Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Founders should rally around Kansas City’s startup ecosystem like fans rallied around the Chiefs, said Donald Hawkins.
“If you look at a lot of the companies that have scaled — there’s a huge connection gap between the startups from 2012 to 2014 and the new startups that are starting to scale now,” said Hawkins, founder of CitySmart and one of the organizers of KC Collective, an entrepreneurial support organization that aims to create an “atmosphere of helping.”
“As your company scales, you have hopes of reaching the heights of EyeVerify and beyond, and as [KC Collective] builds an atmosphere of sharing resources and networks, the new founders that come after us will only have known assistance from other founders like them,” he added. “That’s how you really create that circle of giving and assistance, and that’s really what we need here [in Kansas City].”
The KC Collective — a meetup group with monthly gatherings — is a low-tech version of founders working together, said Hawkins, with the group operating under four pillars: ideas, talent, funding, and education.
The group is expected to share information, contacts, and resources, he said, along with participating in a monthly Startup Chowdown event, where three founders each pitch their company to a community ready to give feedback.
Pitch practice without fear of consequences is important, Hawkins added, noting that too much at stake to have a messy presentation when entering local pitch competitions.
Prospective KC Collective members should be founders with “like-minded pain points,” said Hawkins, noting each member is asked what they have to offer the group before joining.
“[Founders used to] sleep in each other’s garages and basements, working together to find ways to scale and grow,” he said. “Every instance one person learned something, they came back and told the group, and then other people from the group would do those things to scale and grow. The goal of KC Collective is to work together [like that.]”
Click here to learn more about KC Collective or request to join.
Startland News sat down with Hawkins to learn more about what shaped his collaborative, give-first philosophy, as well as the man behind the startup.
Hometown: Albany, Georgia
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: Some of the larger Ivy League colleges offer video courses where you can be in a lecture with two Harvard professors and gain that insight. I would love to see some startups getting into the edtech side of things to even the playing field and take that to more schools that may not have all those resources. It’s not the final solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.
A historical figure you’d like to invite on a podcast: Marcus Garvey. He grew up in a very tough time here in America and wanted black people as a whole to build their own identity. He did not get a lot of support, like a lot of people who have those a fantastical ideas that are called heretics and crazy.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Black pudding. It’s a type of blood sausage.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: A hawk, even though they technically changed the name to peregrine falcon. That upset me as a little kid because of my last name.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: Corporations need to invest more in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Amazon showed what a lot of cities are willing to do. When you look at the number of people they could’ve brought here, and you look at the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is already here — why not double down? Support the people who are already here and help them scale. That’s really how an ecosystem wins.
Favorite food joint in KC: Extra Virgin. It’s heaven on Earth.
An influential book in your life: “Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe. It has nothing to do with startups, but it resonates with me.
What keeps you in Kansas City: The ecosystem, the resources, the people. I’ve noticed a lot of companies that have come through the KC ecosystem — they start to scale and make it, then they leave. I feel I have a responsibility to take what the blessings I’ve received from these resources like the UMKC ELEVATIONLAB TECH Venture program, ECJC and the Kansas City Startup Foundation, and the Startup Village as well — to double down and give back, with the hopes that other founders continue to do the same thing.
New technology that you’re most excited about: Heat maps for eye tracking. It’s a completely new data set. I have no clue what it means or what it will mean, but imagine what it looks like when Facebook actually knows what you’re looking at on a post. Like are you looking at the content or the image? What’s more important?
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: Mortgages or wealth management, something along that line. I like interacting with people and helping people win. Wealth management definitely does that when it’s done correctly.
What’s the most underrated KC brand? Martin City Brewing Company. I like their beer.
What you hope you’re remembered for: As someone who is always willing to give before receiving. I just think that as humans, if we all operated like that — what a better world we would have.
Biggest failure: Not listening to sage advice. The older I got, the more everything my dad said made sense.
An inspiration in your life: My 6-year-old daughter. She’s my serenity. I don’t care if everything around me is burning up, as long as I can think about her and how blessed I am to have her in my life.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I’d go back to 2001 and expand my startup concept. I had Facebook before Facebook was Facebook, but it was only at the college I was going to. We built chat rooms and profile pages, and it worked like a charm, but I did not think at the time that I could do the same thing at other colleges. Everyone at school thought it was amazing and if someone would’ve said, “Hey man, could you do this to all the colleges in town or in Georgia?” I think it would’ve expanded to something big. That’s entrepreneurship for you.
Favorite travel locale: Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s got really nice people and just a cool little downtown area. It’s all people just trying to make it — real, genuine people.
Your mantra or motto: Give first. Everything falls into place after.
Hidden talent or ability: I can really sing. I come from a family of singers. My mom can really sing her butt off.
What keeps you awake at night? Thinking of people who did not have the fortune that I had growing up. I was fortunate with a middle class family and my dad worked hard — he was my role model. A lot of kids don’t have that nowadays and they idolize sports stars and actresses, but I want them to have more direct insight in connectivity with local businesses leaders and let’s make that cool. Why is it that you have to be a professional football or basketball player to be cool? You have a lot of business people that make just as much money, if sometimes a lot more, but there’s not a lot of connectivity between them and the kids.