More than 20 Kansas City founders are hoping to boost their businesses with a mentor program tapping a wealth of corporate experience.
Now in its fourth year, the Sprint Mentor Network kicked off its program in July to support and accelerate startups by building relationships with corporate executives. The program is hosted at the Sprint Accelerator in the Crossroads Arts District.
Ari Kern, Sprint Accelerator community and programs manager, said that area founders will tap executives’ experiences, resources and networks.
“We aim to create a cultural exchange between startups and corporations,” Kern said. “Through this network and the relationships that are built and nurtured, we will break down barriers between startups and corporations. … Startups need corporations and corporations need startups. This is yet another very important piece of the Kansas City startup ecosystem. The mentor network is one of many of our programs, which aims to narrow that gap in Kansas City.”
The six-month program has grown considerably in the last year, Kern said. Ten startups and 10 mentors from seven area corporations participated in 2015. Each of those metrics have more than doubled in 2016, with 22 startups, 38 mentors and 19 corporations on board for the program.
“We’re gaining the coveted traction and it’s thrilling,” she said. “Last year, we found a version [of the program] we wanted to scale and this year we’ve expanded and executed upon that vision — nearly tripling the number of corporations involved and more than doubling the number of startups selected to participate.”
To enter the program, Kern said that founders must be pursuing their startup full-time or, at least, have a working prototype, product or service in the market. In about two years, the program has helped 28 area startups via more than 240 hours of mentoring.
Among the many corporations participating in the program are Sprint, Pinsight Media+, AMC Theatres, BATS Global, Black & Veatch, Burns & McDonnell, Cerner, DST, H&R Block and many more.
Kern said that the participating startups are diverse among industry, background and founders.
“We’re thrilled to have selected such high-quality teams,” she said. “It was a lofty goal to go after so many startups and to recruit the high number of mentor corporations. However, I was encouraged to see how willing — eager even — mentors were to jump in. This time around, many of them seemed to just get it and there wasn’t as much need to sell them on the concept and what can be gained from a mentor relationship with a startup founder. This to me shows progress.”
In addition to mentorship, Kern said the cohort of startups will participate in a group “unconference” with mentors and an end-of the-year celebration. The program also will host a variety of informal networking opportunities as well as a “Show Your Work” event to discuss founders’ specific challenges or projects within their businesses.
HipHire CEO Brian Kearns said that he decided to join the mentor program to gain critical feedback on the company’s platform, which helps Kansas City employers find part-time help.
“This give me the chance to think bigger,” Kearns said. “Participating in a program like the Sprint Mentor Network, you get access to some of Kansas City’s iconic companies and the talented people who are offering their time, input and connections to help you move the needle on your own business. … My initial plans are to learn more about each of the mentors, understand their expertise and successes, then figure out how can we channel this collaboration over the next six months into a successful mentorship.”
Here are the Sprint Mentor Network startups and their founders:
- 2020 Adventures, Spencer Carlson
- Azalea Sage, Nikki Hughey
- Clear Sky One, Cecilia Saffold
- DREAMS Catina Taylor
- HipHire, Brian Kearns
- Innovate Today , Clayton Kohler & Nathan Gregg
- Kids Zone, Samara Jones
- LG Consulting & Training, LaDonna Greiner
- Lume Lifestyle, Waira Mungai
- Meedu, Doug Tree
- Mesa, Samuel Mullen
- Nyoogo, Christopher Lee
- Pennez , Rebecca Dove
- Pet Perch, Sheri Gillett
- Popbookings, Erika Klotz and Scott Hanson
- Rack Performance , Matt Sellers
- RG Fiber, Mike Bosch
- Royal Loyal, Babir Sultan
- Start Talking, Mark Nolte, Jim Braun and Leon Probasco
- Stratex Solutions, Raina Knox
- Thou Mayest, Bo Nelson
- ZOHR Mobile Tire Service, Komal Choong & Anoop Choong