Bridging the digital divide in Kansas City is simple: Put WiFi hotspots in the trees, quipped Steve Miller, while pitching startup ideas — formed through on-the-spot brainstorming — to a crowd of entrepreneurs.
“I love this tree idea … It’s very unique,” laughed fellow Kansas City, Missouri, mayoral candidate and equally off-the-cuff Alissia Canady, Tuesday during StartupKC’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Mayoral Forum. “I just don’t know how pervasive it is with this jury.”
With the KCMO mayoral primary set for Apr. 2, eight candidates faced off at the forum in pairings of two — Quinton Lucas with Phil Glynn, Jolie Justus with Scott Wagner, Scott Taylor with Jermaine Reed, and Canady and Miller — to pitch unrehearsed business ideas that could help solve key issues in Kansas City’s startup ecosystem.
“Just imagine that Quinton and I are just sitting in our startup space — we’re hanging out, we’re drinking coffee and there’s interesting, stylish furniture around,” laughed Glynn while presenting the duo’s idea: a startup version of the Tinder app called ‘CurrenSee,’ conceptualized to address the challenge of ensuring equitable access to key stakeholders and business groups throughout the area.
“It’s 2019! How else would people come together if not a dating app?” added Lucas.
The nontraditional start to the event was modeled after the Kansas City Startup Foundation’s MECA (Most Entrepreneurial Community in America) Challenge format, in which students pitch solutions to real-world problems, said KCSF director of operations Lauren Conaway, who co-presented the event with Project United Knowledge.
Click here to read more about MECA students visualizing their ideal “school of the future.”
“We wanted to see how [the candidates] could collaborate together because entrepreneurs are also very collaborative,” Conaway told the crowd. “We talked to small businesses, we talked to startup founders, and we talked to entrepreneurs to ask them: What are your pain points? What are your difficulties as a business owner in Kansas City so that we can have a mayor who can speak to that.”
A moderated Q&A portion of the event followed a more traditional forum format with candidates speaking to more direct issues, such as de-risking entrepreneurship in the metro, cultivating and retaining talent, and better reflecting KC’s demographics in elected officials.
Rather than taking on the challenge of eliminating risks in entrepreneurship, Councilman Lucas said, Kansas City can be championed as a safe and supportive place to attempt those potentially risky steps toward success (or failure).
“Much of what you do everyday is taking risks,” he said to the crowd. “What people need to know is that when you come to Kansas City and you take risks [through entrepreneurship,] you can find a community that supports you in a number of ways.”
Expanding the impact of KCMO’s KC BizCare office to ensure the city’s free business resource is given more authority and is released from “red tape,” is crucial to fostering entrepreneurship and retaining businesses in the metro, said Councilman Taylor, echoing the sentiment brought up by many candidates that night.
“Everyday I learn about one more thing that that [the KC BizCare office] does but you know what? We don’t have enough staff in that office,” added Councilwoman Justus. “We need to have concierges that are available to help problem solve and answer the questions that we have on a daily basis.”
Finding new leadership to include small business owners and those with experience in development should better represent the needs of and engage entrepreneurs, said Councilman Reed.
“My belief is that most of the time you get a look at those boards and commissions, they are reflective of the usual suspects, people who have been those positions for in some cases, decades,” he said.
Small business and entrepreneurship as a whole are not reflected as a priority in the city’s current $1.7 billion budget, added Canady, noting the next administration must be intentional about creating economic opportunities across the city.
Click here to read about the Techweek KC Mayoral Forum in October, at which the candidates discussed the city’s culture towards disruptive tech.
Watch a video from the February mayoral forum below.