If Kansas City leaders want to build a stronger community, they should start by supporting early stage entrepreneurs, said Lesa Mitchell.
“I’m simply here to say — we’re not spending enough money … and we need to look at it,” Mitchell, managing director of Techstars Kansas City, told KCMO city council members Saturday during a public hearing for the 2019-2020 city budget.
More civic support will undoubtedly build a stronger startup ecosystem in Kansas City, added Eze Redwood, partner at Wings Cafe and founder of Rise Fast. Redwood mobilized a group of nearly 50 entrepreneurs and advocates to represent the startup space during the hearing.
Having combed the 600 pages of the city’s submitted budget, Redwood identified new opportunities KCMO could pursue to financially support startups and small businesses — beyond its current commitment of $200,000 (out of the $1.73 billion budget), he said.
“Together, we represent over 5,000 entrepreneurs in Kansas City,” Redwood told council members of the group’s impact. “For [entrepreneurs] who are creating 60 percent of the new jobs in the city, who have the economic impact of over $200 million … its really hard to reconcile that with the economic impact of $120 million for Bartle Hall — and yet there’s a $3.5 million remodel for their kitchen.”
If the city wants healthy neighborhoods and stronger communities, council members have to show real support for the people best positioned to make it happen — entrepreneurs, Mitchell added.
In addition to pushing startup founders, small business owners, and entrepreneurial advocates forward, doling out more money to programs that support entrepreneurial ideals will hold the startup and small business communities accountable, while bridging gaps between its members and civic leaders, Redwood said.
“The only reason we’re here is because we care,” he told those gathered.
Just as they’ve done before with their companies, organizations, and ideas countless times — one by one, prominent faces in the startup space made their pitches to council members during the hearing.
“I’m one of those early stage companies that [Mitchell] just mentioned,” said Donald Hawkins, CEO of CitySmart and founder of KC Collective.
“ … We needed money! We needed money to be able to grow and I was not able to find money here,” Hawkins said, noting that he’d used as many startup resources as were available to him — such as the Enterprise Center in Johnson County, the Kansas City Startup Foundation, and interpersonal connections like Mitchell — in Kansas City.
Eventually, Hawkins found himself seeking support out of state in Austin, Texas.
Click here to read more about Hawkins and KC Collective.
If Kansas City leaders truly want the City of Fountains to emerge as the most entrepreneurial community in America, it’s time for them to act, Hawkins continued, asking the council to step up and help early stage companies flourish.
A corporation’s loss can be a startup’s gain, explained Darcy Howe, managing director of the KCRise Fund, in an effort to shed light on the impact of the startup space. Over the past five years, the city has seen corporate giants — such as Sprint — cut jobs, while young companies have created 86,000 new positions she said, referencing to data collected by KCSourceLink.
A key component in startup job creation: city-funded programs like LaunchKC, Howe said.
“[As a city] we’ve done a lot of TIF (tax increment financing) work, which is important for building renovations and [creating a place] where these entrepreneurial companies want to go,” she continued. “But [this may be] the era … where more of our budget needs to go to the companies that are inside the buildings, as opposed to building developers.”
Click here to read more about Howe’s efforts to build a stronger entrepreneurial community.
Increased funds for the support of entrepreneurial endeavors — an ask of more than $1 million on behalf of the startup community — could generate more than new economic growth in Kansas City, Redwood noted, it could show entrepreneurs who have tethered their potential success to the city that its leaders stand with them.
“All we want is to see that city is as committed to us as we are to the city,” he said.
Saturday’s budget hearing was the last in a series of four meetings that invited the public to review and provide feedback on budget submissions before a final budget is adopted.
“We are the growth engine, we are the future, we’re bringing young people back to Kansas City,” Howe said in her closing remarks to council members, magnifying the significance of the startup space.
Click here to review the City of KCMO’s submitted 2019-2020 budget.