Editor’s note: This article is sponsored by LaunchKC but was independently produced by Startland News.
After dishing out $1.5 million to 29 startups over the last three years, LaunchKC returns in 2018 with more experience and an enduring determination to drive entrepreneurial impact in Kansas City.
The area’s most-popular grants contest already has garnered hundreds of applicants vying for eight awards of $50,000 and one $100,000 grand prize that will be doled out after a live pitch competition Oct. 12 at Techweek Kansas City.
LaunchKC grew out of a shared recognition to support entrepreneurs, said Drew Solomon, senior vice president of business development at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City. The City of Kansas City, Missouri, the area corporate community and the Missouri Technology Corporation all worked together to launch the initiative — not only to give startups a boost but also to flex Kansas City’s growing reputation as an innovative community.
In addition to to the funding and exposure, the LaunchKC team has seen the competition’s power to legitimize startups’ missions, Solomon said.
“The level of screening that goes into the back end of selecting these folks is rigorous,” he said. “What we’ve realized is how validating it is for the community to see these companies come out as ultimate winners and for the companies who apply to have their models tested and ultimately compete and be selected.”
It’s remarkable how well-led teams can stretch the impact of LaunchKC grants, Solomon added. As a result, the firms are making a positive economic impact on the area, he added.
“You can see how successful some of these companies have been with just a little bit of support and a little bit of help,” Solomons said. “I think it shows how much opportunity there is not only in Kansas City but all across the country with regard to new business activity in the technology space.”
The LaunchKC cohorts from 2015 and 2016 have made a substantial economic impact on Kansas City, according to the most recent data available from the organization. The 20 startups from those years have combined to employ 92 people with an average salary of $77,387 per year, LaunchKC reported. Startups also have gone on to raise $19.2 million in follow-on funding, according to the data.
The grant funding has been transformative for several of the 29 winners throughout the years, including H3 Enterprises, also known as Healthy Hip Hop, said founder Roy Scott. In addition to validation and recognition, the LaunchKC grant allows his education startup to meaningfully enter the tech sector.
“The funding came at a critical time for our organization,” Scott said. “It allowed us to develop our technology and get our product in the marketplace. These types of resources are imperative to companies in the seed stage. LaunchKC literally allowed us to launch our tech company.”
The grant funding also served as an important bridge for H3 Enterprises to grow its revenue, opening it up to increased investment opportunities, Scott said.
“Typically for raising investment in Kansas City and the Midwest, you need to be generating $500,000 in annual revenue,” he said. “LaunchKC is giving opportunities to companies who are truly seed stage that otherwise may get overlooked. The innovation and progressive thinking of this program is bringing a new wave energy and excitement that is comparable to the coasts.”
PlanIT Impact also used the LaunchKC grant as a springboard to success, said founder and CEO Dominique Davison. PlanIT Impact created a software-as-a-service platform that allows engineers and architects to visualize projects with data so they can then measure environmental and financial impact.
Thanks in part to a grant from the 2017 competition, PlanIT Impact has nabbed an investment round and grown its team, Davison said.
“This funding came at just the right time for us and was a huge shot in the arm that allowed us to take PlanIT Impact to the next step,” she said. “We have now leveraged the momentum we received into another round of funding with industry leaders and further mentorship to help us increase our organizational capacity.”
The competition sends a message to other communities that Kansas City’s civic and corporate community are willing to support and engage with early-stage firms, Davison added.
“LaunchKC seems to have galvanized the community here in Kansas City around entrepreneurship and leadership in the tech startup world,” Davison said. “It means that if you are someone with a big idea, you are welcome to explore it here, and that’s backed up with resources to actualize.”
For iShare Medical, the LaunchKC grant it with the necessary capital to accelerate product development and increase sales of it products to help patients securely maintain medical records for providers, said founder Linda Van Horn.
Beyond the funding, Van Horn said the LaunchKC community and its supplemental offerings of office space has served as an important conduit to opportunities, she added.
“iShare Medical has participated in many networking and educational events that have helped us to obtain insights from other entrepreneurs and business professionals,” she said. “We were also provided with beautiful space at WeWork. The WeWork environment has a great vibe and startup energy. … LaunchKC provides a platform for startups in the Kansas City area to get exposure to investors, businesses leaders and individuals in the to the startup entrepreneurial ecosystem. There are so many resources available to startups in Kansas City and so many people who are willing to help if you just know where to find them. LaunchKC helps to open the doors to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
LaunchKC is supported by a host of organizations, including the Missouri Technology Corporation, the City of Kansas City, Mo., The Cordish Companies, J.E. Dunn Construction, Husch Blackwell, Kansas City Power & Light, the William T. Kemper Foundation, Lathrop Gage, Lead Bank, the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Polsinelli, Techweek and UMB Bank, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center, the Regnier Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the UMKC Bloch School of Management.