Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Empowering Kansas City entrepreneurs to realize their dreams is in Darcy Howe’s blood, she said with a coy smile, seated in an open meeting space atop the 24th floor of her downtown office.
“Kansas City was not my first choice,” the now-champion for the city said, looking back on her beginnings in the metro, as pieces of its historic skyline peeked through the windows and over her shoulder. “[My company] sent me here back in the ’80s. I left and went to New York City, because it wasn’t exciting enough for me at the time.”
Observed traits in its people — hustle, grit, and tenacity — eventually changed Howe’s mind about the City of Fountains, she said.
“When I moved back, [KC] was still an ’80s, ’90s sleepy town [but you could feel it growing.] … Most people like me who didn’t grow up here, stay here because [of the support they find.]”
Establishing an eclectic collection of tenacious hustlers, Howe discovered her support system in the city’s emerging business and entrepreneurial leaders. Each of them, in their own way, were eager to bring forth a new era etched in innovation, she said.
Motivated, determination and a belief in Kansas City’s potential as an entrepreneurial hub landed Howe in an executive suite as first vice president of investments at Merrill Lynch, a position that afforded her an opportunity to gain a solid understanding of the investment ecosystem — having watched the company expand to 350 advisors and more than $1 billion in revenue before she retired in 2015, she said.
A second act for Howe, her experience has enabled her to lead the KCRise Fund — born when civic leaders came together in attempt to solve economic malaise in the metro, calling for more support behind the KC Rising initiative (a 20 year vision plan for Kansas City prosperity and economic growth, launched in 2014), Howe explained.
“They asked business and civic folks to come problem solve together,” she previously said of what sets the KCRise Fund and Kansas City apart from other VC matching firms.
Click here to read more about KCRise Fund — recently honored as the most active fund in Kansas.
Startland News sat down with Howe to learn more about her travels, passion for Kansas City, and how she sees the future.
Hometown: Kirkwood, Missouri.
A historical figure you wish you could follow on social media and why? Clare Booth Luce, who was a woman whose mother essentially had no money. [Her mother] was the original kind of call girl … made enough money — by knowing influential folks — to get her passage across the world. And back in the days of 100 years ago, this is what people did — what women did to advance themselves. So, Clare Booth Luce, the daughter of this woman, ended up marrying Henry Luce he was the founder of Time magazine and some other things and she used that to be very influential in all kinds of things. Politics and government, the arts. … She had influence and power — though it was through her husband — and wielded it for good.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: It was in China, a year and a half ago on a KCMO EDC trip. I don’t know what it was! We were in Hunan Province in a town called Shaoshan, which was Mao Tse-tung’s hometown, and it was known as the spiciest stuff in the world — and I don’t have a big stomach for spicy. [Our hosts had] the round-and-round table where the food would come around and people next to you would put food on your plate and you had to eat it. And so I got some, crazy spicy … I don’t know what it was. I think it might’ve been a fish? It was pretty weird.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: We have friends who do a lot of dinner parties and hangout. I have friends who are completely, awesome cooks and love to experiment — so, I would just say one of my friends’ houses.
If you could go to any concert what would it be: If Frank Sinatra were still alive, I’d go to Frank Sinatra at the Carlyle.
What startup do you find most interesting right now: You’re going to make me pick between my children? This is so hard! If you take the combination of: our investors win, Kansas City wins, a real industry disruptor, [and] an incredibly gritty motivated team of terrific human beings — I’d say BacklotCars. … The investors will win because they’re building something that is scaling gargantuanly. It’s attracting investors around the country and therefore investors around the country are seeing interesting things are being built in Kansas City.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: Traveling to exotic places and probably more skiing.
What word or phrase do you hate the most? “Safe spaces” — relating to the entrepreneur world, specifically. My question is: safe from what? Entrepreneurs need to get out there and battle it out with everyone in order to be competitive.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I would love to go to the future in Kansas City. In 30 years, 50 years and see what we collectively have all done. Did it work?
Favorite travel locale: My cottage in Michigan. It’s my Walden pond. It’s my place to go. I’ve had people literally say to me, when I’m on the phone with them, ‘Where are you? You sound so relaxed.’ It’s not my mode in Kansas City as much, to be relaxed. So I needed [a place] to refuel.
Your mantra or motto: ‘Bring it everyday. Be a giver.’
Guilty pleasure TV show: Lately it’s been “Medici” on Netflix. But — I just watched the first episode of the second season and it was really disappointing. I may have to change and switch it up, but I love juicy historical [shows.]