One of Kansas City’s newest venture funds is making good on its promise to immerse itself in the world of startups.
Only a few weeks after its debut, Kansas City-based Firebrand Ventures announced on Thursday that it has partnered with Plexpod to work directly alongside its entrepreneurs at what will be the world’s largest coworking campus. Led by former Techstars managing director John Fein, the $7 million fund’s move into Plexpod Westport Commons exhibits its mission to build relationships with Midwest startups by frequently interacting with them.
Fein, who served as the managing director at the Techstars-led Sprint Mobile Accelerator from 2014 to 2016, said that an early-stage investment fund officing in a coworking studio is relatively rare in the Midwest.
“This is something you don’t always see in coworking studios,” he said. “It’s great for startups to have that access, and knowing that there’s a fund in-house adds another layer of excitement and a resource.”
Working alongside entrepreneurs will offer Fein “organic” interactions with entrepreneurs that could prove to be valuable for both parties, he said. Further, it will enable Fein to more easily evaluate startups at Plexpod Westport Commons for potential investment.
After recognizing startups’ challenges with raising funds in the Midwest, Fein kickstarted Firebrand Ventures in June. Firebrand’s first fund will invest $7 million in about 30 Midwest startups over the next three years. It will target lean, “capital-efficient” software startups in the greater Midwest, which Fein defined as an area between San Antonio to Minneapolis and Boulder to Columbus, Ohio. Fein said that the fund will lead and co-invest in deals with an average check size of about $150,000.
In addition to close daily proximity with an investor, Plexpod entrepreneurs will benefit from programming that Fein will personally curate, he said. One course Fein plans to offer entrepreneurs will be similar to a Techstars program he offered called “Investor 101,” which will detail a founder’s journey from recognizing the need for capital to evaluating a term sheet. In addition to education programming, Fein said that he’d tap into the network he cultivated with Techstars — a global accelerator program — to bring in outside speakers to share their expertise with entrepreneurs.
Fein said that as Plexpod expands, he plans to offer programming at the firm’s other facilities, including its first location in Lenexa.
These opportunities should offer tenants significant value, Plexpod CEO Gerald Smith said.
“An essential component of the Plexpod entrepreneurial ecosystem is providing access to resources and expertise,” Smith said. “Having Firebrand present at Plexpod will not only be convenient to the member companies growing there, but also provide ongoing access to experts like John Fein and others who consult and assist entrepreneurs as they explore growth opportunities.”
Smith and the Sustainable Development Partners of Kansas City are now revamping the historic, 160,000 square-foot Westport Middle School to become the largest coworking facility in the world. It will feature more than 50 open “team spaces,” 40 offices and 200 flexible desks for rent. The gigantic project also will boast a business incubator, an event space, a maker’s studio, coffee shop and several meeting spaces.
Plexpod Westport Commons’ second phase will restore the vacant Westport High School, which would add an additional 200,000 square feet of space on the 12-acre campus. Smith plans to open the facility in January.