Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Check out our features on innovation coach Diana Kander, Victor & Penny’s Erin McGrane, SEED Law’s Adrienne Haynes, Code Koalas’ Robert Manigold, Prep-KC CEO Susan Wally and community builder Donald Carter.
Plexpod is more than a shared workspace — it’s a resource for entrepreneurs to boost their livelihoods, Gerald Smith said.
“Creating successes is about more than just saying, ‘Here’s your desk and here’s your chair,’” said Smith, founder of Plexpod.
With locations in Lenexa, Kansas, Westport and soon-to-be downtown Kansas City, Plexpod is a network of coworking studios offering workspace, community and resources. The Plexpod Westport Commons location — at 300 E 39th St — is one of the largest coworking spaces in the world at 160,000 square feet.
In addition to workspace, Plexpod offers such amenities as fitness rooms, dance studios, a photography studio, sport courts, historic event space and gaming rooms.
Earlier this month, Plexpod announced another development to feed entrepreneurs: a new partnership with the Sundry. The sustainable food joint is expected move to Plexpod Westport Commons in late September, leaving its Crossroads Arts District location. In the coming year, the Sundry will expand into all other Plexpod locations, Smith said.
The partnership aims to bring a “community feel” to the space, Smith said. While Plexpod members will enjoy access to the Sundry as an on-site food provider, the restaurant remains open to the public.
“The Sundry partnership fits with what our model has always been about,” Smith said. “It will further our community impact.”
Startland sat down with Smith to learn more about what drives him to build community in Kansas City.
Twitter handle: @GeraldSmith
Hometown: Southern Louisiana out in the country, near Lafayette.
Favorite drink: A Malbec.
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: When I think about wearable technologies and Internet of Things, I think in terms of the ability to record and track and entire life. What if you could rewind anything, hear any conversation again, reference your surroundings? That technology is already there. Someone needs to create a technology that captures a life, which I think would be a very valuable tool.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Chet Atkins. (A guitar player and songwriter who created the country music style known as the Nashville sound).
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: I’ve been to 100 countries, so I’ve eaten a lot of weird stuff. When I went to Northern Thailand there is some kind of grub worm wrapped in banana leaves with rice and beans and stuff. That’s probably the strangest thing.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: What’s a wise animal? I grew up in the country, so owls bother me. … I guess giraffes. My daughter has always liked giraffes, so I’ve paid attention to them and they’re really intriguing.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: That’s a tough one, you’re talking to a musician here. It would be something by Boston, because it would have to be a power song. Our kids always rocked to Boston growing up, so that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: At a human level, it’s points of connection. People need to know people. What if wealth was measured in how many faces that you’ve seen and people you’ve talked to? Connections are important both for the underserved and the overserved, it’s the underprivileged and the too privileged. There’s a lot of balancing with that but a lot of that can be solved by personal interaction. But there is no perfect answer. … There are people in our community that are the poorest of the poor and we need to pay more attention to that, by doing tangible things to reach the underserved. We can’t just talk about it and we can’t just pray for them, we’ve got to do something. One thing I’ve had to do is admit my ignorance and reach out to people who were not like me who could better shape my thinking through human connection. Connecting people sets the stage for a much better conversation in society.
Favorite food joint in KC: Home-cooked cajun food by my wife.
An influential book in your life: There are so many books. Really into self-improvement and thought leadership, I can’t choose. I love and admire all the Seth Godin’s of the world, Malcolm Gladwell was also very influential. I love all of that stuff.
What keeps you in Kansas City: I go all around the world and tell people that Kansas City is the best city in the United States because you can get to every place from here. We really are the center of the universe and our access globally is equal. We can go to Tokyo about as easily as we could go to London. To me, Kansas City is this well-kept secret. If I could change anything about this place I would add an ocean. Everything else about it is perfection.
New technology that you’re most excited about: I’ve always wished anti-gravity technology would come to pass in my lifetime. I’ve always lived by the idea that if you could imagine it then it’s possible so there are some big things that I imagine. I think some of the technologies that bring together the digital and the organic and things like that are really exciting so we can move away from archaic medicine and move into preventative things, for example.
What pisses you off: For lack of a better word, Internet trolls. I’ve been beaten up by strangers in my life and I think if anything pisses me off it’s a faceless voice.
Favorite KC organization or brand: The people who are setting an example globally for Kansas City entrepreneurship. The organizations that are figuring out that the days of siloing are over, like the Kansas City Startup Foundation.
What you hope you’re remembered for: That answer has changed two or three times in my life but for now, number one is I would like for people to talk about my family. Family is the most important business we have. If there’s only one conversation to be had, I’d like to be thought about as a father and a husband. Number two would be traits hopefully people have seen as me like compassionate. There are certain things in life that grow through the years that become more significant to you, being caring and compassionate are some of those things. In my 20s I was so egotistical and success focused but today that’s different.
Biggest failure: My biggest failure was in business and it was not recognizing early on the power of connections and relationships. I was so focused on building something myself. But today everything that I build has multiple people at the table, I’m not alone in this. The biggest mistake I’ve made was not realizing that sooner — the power of community.
You can’t invest or save it — how would you spend $1 million: Charity. I’m at the stage of life where I don’t need another adventure, I’ve had more than most. I’d like to identify and get behind somebody else who’s doing something well. I would identify what I am passionate about and go to those who are doing that well and use that million dollars to support them and I would spread the love.
Man crush: I’ve had a lot of man crushes, it always changes, but right now it’s Bob Berkebile. He’s the oldest millennial I’ve ever met. He’s probably the most forward-thinking person but yet has had such a fulfilling career and life. His accomplishments, impact … he is somebody that I so admire and everytime I see him he lifts my spirits. I want to be that kind of person, too.
Woman crush: My partner Dianna. She is an extraordinary person and I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a great life partner.
Your mantra or motto: What’s the distance between my present state and change? I don’t know if that’s a motto but it’s a life statement that keeps me focused on change.
Hidden talent or ability: Playing guitar.