Editor’s note: Startup Crawl and Startland News are both programs of the Kansas City Startup Foundation, though the content below was produced independently by Startland. For more information on the relationship, click here.
First Friday revelers and curious minds alike were treated to a five-stop Startup Crawl tour of Kansas City’s entrepreneur community — from biomedical scanning at Zoloz and virtual reality experiences to one-on-one conversations with founders and rooftop performances by homegrown artists.
“Startup founders and entrepreneurs are busy building their businesses and looking toward the future,” said Lauren Conaway, lead organizer for the event, which was sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “Startup Crawl KC is one of the few nights a year we can all come together in one place and time to celebrate what’s happening right now. It’s come to be a really unifying event in the startup community.”
Friday’s crawl featured 50 startups across a handful Crossroads sites — Plexpod Crossroads, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, LeadBank, Zoloz and WeWork — along with custom cocktails, flavorful bites and live music, said Conaway, who also serves as director of operations for the Kansas City Startup Foundation, which coordinated the event.
More than 600 crawlers helped Startup Crawl momentarily takeover the Crossroads’ First Friday evening, she added.
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“We saw people out on the street waving each other down to catch up. Hugging. Laughing,” Conaway said. “We saw First Friday attendees interacting with startups they hadn’t heard of, creative cocktails they hadn’t tasted, musicians they hadn’t listened to and experiences they hadn’t tried.”
“The energy was electric and we can’t wait to do it again next year,” she added, noting the evening wouldn’t have been successful without volunteers and partners at each of the crawl stops.
At an unofficial launch event for the crawl atop WeWork, Toby Rush addressed a group of Kansas City expatriates gathered by Back2KC as part of effort to attract top talent back to the City of Fountains. With the Crossroads Arts District and the city skyline flanking him, the founder of arguably one of Kansas City’s biggest startup success stories, EyeVerify — which became Zoloz after being purchased by Chinese conglomerate Alibaba for more than $100 million in 2016 — lauded the collaborative entrepreneurial atmosphere that helped make his company’s exit possible.
“At the end of my life, if someone asks me about my biggest accomplishments, I’m not going to say EyeVerify,” Rush said. “I’m going to say relationships.”
The founder echoed sentiments that technology makes it possible for startups like those featured on the crawl to begin, scale and exit from Kansas City.
“It’s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for a farm boy from Kansas to sell to a company like Alibaba in China,” Rush said. “They really didn’t care whether I lived in San Francisco or Kansas City or New York or Austin. To them, I’m a 12-hour flight away no matter what.”