Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes.
Long hours, frequent travel and tough decisions can mold who you are in business — but it shouldn’t drive you to turn your back on those coming up behind you, Karen Fenaroli said of her life’s work, finding herself at a crossroads where experience meets elevation.
“Creating a fund is an extension of my business. It’s a way for me to allocate resources to a passion and my passion is helping entrepreneurs succeed and thrive in the Midwest,” Fenaroli, founder and CEO of Fenaroli & Associates, said of the development of the Fenaroli Minerva Fund — which provides financial backing for disruptive, technology startups such as Kansas City-based Bellwethr and Risk Genius.
“My husband Paul and I are both C-suite executives. We said, ‘We’re so involved in the Kansas City startup community,’ we wanted to support [it] with an investment fund that we would decide together how to allocate a portion of our wealth to startups,” Fenaroli explained, citing the launch of Leawood Venture Capital as an inspiration.
Similarly, collaboration within the business and investment circles in which Fenaroli found herself as an executive — having held leadership roles at companies like KPMG US, Coca-Cola, and EFL Associates — ultimately drove the development of the Pure Pitch Rally, she noted.
Click here for details on the 2019 Pure Pitch Rally — set for October.
Energized by the ecosystem, Fenaroli launched the Minerva Fund — named after her love of Greek mythology and in celebration of strong women — alongside her husband Paul, in search of founders, wild with passion and innovative ideas.
“There’s a difference between being a leader and being a founder leader. There is a charisma. There is no constitution in a leader. And I’m looking for companies that have a leadership story,” she said, citing a founders connection to what they’re doing as a driver of success.
Direct connections to a client base and a clear vision for engaging it also make Fenaroli’s funding checklist, she said.
“I don’t need to have unicorn potential and the companies I invest in, some of them may not have a clear exit strategy. I want it to have a marketplace reason to exist and a long term success story,” she said, noting startup life isn’t all about high-tech glamour.
“A longterm success story could mean that the startup is going to be around for 10 years,” Fenaroli said. “It doesn’t have to be a company that we think is going to be sold in 36 months.”
Click here to read about the Minerva Fund’s most recent investment in Stenovate.
Beyond the Minerva Fund, Fenaroli’s commitment to Kansas City is unwavering, she said in reflection of the opportunity she sees flowing in the City of Fountains and weak spots the city could strengthen.
“We would like to see 10 more accelerators in Kansas City. I know of at least two more that are developing. I would like to see an accelerator in the Northland. I would like to see an accelerator on the east side. And with the help of the new mayor, Quinton Lucas … I know he has his eye on the startup community and I’ve got a request in to the city to continue to put assets in the ground on more incubators and more accelerators because the more we have the more startups we have,” she said, sharing her view and teasing her desire to develop an accelerator of her own.
“I want to see a ‘WeLive’ or a startup living incubator in Kansas City where we can have living studios that are startup studios. I’d like to see someone like John Copaken and Copaken-Brooks get behind an idea like that,” she explained, highlighting things that could accelerate growth in the metro. “I’d like to see affordable housing around the startup community, on the east side. I think we could easily put up several thousand small startup studios around 30th and Troost around 18th and Vine.”
Such amenities could create an energy that attracts more investors to the area, but collaboration is crucial, Fenaroli noted.
“Even in an interview like this … I mean, I thought twice about it and then I thought, ‘If I didn’t tell people what I was doing others wouldn’t want to be my peer.’ I know there’s people sitting on the sideline in Kansas City wanting to find other co-investors, give me a call.”
Startland News talked with Fenaroli about Norweigan roots, her love for investing in pitches and dream of catching fastballs. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, which reimagines a workspace model where businesses share resources and grow together.
Hometown: Leawood, Kansas.
A historical figure you wish you could follow on social media and why? I’d probably like to follow Abraham Lincoln. I think that he made a lot of decisions on either side of the social sense that, only he will know what kind of cross he had to bear, and what kind of life he had. He was living at a time when the United States was a startup and I looked at some of the decisions he made and some of these reputational hazzards he avoided or became embroiled in — and I admire him. He created better success for many. I want to follow someone like that because it gives us all courage.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Probably lutefisk when I was in Norway. I’m Norweigan. … So, any of those cured fishes that the Scandinavians eat. My husband, who’s Italian, definitely saved me from the life of Scandinavian food because now I can claim Italian food as part of my heritage.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: I’m going to say three things, because I have to kind of pay homage to my three food categories. Any of the homemade pasta at Lydia’s for sure. I would say all the tapas at La Bodega, most definitely. And then anything that is beef at Joe’s barbecue, I’m all over that.
If you could go to any concert what would it be: I’d probably like to go to an early Beatles concert. I would love to be in a pub hearing them perform for the first time and saying that was the start of a whole platform of music. Something like early Elton John or early Diana Ross … I mean something that was brand new when they were not established. Someone that was just having a coming-out moment.
What startup do you find most interesting right now: That would be Libra. And I think that, though it’s not a startup, the concept of reinventing the platform of money is fascinating. And I know we need to do this to give access to Third World nations — more prosperity, a rise up. I’m fascinated by it because it has high risks and high rewards and I’m hoping the companies that are involved in that, have a long term view of what that pandora’s box could evolve into.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: I would be the captain of the Boston Red Sox. You know, I’m from Boston — I’m an adopted Kansas Citian — my first CEO-ship was there. So I would be the girl that played on the Boston Red Sox and I would be the captain and I would be the catcher, because I could watch the team perform and I could be the orchestra leader … but I wouldn’t have to be on the field. I could just watch it all and it would be the greatest job ever.
What word or phrase do you hate the most? I hate hearing, “I’ve never done that before,” or “We can’t, we’ve never done that before.” Everything has never been done before … until you do it. There’s a book right now by Melinda Gates called, “The Moment of Lift.” Everybody has a moment when they must decide to do something they’d never done before. And entrepreneurs and startups do it every day. They are the bravest, bravest people I know. So when someone says, “We’ve never done that before” … I’m like, “I got it, I got it.” You’re never going to be a multiplier unless you learn how to do it for the first time.
Who in your life inspires you: My husband is my partner and he saw my business potential. He has always been my COO. He has always been a great inspiration because he’s a great investor in me. My two daughters … I look at my two girls and say, “I live in a community where I’ve been able to be a CEO a couple of times now — Kansas City, the city where my daughters can be a CEO for a couple of times.” Now I’m inspired because they’re going to get their education outside of Kansas City, they’re going to come back here. I’m keeping the fires warm for them. I want them to be an inspiration to everyone they work with.
Favorite travel locale: Any place where an airplane flies. I have no answer to that, except if you gave me four plane tickets for me and my family, I would go anywhere with a one-day notice because travel changes perspective. And what I want is to bring back great ideas to my city. I want to travel and then I want to come back and have a beer with four or five people that are looking to keep evolving and building a foundation for this city every day, every hour.
Guilty pleasure TV show: “Billions!” OK, so here’s the deal with “Billions.” It’s a junk series about investing. It’s about investing in each other and investing in companies. And it’s about the line that we go up against all the time in relationships and trust. And Kansas City is a city that’s built on trust and investing in each other’s relationship. Everybody needs to watch the show. It’s very inspiring to me.