As Global Entrepreneurship Week wrapped up, Startland News marked the celebration Thursday with its second Innovation Exchange event.
In partnership with Think Big Partners, the Innovation Exchange offers news junkies context and behind the-scenes details to stories they read in Startland. The conversation covered what innovators, corporations and investors can do to make Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem more connected.
Following the close of a $335,000 seed round and LaunchKC grant win, Lawrence-based Mycroft AI recently announced it would move its headquarters to Kansas City and open an office in Pacifica, Calif. Mycroft AI is an open source, voice recognition, artificial intelligence device similar to Amazon Echo.
Living in Lawrence, Kan. most of his life, Montgomery said that it was difficult to grow his company without the stable support of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“I really wanted to start a business in Lawrence just to demonstrate that it could be done,” Montgomery said. “And, I did. But entrepreneurship is not something that exists in a vacuum.”
Montgomery added that, when Techstars reached out to Mycroft AI to join its Kansas City accelerator program, he was “woken up” to the idea that an ecosystem can affect a startup’s potential for success.
Montgomery said the move to Silicon Valley is part of Mycroft AI’s efforts to tap a strong investment market while also bringing some capital back to the Kansas City area. The reason Silicon Valley investors tend to neglect the Midwest is because smart investors know to invest locally, Montgomery said.
“What I’d like to see going forward is for people in the local community to each start taking some small percentage and then reinvest in the local community,” Montgomery said. “We need to start doing that, or else we’ll always be on our hands and knees to the Silicon Valley venture community begging for their crumbs — when in fact, we’ve already got great entrepreneurs here.”
In conjunction with the regional economic development initiative, KC Rising, Howe launched the KC Rise fund to solve just that problem. She believes there needs to be more local venture capital investments in Kansas City.
To do that, Howe is connecting wealthy Kansas Citians with the startup community. Citing the more than $100 million exit by biometric security startup EyeVerify in September, Howe made the case that you can get large a return on investment in Kansas City.
Both Howe and Murphy agreed that there is a disconnect in the ecosystem — specifically that many prospective investors don’t know the area’s high-achieving entrepreneurs. While entrepreneurs are busy saying there is not enough capital in the metro, investors contend that Kansas City’s ideas just aren’t globally competitive enough, Murphy said.
Howe said that she feels a deep responsibility for KC Rise Fund to make its portfolio as high a quality as possible. If investors don’t earn enough return on their investments, it could inadvertently hurt startups, she said.
“My kids didn’t come back to Kansas City after college,” Howe said. “I don’t want young people who are achievers to feel that they cannot have killer jobs, careers, make money and do well in a place like Kansas City and feel they have to go to New York or wherever. I want to make this a place where you leave the woodpile higher than you found it, a place that’s cool to come home to.”
What Kansas City lacks in sex appeal it makes up for in community. Murphy said we need to be careful we don’t take that too far. Being “nice” should not inhibit Kansas Citians from growth, he said.
“We need to get over our ‘aw shucks’ mentality and learn to brag about ourselves,” Murphy said. “We also can’t create a strategic plan, put it on a shelf and just forget about it. The key to doing something – is to do something!”
The next Innovation Exchange is set for 4:30 p.m., Dec. 14 at Think Big and will feature Victor Hwang, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.