Editor’s note: Zach Pettet is the managing director of Fountain City Fintech and a fintech strategist at nbkc bank, with which Startland News has partnered on a Dec. 6 Innovation Exchange event. Opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
Quiet wealth in Kansas City is a double-edged sword.
The upside? You have to love the humble nature of our city. Humble wealth is a rare thing in this world and Kansas City has it in spades.
The downside? Quiet wealth doesn’t build momentum in a startup ecosystem.
To be clear, we aren’t talking about a lack of investments — deals in KC that should be funded are getting funded. It’s a matter of how we discuss those investments and how publicly we celebrate the “badassery” happening right here in KC.
A good example of humble, quiet wealth making a sizeable impact in KC: Paul DeBruce.
DeBruce was awarded the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship earlier this month at the UMKC Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. While the DeBruce Foundation is focused on philanthropic endeavors, the CEO and chairman has quietly made for-profit investments across Kansas City’s technology space.
Watching the award presentation, I wasn’t the only one taking note of the under-the-radar nature of DeBruce’s widespread contributions.
“Who is this and how have I never heard of them?” Eric Jorgenson, director of growth at Zaarly and a somewhat recent transplant to Kansas City from San Francisco, asked me. “There are too many secret bad asses in this city.”
It’s an amazing story and it’s a damn shame that the city doesn’t know the whole story. I’d be shocked if 50 percent of the folks reading this have heard of the DeBruce family or the work they’ve done in KC. I’d be even more shocked if more than 5 percent of the readership could name a single investment that they’ve made.
Now, let’s be clear, quiet investment is better than no investment. Again, this is not kvetching about investors sitting on the sidelines. It’s concern about a lack of noise around those success stories of those getting into the game.
We will never come close to becoming the “Most Entrepreneurial City in America” — an initiative launched by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce — if we don’t step up and MAKE SOME NOISE.
I’ll never forget when Digital Sandbox’s Jeff Shackelford stood up at 1 Million Cups Kansas City after the EyeVerify exit and proclaimed that we need to be loud and overt about the amazing stories transpiring in our own backyard.
He’s right too. And we’ve done a better job since the EyeVerify sale to Alibaba, but there’s more work to be done.
If we truly want a robust ecosystem as a city, it’s important that we do away with a bit of our humility. We must step up to the plate and tell the stories about the successes that are happening under the radar.
If you’d like to chat, ask or argue about any of this, register here for the coming Innovation Exchange at nbkc bank. We’ll be opening the bag on Kansas City investment secrets, as well as introducing a couple founders from our first Fountain City Fintech class.