon Valley moniker, it was nicknamed the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” and was one of the nation’s top agricultural hubs. It was known throughout the west for its plentiful orchards, providing fruits and vegetables for much of the U.S.
While an agrarian community for decades, Santa Clara quickly began to change in the 1960s. The Valley of Heart’s Delight found itself at the crux of three crucial resources: government and venture capital funding, talented graduates from nearby universities and a local spirit that empowered progress.
Santa Clara was a favorite place for government research, with early radio, airship, computer and semiconductor projects. Tech began replacing apples and oranges as the area’s main export.
Local universities — most notably Stanford and Caltech — became famous for research while alumni began launching businesses that that would grow into the titans of tech. And as companies like Apple, Intel and others found success, they attracted further attention, talent and billions of dollars in investment capital.
In 1971, the Electronic News published a series of articles titled “Silicon Valley USA,” which is thought to be the first time the term is used in print. Ever since, both human and financial capital has continued to pour into Silicon Valley. Now few people even know its real name.
Kansas City is showing comparable signs of progress.
Kansas City has more in common with Silicon Valley’s evolution than just humble beginnings as an ag town. Early Silicon Valley and today’s Kansas City share a crux of resources that could enable a transformation.
Venture capital and entrepreneurial resources: check. While it still has room for improvement, Kansas City’s had a steady growth of venture and angel capital organizations. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation — with its $2.14 billion in assets — is the largest foundation for entrepreneurship in the world. And the Kauffman Foundation is just the jewel in a crown that boasts many non-profits, accelerators and competitions to keep our talent flush. There’s the Regnier Institute, HEMP, LaunchKC, KCSourceLink, Think Big Partners and so many more.
A steady supply of capable, entrepreneurial-minded graduates: check. In addition to my alma mater, the University of Kansas City-Missouri, most area universities have entrepreneurship majors. Rockhurst, Johnson County Community College, the University of Kansas and William Jewell supply our city and region with innovative, skilled entrepreneurs.
Government research: check. From a federal treasury and mint to the energy-focused Bannister federal complex. In 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City began significantly boosting its tech presence by hiring 200 IT professionals.
Local spirit: check. There are an overwhelming number of ways and reasons this town supports its own. While I don’t want this to come off as just a love letter — although it’s hard for me to talk about our town without obvious adoration — there are real, valid reasons Kansas City is so awesome. We have a low cost of living; a growing downtown; a vibrant arts and music community; talented sports teams; and a fierce community spirit for all things Kansas City. We’re a city of haves and “why nots,” able and willing to support our own.
Kansas City being on the cusp of something big.
We’re at the tipping point to transcend Cow Town and Paris of the Plains to whatever comes next. How do we push ourselves over? By refusing to slow down.
We’ve got the ag town roots. We have the resources to grow. What we now must do is not quit and to keep building what we’ve already started. Now more than ever, we must shout the story of Kansas City, so the rest of the nation — and the world — sits up and takes notice.
Hang on Kansas City, we’re passing the tipping point — the ride’s about to get interesting.
Ben Gruber is the relationship manager The Regnier Institute at the Bloch School of Management. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.