Kansas City made a splash at the SXSW Conference thanks to a concerted effort to engage thousands mingling in downtown Austin.
Led by the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, LaunchKC, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Husch Blackwell, the KC Outpost welcomed hundreds of people curious to learn more about the area.
Featuring speakers, local brands and a late night pitch competition, the goal was to establish an identity for Kansas City as a tech hub and as well as attract potential applicants to the LaunchKC grant competition. Set on Austin’s popular Sixth Street, the outpost garnered around 1,300 attendees throughout the day.
Drew Solomon, the EDCKC’s senior vice president of business development, said that with these goals in mind, the KC Outpost offered tremendous bang for its buck.
“I think that the ability to have a presence at a conference of this size and to promote the LaunchKC grant competition to a national and global audience helped show that Kansas City is not just resting, waiting around for whatever comes our way,” Solomon said. “We’re actively going out and trying to create new relationships and pursue opportunities.”
The day kicked off with Kauffman Foundation researcher Arnobio Morelix addressing a crowd of about 50 on the national state of entrepreneurship, sharing some of the foundation’s research. Throughout the afternoon, Solomon said the KC Outpost served as a home base for the KC contingent to network and engage with people, sharing what Kansas City is all about.
“I was happy to see people use it as a gathering place,” Solomon said. “I was happy to watch how people from Kansas City were utilizing the space to bring outsiders in and have real conversations about their business and our startup community.”
In the evening, LaunchKC sponsored a pitch competition via a partnership with the media company Tech Co., offering a prize of $1,000. Solomon said that he was impressed by the event’s turnout and impact, as he believes engaging in partnerships and hosting events gives Kansas City credibility.
“Kansas City has worked hard to try and establish an identity as a major city for entrepreneurship, technology and innovation,” Solomon said. “As SXSW Interactive is one of the largest gatherings of folks in those industries, representing our city gives us an opportunity for outsiders to see our brand — we show that Kansas city is aggressive, up and coming and competitive.”
Husch Blackwell partner Nathan Oleen said it was exciting to see Kansas City represented at the conference. The firm — which has assisted Kansas City startups since its inception — hopes to catalyze more corporate engagement in the Kansas City startup community.
“I think we’re seeing a shift right now in the corporate engagement in the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Oleen said. “I think that we are reaching a tipping point and we’re going to see more corporations get involved in the entrepreneurial scene here.”
Although it may not be the easiest thing to measure, Oleen believes Husch Blackwell’s decision to sponsor this event will see tremendous return on investment. He added that many corporations are hesitant to throw money at events and organizations that won’t result in immediate numerical change, despite the dynamic engagement it brings.
“For corporations who are wanting to engage more with startups, it’s not something you’re going to see an immediate impact for your business or in your bottom line,” Oleen said. “It’s a long play. You must be willing to be patient and take a risk.”
Oleen suggested that corporations diversify their risk among groups and industries, as the you won’t see the value of startup ecosystem engagement overnight.
“You can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Oleen said. “Corporations should think about engaging startups the same way that venture capitalists think about investing in startups — you need to diversify your risk and have a long term approach.”
LaunchKC ventured to SXSW last year to garner more startup applicants for its grant competition, which snagged it more than 400 interested early-stage firms. In 2017, its pitch to startups may be more enticing as the grants contest will be offering a $100,000 grand prize. LaunchKC applications opened on March 1.